A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from April 23, 2006
“The Gates of Heaven—Never Closed” (Hamburg Heaven)
Hamburg Heaven (often called Hamburger Heaven) was started in 1938, just a tiny place by one woman who liked to make good hamburgers. Hamburg Heaven expanded, but the chain didn't survive successfully after her death in 1964.

13 August 1939, Washington Post, "This New York" by Lucius Beebe, pg. L2:
Hamburg amateurs around the town are familiar with the monster Jack and Charlie specials, the dollar-and-a-half confections with French-fried onions, at Longchamps, the quickies, for which any real hamburgers hound is good for half a dozen at the Shanties, but what is probably the most de luxe chopped steak stand in town is called, whimsically enough, Hamburg Heaven and is located at 696 Madison avenue, just above Sixty-second street. Don't let the whimsy of the name fool you, however. The two-bit hamburgers served on homemade rolls, are about tops in the field of this particular confection and are rolled about twice as thick as the average so that it is possible to get the outside nicely browned and the inside white hot without cooking it at all -- which is, of course, the way hamburgers should be served. There is a limited menu of other dishes, all very plain and very good, but the hamburgers are the mainstay of the establishment, which is presided over by a wispy Southern lady and a brace of highly competent black men. The place is very carriage-trade, indeed, and the night we were there, there were two of the biggest and shiniest Rollses on record parked at the curb while their owners fed their faces inside. For all we know, the chauffeurs and footmen were dining at the Colony, around the corner. The premises, air cooled, seat only 15 and is usually jammed, staying open until 5 in the morning for the late supper-early breakfast trade.

8 May 1940, New York Times, pg. 47:
EVENING BAG, containing earrings and watch between Hamburger Heaven 79th-57th, Sutton Place, taxicab, April 28;

16 March 1941, Washington Post, "This New York" by Lucius Beebe, pg. L5:
Rustic note: the example of Hamburger Heaven, the super-plush counter lunch in Madison Avenue, is being copied on every hand and there are now scores of posh hamburger stands all over midtown.

18 January 1942, Washington Post, Lucius Beebe's New York, pg. S10:
Pioneer of all the de luxe Hamburg kennels, and still tops despite competition on every side, the original Hamburg Heaven has opened a branch chopped-cow parlor in East Fifty-fifth Street for the mid-town trade.

15 February 1942, Washington Post, Lucius Beebe's New York, pg. S5:
VIGNETTES OF MANHATTAN:...The rows of colony-type hats, mystic and wonderful, on female customers at the new Hamburger Heaven in Fifty-first Street each noon.

26 December 1942, Washington Post, Lucius Beebe,, pg. B2:
The heavenly hamburgers at Hamburger Heaven in Madison Avenue. Beware of the gyp-burgers and bogus-burgers of envious imitators. Only the original will do.

3 March 1959, New York Times, pg. 36:
Food: 20 Years Young
Hamburger Heaven Observes Birthday
With Opening of Fifth Establishment

HAMBURGER HEAVEN is twenty years old. The chain of four quick lunch counters celebrated the occasion this week with the opening of a fifth establishment at 1044 Madison Avenue, corner of Seventy-ninth Street.
The new menu differs dramatically from the modest bill of fare that Mrs. Phyllis Moffett offered when she opened the first Hamburger Heaven in 1939. For one thing, hamburgers were then 25 cents. They are now 60 cents. The only other items on the 1939 menus were pies, tossed green salad and one special dish a day. Today's menu lists ten salads, eleven sandwiches and about twenty desserts.

Mrs. Moffett, a tall, distinguished woman with gray hair and a sparkling manner, lived in Wilton, Conn., at the time she decided to launch Hamburger Heaven.
The first establishment, at 696 Madison Avenue, had seats for only fifteen. It was not long before lines stretched almost a block.

1 March 1964, New York Times, pg. 83:
Mrs. Phyllis S. Moffett Dies;
Founded Hamburg Heaven

Mrs. Phyllis Sarah Moffett, founder and owner of the Hamburg Heaven restaurants, died Thursday at Roosevelt Hospital. She was 66 years old.

Mrs. Moffett opened her first Hamburg Heaven at 696 Madison Avenue in 1938 after her marriage ended in divorce. Its window trademark showed three hamburgers labeled "rare," "medium" and "well done." This was followed by three other restaurants and also a multiple outlet franchise at the East Side Airline Terminal.

27 June 1987, New York Times, "They're Taking New York Away From Me" by Halton Adler Mann, pg. 27:
I loved Hamburg Heaven's sui generis apple pie. Gone.

8 November 2002, New York Times, "It's Deja Vu for Nostalgic Diners" by Corby Kummer, pg. E39:
The Bemelmanns spirit is present in a 1955 New Yorker cover, and improbably in a charmingly wispy, unsigned illustration for an early Hamburg Heaven menu depicting a winged, haloed, burger-shaped angel.

15 January 2003, New York Times, "The Burger Takes Center Stage" by Ed Levine, pg. F6:
But more in tune with the common New York burger experience is the superlative beef patty available on East 51st Street, at Prime Burger, nee Hamburg Heaven.

Founded in 1938, Hamburg Heaven gently played off its location across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral with a slogan printed on its menus and doors: "The Gates of Heaven -- Never Closed." Rita Hayworth and Henry Fonda were regulars, fans of the restaurant's prime beef burgers, homemade pies and cakes and perhaps also of its one-person booths with swivel trays that looked like school desks.

Hamburg Heaven fell victim to overly ambitious expansion plans, but New Yorkers can still eat those same burgers and pies in those selfsame booths for one at Prime Burger, which took over the location in 1965. The single-occupancy booths are a particularly lovely anachronism: take your coat off before you sit down, as the space is so confining you'll find yourself twisting like a contortionist to do so after the fact.
Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityRestaurants/Bars/Coffeehouses/Food Stores • Sunday, April 23, 2006 • Permalink

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