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The Last Burgers at Irv’s ~ Classic Hamburger Shack Shutting Down After Long Struggle to Survive

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he classic Southern California cheeseburger is still basically the same thing since its invention: a grilled beef patty, onions, chopped lettuce, pickles, ketchup, mayonnaise, and a slice of yellow cheese, all joined fresh on a softly toasted bun.

The roadside-style L.A. burger is best when had at a family-run joint on any street corner across the region. It should be wrapped in paper, and served preferably in a basket or paper hot-dog tray. Fries on the side, along with a fountain drink poured over big slices of ice in an out-of-fashion white foam cup.

This cosmically L.A. meal took a significant hit this week with the announced closure of Irv's Burgers, a West Hollywood stand that has been fighting for survival for more than five years, right up to a preservation push, and has now officially lost the battle.

The longtime Irvs Burgers stand on Santa Monica and Sweetzer, in 2011/Image via Flickr, @jojomelons.
The longtime Irvs Burgers stand on Santa Monica and Sweetzer, in 2011/By @jojomelons via Flickr.

Irv's, which first opened as Queensburger in 1950, has been slanging its delicious burgers, pastrami, and breakfasts in the same style as the early days, when Santa Monica Boulevard was the final leg of the old Route 66 through the city before hitting the pier.

After the great migrations of the 80s and 90s to L.A., Irv's Burgers joined other stands in Los Angeles that began trading hands to recent immigrants, many from East Asia: the Hong family, who are Korean-American, has operated the place since 2000.

Sonia Hong, the leader of the shack, is still crazy-nice; her personalized notes and doodles of “Just for you” on the Irv's paper plates are legendary to the stand’s fans. One devotee recently posted every single personalized Irv's plate that he saved.

Now, the place is selling its kitchen appliances on Instagram, and is slated to close for good on Saturday, Nov. 24.

RELATED: Bang For Your Burger Buck ~ Patra's on Sunset

 

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Burgers are international. Our friendship knows no borders

A post shared by Irv’s Burgers (@irvsburgers) on

On Tuesday, a restless lunchtime crowd created an unusual scene at the stand’s final location, in a repurposed former cafe at Santa Monica and Laurel: a line to get in. Word spread that these were the last hamburgers at Irv's Burgers. The wait hit 35 minutes before reaching the counter to order.

The menu.
The menu.

[dropcap size=big]S[/dropcap]onia, her mother, known as Mama-Soon, and a server went about dispatching orders as carefully and lovingly as ever. Sonia still writes down the orders herself. Irv's is cash-only, and I realized I had just a 10-dollar bill and a quarter in my pocket by the time Sonia greeted me at a worn wooden counter. Piles of stationary, knickknacks, and everyday stuff gathered on the available surfaces behind her.

I asked Sonia for the final cost plus tax on the No. 1 — Cheeseburger, Fries, Drink — at $9.50, fearing the worst. “10.50,” she said.

I explained my predicament and she said today was my lucky day. She took my $10.25 and called it fair.

 

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Love you guys. We will miss all of you. Come say good bye beautiful people.

A post shared by Irv’s Burgers (@irvsburgers) on

“You’re really closing?” I followed plaintively.

Sonia grasped the top of my hands with both of her hands and looked at me with warmth in her eyes. “Oh yes, the owner and the rents,” she said.

There was a hint of relief in her voice, slightly. It's been years of uncertainty: a short-lived GoFundMe campaign, the loss of Sean Hong, her partner at the joint, and the “Save Irvs” T-shirts, which were still for sale in red on the doorway leading inside this week. Sonia's smile radiated kindness and goodwill.

The line on Tuesday stretched outside/Photo by Daniel Hernandez.
The line on Tuesday stretched outside/Photo by Daniel Hernandez.

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]n line behind me, I befriended Joy Hurwitz, an L.A. native, along with her friend Harold Breslow, a retired tax assessor, and his son. “We’re here for our last Irv's Burgers,” Joy said with a big smile.

Hurwitz told me she was born at the former Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, now that blue Scientology building. She works in the entertainment industry. She swore, as many others have before her, that Langer’s Deli in MacArthur Park indeed has the best pastrami anywhere. Anywhere.

The crew clearly carried a deep understanding of L.A. burgers. Harold offered details about some of his favorites, some fancier than others, some gone — Mo’ Better, Hole in the Wall, Hi-Ho, a few in the Valley, a few in Southeast. “It seems like every few months, one closes,” Harold said.

With Irv's, he went on, there was just 'something special' about the burger that arrives when it is ready. “The people ... care about what they’re cooking,” Harold said, pondering.

Seating space was limited, so Joy and Harold invited me to share a table with them. I said it would be a pleasure. Soon, one of the last burgers at Irv's arrived before me, the No. 1: Cheeseburger, Fries, and a Coke.

Sonia drew a pair of heavy eyeglasses on my plate, per my customer identifier. I loved her for it.

'Just for you.'
'Just for you.'

After scrapping through the wait-time, I was hungry; my cheeseburger disappeared with a few bites. I admired the fact that the cheese was laid at the last moment, making it cool and pliable against the bread and the meat. This was the burger you get in someone’s backyard, or the burger you force to make yourself in your own cramped kitchen, when only a homemade burger will do. An L.A. burger.

I looked up and told Harold I should have ordered the double cheeseburger like he did.

"It's grilled right," he said, biting. "It's just good."

RELATED: Highlights from the Rogue 99 ~ Hawkins House of Burgers

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