Hamburger Mary’s Gets Blessing from City Hall

With Entertainment Commission approval, the proposed Castro Hamburger Mary’s has its burgers in a row and claims they will finally open “after Labor Day”.

Holy Mary, mother of God — something is finally happening in the long-promised but eternally delayed attempt to open a Hamburger Mary’s franchise at the 531 Castro location that used to be The Patio, a space which has been vacant for 15 freakin’ years. At a Tuesday night San Francisco Entertainment Commission meeting, Hamburger Mary’s was unanimously granted a Place of Entertainment permit and a restaurant representative vowed the burger joint would be open “after Labor Day.”

Followers of this maddeningly delayed attempt to resurrect the iconic SoMa-born burgers-and-drag-show franchise Hamburger Mary’s know that the proposed location, The Patio at Castro and 18th streets, was closed in 2002 for structural renovations and never reopened. Since then, we’ve received news that Hamburger Mary’s was coming to that location in 2014, the Planning Commission approved Hamburger Mary’s later that year, and we’ve seen Hamburger Mary’s job openings being posted in 2015. But the entire scenario has remained bizarrely on pause ever since, until a recent Place of Entertainment hearing notice popped on the front door of the space last month.

Joe Kukura, SF Weekly

SF Weekly’s attempts to reach the location’s owner Les Natali (who also owns Castro bars Badlands and Toad Hall) were unsuccessful, and he was not in attendance at the commission meeting. But the Planning Commission did elaborate a little bit upon the Hamburger Mary’s permit request.    

“They plan on having comedy and drag performances, lip-synching, live and recorded music, music videos, charity bingo games and karaoke” SF Planning Department deputy director Maggie Weiland tells SF Weekly ‘They can always expand upon their planned entertainment down the road, if they so desire. A Place of Entertainment permit would not limit the type of entertainment. It sounds like they’re harkening back to the old Hamburger Mary’s and wanting to have drag performances going on while patrons eat at the restaurant.”

Weiland also noted that the 531 Castro Street location has been approved for a 5,844 square-foot restaurant to operate daily from 10 a.m. til 2 a.m. Last night’s approval allows Hamburger Mary’s to host live entertainment as late as 1:30 a.m. and the restaurant’s general manager Larry Metzger claims that the issuance of a live entertainment permit is what has held the location back from opening for so long.

“This [live entertainment] aspect of it is so integral to Hamburger Mary’s image that we needed this piece to be able to move forward,” Metzger said at the meeting. “This part, we thought, was essential to get in place.”

This seems an implausible explanation for the old Patio space being shuttered for an entire 15 years. Entertainment commissioner Laura Thomas complained of “a lot of frustration about how long that space has sat vacant” and noted, “there’s been a sadness and a frustration that this space has been empty and inactivated for so long.”

Local residents were a little more pointed in their outrage. “This space has been vacant for more than 15 years, and I feel like we’re playing a charade that’s been inflicted on the community,” Castro resident James Foreman said at the meeting. “This is not the only space that Mr. Natali has that sits vacant and blights the neighborhood.”

Looking inside the location through its front windows, we do see relatively new furnishings, a bar stocked with wine, lights on, and ladders and tools indicating work is being done. That is apparent progress, and Metzger claimed the meeting that the Castro Hamburger Marty’s would be open “after Labor Day.”

Readers should note that while the name is Hamburger Mary’s, this is not the same business that operated at 12th Street and Folsom Street from 1972 to 2001.

Broke-Ass Stuart has a nice write-up of the history of Hamburger Mary’s, noting that original SoMa owners “Trixie” Jones and “Toulouse” Mulvey had a split in 1978 wherein Jones got to keep the original Folsom location but Mulvey retained the rights to the Hamburger Mary’s name. Mulvey opened another franchise in Hawaii and licensed out a few more locations, including West Hollywood and Chicago. But Mulvey later gave up the rights to the name in a lawsuit settlement, and the current Hamburger Mary’s franchise has no connections to the original owner or South of Market location.

There are 18 Hamburger Mary’s locations nationwide, which does qualify it as “formula retail” — something the franchise-averse Castro District is not supposed to have. This proposed Hamburger Mary’s got a formula retail exemption from the Planning Commission in 2014, which remains in effect.

While this permit is no guarantee that Hamburger Mary’s will really open anytime soon, we’re saying there’s a chance that longtime San Francisco fans will finally once again have a chance to “Eat, Drink, and Be Mary.”

Related Stories