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★ ★ ★
The 20 Hamburgers
Yo u M u s t E a t B e f o r e Yo u D i e
A l a n R i c h m a n traveled 23,750 miles and consumed more than 150,000 calories

while taking the measure of 162 burgers across the country—with one goal: to find you the

best damned assemblage of ground beef and buns this country serves up

★ ★ ★ T h e h a m b u r g e r is a symbol of everything that makes I ate crazy burgers, Kobe burgers, bison burgers, longhorn bur-
America great. Straightforward, egalitarian, substantial, and good- gers, ostrich burgers, onion burgers, lamb burgers, and of course,
natured, it is also a little bloody at times. cheeseburgers. (Note that cheese goes so well with burgers that
It may come big and ungarnished, the East Coast ideal, tender the word is assembled di≠erently, with no space in between.) I
and untroubled by bones or gristle, everything you look for in a filet tried fast-food burgers, and while there’s a sameness to them that
mignon but seldom find. It may be the West Coast model, swelling overwhelms any attempts at excellence, I found some mighty fine
with vegetation, brimming with health and well-being, piled high values on those dollar menus, assuming you don’t mind your bur-
with all that a seed catalog can provide. A great burger, regardless gers hard and dry, like the smiles on the faces of the teenagers who
of regional di≠erences, instills a sense of optimism and fulfillment, take your order. I visited Burger Heaven. Actually, I went to a few
that all is right at the table or the counter or the woodgrain, places called that. I was also in burger hell, which is Milwaukee,
screwed-to-the-floor, fast-food booth. home of the butter burger, essentially meat saturated with grease.
At its best, it eliminates the need for conversation or the urge to My goal was to find the twenty best burgers, and with apolo-
glance up at the TV over the bar. If you find yourself eating silently, gies to all the restaurants, stands, bars, and grills I missed,
eyes closed, ignoring everything around you, even the unavoidable I’d like to believe I did well. I ate 162 burgers in ninety-three
burger-joint din, you have come upon a burger that can be pro- establishments. Some of them were fancified, pro≠ering foie
nounced a success. gras–stu≠ed burgers costing as much as $29. Some were dumps,
Of course, it must be molded by hand, artfully seared, and o≠ered with burgers hovering near a buck. At no time, despite pleas
medium-rare. If that’s too much to ask, not overcooked would be nice. from loved ones, did I have a physician standing by. I found no
Whose idea was it anyway that serving desiccated burgers to Americans correlation between price and tastiness, nor did ambience count
would enable all of us to spring back to health? Excessive reliance on for a great deal. A burger requires only a cook of modest accom-
condiments is another alarming development, especially in the mat- plishments, one who knows enough to remove it from the fire
ter of ketchup, the burger Band-Aid. Ketchup is valuable only when an before it has lost its juiciness and not to press down hard with a
emergency jolt of moisture, sweetness, acidity, and flavor is required. spatula—squishing might work with grilled cheese, but it’s fatal
No hamburger is inedible if you put enough ketchup on it, but no ham- for burgers. Waitresses who work in burger joints can have scars
burger that has ketchup on it can be considered great. Mustard is a mis- and tattoos, as long as they’re not self-inflicted. Motorcycles are
take, unless you’re French and welcome a vinegary jolt with your food, fine, provided they’re not parked inside.

while pickles, those subversive little sweet and sour instruments, fill me To be precise, I visited ninety-five places, but I didn’t eat at two.
with dread. When I find pickles furtively inserted into my burger, I gen- In Boston, I attempted lunch at Tim’s Bar and Grill, which fea-
erally look to the heavens with a clenched fist and sob, “Why?” tures a huge rubber garbage pail in the dining area. The waitress
I’ve always claimed I’d go a long way for the right burger, and in- was so surly (“If you don’t like the service, you can leave”) that I
deed I did. I traveled 23,750 miles—that’s just 1,152 miles short of en- walked out. Where’d you find your decorator, Tim, at the sanita-
circling the globe at the equator—looking for the best ones in America. tion department? I also undertook a 360-mile round-trip drive to
I consumed more than 150,000 calories but resisted drinking a can of Little Compton, Rhode Island, to try the burger at the legendary
soda with every burger, saving more than 22,000 calories that way. Commons Lunch, only to find that it had burned down.

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★ ★ ★ Philadelphia’s
Rouge Burger is
the cheeseburger
at its best.

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In the course of my travels, I learned to love the bun. Bunless, a
burger is merely a chopped steak, the food of mess halls and chow lines,
prisons and cafeterias. The roll makes the burger, although it must not
be too large or too obtrusive; a common error of steak houses, which
rarely o≠er memorable burgers, is that they buy buns so big, fat, and
tall that their burgers assume the dimensions of wedding cakes. A bun
may be lightly toasted or grilled, but it is vital that it be fresh. I am also
possessed of newfound respect for the onion, which is rarely esteemed.
A few thin circles of mild raw onion add sweetness and crunch. Noth-
ing else is needed on a burger, although cheese has its place.

★ ★ ★ I t o o k m y f a t h e r to a roadhouse specializing in

burgers in South Miami, a decision I regretted. The parking lot was

practically rubble, overgrown with weeds. He was unable to use his
walker, but we finally made it into Bill & Ted’s Tavern with me half-
Le Tub
lifting him and apologizing for being an inconsiderate son.
We ordered, and I’ll never forget the glow when he bit into his
burger after years of assisted-living cuisine. I thought the burgers
were slightly overcooked, but the onion-relish-pickle package was
brilliantly balanced, a condiment tour de force, and when I asked
him why he was so happy, he said, “I never get to eat food like this.”
The burger, fare not favored by institutional nutritionists, invari-
ably inspires a≠ection. It brings back memories of backyard barbe-
The Top 20
cues and family gatherings, and it comes in all sizes, adding to its
appeal. Burgers can be as small as a couple of ounces or as large as
Burgers in America
(in order of greatness)
a full pound, although it seems that whenever restaurants dish up
the largest size, they feel obligated to issue warnings. (“Try our new
1lb. burger…if you dare,” read the promo for the Burgerpalooza at
the Jolly Trolley in Mamaroneck, New York.) 01 Sirloin Burger
The oversize burger is a haunch of ground meat, hand-formed, L E T U B H O L LY W O O D , F L
upon which the diner happily gnaws. It is an exaggeration of America’s This is a dream of a dump, located on the site of a former
plenty, the banana split of sandwiches. Smaller burgers are essentially Sunoco gas station. Outside there’s assorted porcelain—toi-
platforms for unlimited embellishments. Piled high with extras, this lets, sinks, tubs. Most have plants in them, and a lot of the
breed of burger is a piñata at a birthday party, a festival miniaturized. plants look dead. Inside is a pool table, a jukebox, and tables
Everybody who loves beef has a favorite burger, but hardly anybody reminiscent of the ones at highway rest stops. The view is
agrees on which is best. Before heading o≠, I consulted food Web sites, magnificent, the Intracoastal Waterway at its broadest and
food experts, and food writers. I was persuaded by a fellow I met at most dramatic. Le Tub doesn’t take
a food festival in Virginia to visit a restaurant outside Lawton, Okla- credit cards, and it has signs ev-
homa, that he promised had the best burger in America. I drove up erywhere reinforcing that rule. I’m
from Dallas, more than 200 miles, to eat at Meers Store & Restaurant, surprised anybody who eats here
located next to a bison preserve. The menu read: “All steaks & ham- qualifies for a credit card.
burgers cooked to order,” and I had this conversation with my waiter: The menu is big, and the food
isn’t bad, except for the Sirloin
me: Medium-rare, please. Burger, which is magnificent. It’s
him: All our burgers are well-done. slowly seared on an indoor grill,
me: The menu says they’re cooked to order. crusty on the outside, juicy inside,
him: That means we don’t start cooking until you order it. always perfectly cooked. At eight
to ten ounces, it’s ideal big-burger size, and it’s shaped like
I had a cheeseburger anyway, and it’s a shame the cook had to ruin a pincushion, with sloping sides, which means you get a
it, because the concept was a good one—a wide, flat burger with gooey nice gradient of doneness. The bun has a few poppy seeds
cheese. I believe I’ve made my feelings clear about the medium-rare and looks like a kaiser roll, but it’s smaller and softer. It’s just
burger, but if the meat is particularly lean, it should be eaten rare. A right for enveloping the meat, which is judiciously seasoned
well-done burger is a badly done burger, food for the meek, and if that’s and spiced, mostly with salt and pepper, I suspect. That’s all
the way we’re going to have our burgers, then we might as well give up it needs. No cheese or condiments required.
trying to enjoy ourselves and make green salads our national dish. I don’t understand how this spot came to have the best
Although I endured occasional disappointments, I never wearied of burger in America, but it does. Regardless of where I am in
life on the hamburger highway. No matter how many burgers I ate, South Florida, I always make my way here for lunch. I sit at
and I believe my daily consumption never exceeded six, no matter the bar and watch yachts that cost millions drift by, draped
how full of chopped beef I was at the end of a long but satisfying day, I with women who cost more, and I think to myself how lucky
always woke up the next morning eager to begin again. I am to be at Le Tub.

KNOW YOUR CUTS OF MEAT I’ve always believed this about burgers: The best beef is chuck, which is
particularly flavorful. Ordinary ground beef is bland. Sirloin is magnificent but perhaps overly aristocratic.
Ground round is almost always too dry. I also believe in the hand-formed, loosely packed burger. Preformed
patties are useful but never great, because compressed meat is incapable of rising above mediocrity. Here are
a few words you’ve never heard spoken at the conclusion of a meal: “That pressed food was mighty good.”

1 2 8 . G Q . J U LY. 0 5 ( Photographs by BOBBY FISHER )

JUL BURGER lo;34.indd 128 5/31/05 12:44:23 PM

Le Tub 5 y

Lu ge r

★ ★ ★ F r o m l e f t , I n t r a c o a s t a l i n d u l g e n c e a t L e Tu b ; a l u n c h t i m e f a v o r i t e i n B r o o k l y n ; Ko b e s l i d e r s t h a t o u t w e i g h t h e i r n a m e .

02 | Luger Burger 04 | Rouge Burger

The legendary Peter Luger is celebrated for its porterhouse, which The clientele appears to consist primarily of aging men
is buttered, seared, and sliced. But consider this: Its burger (avail- of means, each one accompanied by an Eastern European
able only at lunch) may be even better than the steak. model/actress. (Who knew that white slavery lived on in
At first glance, the roll seems too large, as it is at most steak stuffy old Philadelphia?) Do these people care that they’re
houses. It isn’t. The half pound of beef, so charred on the outside eating the best cheeseburger in America? Rouge is so chic I’m
it appears overcooked, isn’t. The magnificent roll settles beauti- surprised that anybody pays attention to the food. I’m sure
fully around the succulent, juicy burger, assembled from prime they admire the staff, all in black. They probably enjoy sitting
aged-porterhouse trimmings and prime chuck. You can get raw outside, right on Rittenhouse Square. Back when I was grow-
onion. Don’t. It comes with steak sauce. Superfluous. You can ing up in the city, outdoor dining didn’t exist.
C LO C K W I S E F R O M TO P R I G H T: C O U R T E S Y O F B A R C L AY P R I M E ; R O S S D U R A N T/ P I C T U R E A R T S ; C O R B I S

have cheese. Unnecessary. There’s a bacon option. Hold on. The How is a simple, plump cheeseburger able to compete with FRIES
bacon, three-eighths-inch thick, slightly blackened, smoky, and all this stylishness? The Rouge Burger does just fine. The DON’T FLY
chewy-tender, complements the beef the way mustard accents a aged Gruyère cheese is strong, nutty, and pungent. The cara- If burgers are the
hot dog. I can never decide: With bacon? Without bacon? Both melized onion is judiciously applied. The bread is toasted bri- great triumph of
ways are just right. The fries are among the best in America. One oche. The fries are good. The well-salted sirloin is very lean, casual cuisine,
warning: While you’re waiting for your burger to arrive, try not so it’s best ordered rare. I could swear the hostess, to stand French fries
to eat the entire basket of irresistible bread. out from her minions, was wearing pink pajamas, but maybe are the major
I was dizzy with pleasure from dining at Rouge and encoun- disappointment.
03 | Not Just a Burger tering a Philadelphia I never knew. The perfect fry,
S P I C E D P E A R R E S TA U R A N T A T T H E medium thick,
C H A N L E R H O T E L N E W P O R T, R I 05 | Kobe Sliders made from fresh
This burger doesn’t taste like a burger. It’s more in the North Car- B A R C L AY P R I M E P H I L A D E L P H I A potatoes, crisp,
olina pulled-pork family, even though it’s all Kobe beef. (Kobe beef A slider is the small and rather grotesque (but nonethe- and golden
has a lot of the qualities of pork—it’s soft and sweet.) Chef Richard less tasty) burger bagged by the bunch at White Castle. The brown, is a rarity.
Hamilton, who has big-time talent, makes the best high-concept meat in a genuine slider is square, steam-fried, overdone, Most fries are
burger in America. His roll, which is a bit towering, and punctured with tiny holes, as though it thin and taste of
worried me at first, but it flattened beautifully and had been attacked by a vampire. Hamburgers little but oil and
didn’t get in the way. The burger, which consists of BEST on naval vessels are sometimes called sliders. salt, or they’re
barbecued Kobe brisket surrounded by chopped ONION RINGS All in all, sliders aren’t esteemed in the gastro- thick and taste
Kobe beef, is topped with enormously complex but 1 nomic firmament. of freezer burn.
not overpowering coleslaw and sits on a tomato-on- Red Mill Burgers, At Barclay Prime, a new steak house, the And they’re
ion jam that’s sort of a cross between ketchup and Seattle small burgers are inexplicably referred to as rarely hot. The
barbecue sauce. 2 sliders, but they’re not sliders at all. They’re best fries come
The twelve-ounce creation isn’t so much a Krazy Jim’s a mighty three inches tall. Each is made with from Peter Luger
juicy burger as a mouthwatering, heart-stop- Blimpyburger, two ounces of Kobe beef, and they come two in Brooklyn. I
ping, wildly rich chopped-beef sandwich every Ann Arbor, MI to an order, on miniature, exceptionally but- know women
bit as satisfying as the best sandwich you’ve ever 3 tery brioche buns. One is topped with sliced say a good man
eaten down south. It’s a burger breakthrough, New York tomato and marinated shallots, the other is hard to find,
and the accompanying garlic-basil-Parmesan Burger Co., with caramelized onion and Gruyère. They but a good fry is
potato chips are awe-inspiring. New York City may be the most succulent burgers in America, harder.

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★ ★ ★ F r o m l e f t , M i l l e r ’ s s e a s o n e d g r i l l a t w o r k ; a h o t e l b u r g e r t h a t N e w Yo r k e r s a r e a c t u a l l y w i l l i n g t o w a i t f o r .

and they’re automatically prepared medium-rare. 08 | Hamburger

I asked our waiter why a steak house would have a need MILLER’S BAR DEARBORN, MI
for sliders, and he replied proudly, “They’re like little protein Miller’s is a blockhouse of a bar, gloomy outside and not
appetizers. It’s amazing how perfectly they get the palate much better inside. It appears to be a place where people
ready for a big steak.” vanish and don’t reappear for days, but locals don’t come
here to drink. The day I visited, everybody was bellied up to
06 | California Burger the bar, eating burgers.
WORST H O U S T O N ’ S S A N TA M O N I C A They’re made from ground round, which is lean and usu-
BURGER When you figure how many millions of burgers emerge from ally flavorless. Here it’s been used for burgers since the ’50s,
Solly, may he chain-restaurant kitchens, it’s not surprising that one of them so I was willing to try one, figuring Miller’s might know
rest in grease, gets it right. Houston’s, a big, bustling, commercial spot, nails something I didn’t. I ended up eating three. I ordered the
is credited its California Burger. first medium-rare, and it was very good, made from the juici-

L E F T: C H R I S TO P H E R J . S C A LI S E . R I G H T: CO U RT E SY O F B U R G E R J O I N T, L E PA R K E R M E R I D I E N H OT E L .
with inventing This burger had no flaws. Zero. The roll: soft and sweet, est round I’ve ever tasted. I ordered the second rare, and it
the butter almost like brioche. The meat: coarsely ground and flavorful. was sensational. The cheeseburger, topped with Velveeta, a
burger, a much The red onion: mild and crunchy. The cheese: fully melted variation on American cheese, was darned good, too. When I
loved, much Monterey Jack. The condiment: a touch of mustard-honey asked my waitress what made the burger so special, she sug-
praised regional dressing. Avocado and arugula are another great touch. gested it might be the well-seasoned grill, which had been
specialty. I Houston’s California Burger is a rainbow of colors, and it’s replaced only once in the fifteen years she’d worked there.
walked into comforting, perfect for soothing Santa Monica working stiffs Miller’s has no menu, no tomatoes, no lettuce, no plates, no
Solly’s Grille after a hard morning at the macramé shop. And talk about utensils, and no check—it’s all on the honor system. When I
near Milwaukee burger engineering. I asked the manager about the sliver of asked the bartender to explain the fortress-like look, he told
and asked for greenery under the burger, and he said it was cabbage, put me with a straight face that cars speeding down Michigan
my burger with there to avoid untoward sogginess at the base of the bun. Avenue were always crashing into the building, so the owners
sautéed onion. decided to make it impregnable.
I’m guessing, 07 | Buckhorn Burger
but I’d say it BUCKHORN SAN ANTONIO, NM 09 | Cheeseburger
came with close No burger has bigger flavors than the legendary New Mexico B U R G E R J O I N T, L E P A R K E R M E R I D I E N H O T E L
to a half stick green-chili cheeseburger. Basically, it’s too much of every- NEW YORK CITY
of butter that thing on a bun: ground beef, green chilies, mustard, tomato, This spot is supposed to look like a small-town ’50s burger
soaked into lettuce, chopped onion, and pickle. Such a combination hangout, but it doesn’t. It looks like a small-town ’50s pizza
the bun and makes no culinary sense, but at Buckhorn, which makes the hangout. (Burger joints had more chrome.) Still, it’s master-
the burger and best green-chili cheeseburgers in a tiny town devoted to little fully geeky, with hideous fake-wood paneling. I thought a
finally pooled else, the result is spectacularly tasty and eminently coherent. particularly nice touch was a Christmas wreath in June.
on the plate. It The too strong onions, hot-pungent chilies, and potent mus- The burgers, however they’re ordered, will have you danc-
was like slurping tard all battle to a spectacular draw. The cheese is the binder ing the jitterbug. The day I stopped in, a hotel chef by the
dairy drainage. and the pickle the crunchy refresher, while the lettuce and name of Rudi—the name was stitched on his fancy chef’s
Wisconsin, the tomato hang on for dear life and the coarsely ground beef whites—was cooking, and he got them exactly right. The
Dairy State, acts as a solid, sensible underpinning. plain burger on an Arnold bun was the essence of classic sim-
should be Buckhorn tavern, which naturally calls its green-chili plicity. The cheeseburger with the works—tomato, lettuce,
renamed the cheeseburger a Buckhorn Burger, offers a great mouthful onion, pickle, ketchup, mayo, and mustard—was even better,
Death-by-Dairy of hot, sweet, juicy, chewy flavors. It’s the ultimate in a especially when the counterman didn’t overdo the mustard-
State. burger with a burn. mayo-ketchup amalgam. (Very few restaurants leave the

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★ ★ ★ Fro m l e f t , a o n e - o f - a - k i n d c o n c o c t i o n ; a C o u n t e r wa i t re s s s e r ve s u p a s i m p l e r c o m b o ; C o n n e c t i c u t ’s c l a i m t o fa m e .

vital job of accessorizing to customers.) The burger joint has cooked on an indoor mesquite grill, and not much food is
quickly become a Manhattan icon, where persons of all eco- more delicious than that. Sure, you can charcoal-grill at
nomic stations gather to eat in peace. Or maybe it’s more like home, but then you have to worry about famished neighbors
a jungle watering hole, where the animals wait until they’ve climbing over your fence.
departed before they start tearing one another apart.
12 | Hamburger
C LO C K W I S E F R O M TO P L E F T: DAV I D T S AY ( 2 ) ; B O B B Y F I S H E R ; DAV I D T S AY; B U R K E / T R I O LO P R O D U C T I O N S / P I C T U R E A R T S

10 | Number Five B O B C AT B I T E S A N T E F E
KELLER’S DRIVE-IN DALLAS Although Bobcat Bite is famous for its green-chili cheese-
The lady in the red Lexus that was parked alongside me burger, its best burger comes unadorned and is a mix of chuck
leaned out the window and said, “If you come here with a and sirloin, the perfect blend. My admiration for this burger
friend who has a convertible, you can sit all night. It’s better may also have been elevated by the tiny restaurant’s unsur-
than going to a nice restaurant.” Keller’s, out on Northwest passed ambience. It stands between the Jemez Mountains
Highway, is the best drive-in I’ve ever seen, and I try not and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which glow red when
to miss many. Flash your lights and out come the carhops, reflecting the setting sun. While I was waiting for a table, some
who aren’t dolled up and aren’t on roller skates, although kindly locals pointed out the high-desert flora to me. Or maybe BEST
they will call you “sweetie.” They’re also strong enough to it was the fauna. I think one is meat, the other condiments. BURGER-JOINT
lug cases of beer out to waiting cars. (Not many restaurants BARMAID
specialize in beer by the case.) 13 | Cheeseburger I told her I didn’t
Keller’s is filled with guys hanging out. They sit on the tail- WHITE MANNA HACKENSACK, NJ care for beer,
gates of their pickups, feet up on coolers. The burger of choice The burgers here are small, and when I asked what the re- which is true. She
is the Number Five, made exactly the way hamburgers were cord was for the most eaten at one sitting, the grill cook asked me what I
back when drive-ins first appeared, about a half-century ago. told me that some guy had managed thirty-two. I was awed, liked to drink with
At $2.38, it’s not priced a whole lot more than it would have not because somebody ate thirty-two burgers of about two my burger. I said,
been back then. The Number Five includes two beef patties, ounces each but that this superhero also ate thirty-two “Champagne.”
shredded lettuce, tomato, American cheese, and a Thousand potato rolls, and they looked full-size to me. New Jersey is She drew a
Island–style “special sauce” on a soft grilled poppy-seed role. one manly state. It’s also a legendary diner state, boasting Craftsman Saison,
The meat’s overcooked, but that doesn’t diminish the nostal- some of the best in America. White Manna is a 1930s artifact telling me it was
gia, maybe the best in the burger world. Keller’s even has a with a horseshoe-shaped counter that seats twelve. In the like sparkling
galvanized tin roof to protect cars. I suggested to my wait- middle of the horseshoe stands the grill cook, behaving like white wine. She
ress, Lana, that it probably sounded awfully loud a sushi chef, molding, cooking, handing out the was right. She
when it rained. “It’s not so bad,” she replied, “but burgers. Ask for cheese and onion and the too- worked her way
you should hear it when it hails.” BEST MILK big roll fills up amazingly well. down the bar,
SHAKE turning weak
11 | Grilled Bistro Burger 1 14 | Hamburger Perrier men into
B I S T R O D O N G I O VA N N I N A P A , C A Burger Joint, J.G. MELON NEW YORK CIT Y strong beer
Although this supremely cute spot does everything San Francisco “The best burger is the one you want the minute drinkers.
skillfully, I don’t recommend ordering your burger 2 your plane touches down after you’ve been in Christmas Collins,
any which way but plain. It’s just too good to dress The Counter, Europe for three months,” said a friend of mine, bartender at
up with grilled onion or cheese or garlic-mayonnaise. Santa Monica an Upper East Sider with the money to do ex- Father’s Office in
The meat is chuck, and the roll a subdued version 3 actly that. “For me, this is the one.” J.G. Melon’s Santa Monica,
of focaccia, which is bread brushed with olive oil Soup Burg, burger is a Manhattan benchmark. The bun is is the burger’s
and sprinkled with salt. The burger is perfectly New York City nicely toasted. The (continued on page 180) best friend.

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“Tell me about American humor. What “Ja, raus, Schwein!” It’s like, what’s this all to make it as respected as any other sport.
should I know?” He was my coach. about? So I had to make people more famil- We went after that. Books. Promotion. High
iar with it. In the ’70s, when they tested society in New York. It really shook up the
Milton Berle was your humor coach? my accent for movies, 60 percent of the sport and its image. Same with movies. I
Yes! people were scared. That’s why I couldn’t created a whole new niche for action mov-
get a commercial. I was supposed to do a ies, and the same in politics.
Insane. What did he teach you? 7-Up commercial with Loni Anderson, Diet
Timing. Rhythm. How to deliver jokes. 7-Up, in like ’78, but in the test, people al- You know the line from Conan the Barbar-
ways said, “This voice gave me the chills.” ian, about “What is best in life?”
Did he give you jokes? [laughs] But I decided what I have to do is “To crush your enemies, see them driven
He gave me thousands of jokes for every make people not afraid of it, so I would go before you, and hear the lamentations of
occasion. Birthday parties, this party, that to as many interviews as possible and get their women.” [laughs]
party. He had a whole file in his head. Yes, them familiar with my way of talking, and
I was really serious about learning jokes. I maybe then they will accept it. And at some Do you, in your heart of hearts, think, Fuck
knew I had to make people laugh. point they will love it. It has turned out that yeah, that’s right?
it has become a big asset. It’s one of those Well, I think that one has to translate it into
Did he write them down for you? things where I am in an elevator talking to today’s terms. Because “crush” is something
Yes. Then we’d sit down and he’d say, someone and someone doesn’t even see me, we shouldn’t do anymore. It’s not p.c. The
“Here’s how you deliver this line.” but they turn around and say, “This must be method today is to neutralize your enemies.
Arnold!” It’s so identifiable. It is me. And no one would want to hear the lamen-
So he gave you a master class in jokes? tations of women.
Oh, I was over at his house all the time. Be- That’s pretty wild.
cause I was interested in American humor. And then Hans and Franz come along, but You know, the root of neutralize is “to neu-
And Austrian humor is… they took it so much to the extreme that I ter,” which means to cut o≠ the testicles. So
started imitating them. I’m going around it’s really the same thing.
Wait, Austrians have humor? saying to people, “Yah, yah, girlie man with Really?
Very funny. Yes, great humor, but it’s quite your love handles. Look, I can pull your
di≠erent. The more south you go in Europe, love handles over your head and use them I don’t know. Sounds right, though.
the more they like to joke and drink and sing. like a little shopping bag.” So what I did is The great thing I have is a gift that I can
The more north you go, the less it’s like that. just be out there and make my voice, my ac- see where I’m going and need to be. Like
cent, part of America. when I sat down and said, “I want to be Mr.
Just like America. Universe.” I saw myself onstage, holding
It’s with the temperature. It’s all weather How do you think history will remember the trophy, hundreds of bodybuilders be-
related. you? low me. This is the vision I had. The same
I don’t care. when I got into movies or ran for governor.
What’s a good Milton Berle line? And people told me I’d never make it, with
This is not one he gave me, but I remember You? That’s crap. the accent. But I had no doubt whatsoever.
at my engagement party, he said, “Arnold is I never put that much time on that. One I just calmly move forward.
the illegitimate child of Gloria Allred and thing is clear: Whatever I do, I rattle the
Kurt Waldheim.” All this crazy stu≠. cage. With bodybuilding, I took it on myself michael hainey is gq’s deputy editor.

Has the pope called you yet?

But aren’t you guys all in the same club?
Powerful, Germanic… meat is juicy but doesn’t drip. The red on- dried cranberries on a honey-wheat bun.
I’m Austrian. ion is thinly sliced. Like well-to-do people At least you can. I wouldn’t.
with manners, the burger is perfectly cor-
Austrian, German, it’s all the same to me. rect. The bar scene is a bit annoying—too 16 | Hamburger & Fries
Do you guys ever get sick of World War II many yuppies on cell phones, reminding BURGER JOINT SAN FRANCISCO
jokes, the Colonel Klink shtick? one another how well they’re doing—but No place looks less like a joint. It should
No, because I understand it. I use those otherwise democracy prevails: no reserva- be renamed the Obsessive-Compulsive Café.
jokes myself. I think there is a history that tions, no credit cards, no playing favorites. It’s neat. It’s scrubbed. The decor is fake
can go two ways. You can look back and get ’50s, with overhead Jetsons-style light
upset about it, or you can make fun of it. 15 | Build Your Own Burger fixtures plus red vinyl and stainless steel.
I remember when I used to walk into the T H E C O U N T E R S A N TA M O N I C A The burger is so artistically presented it
gym, the owner, Joe Gold, would say, “The I asked the young girl taking orders if she could be Japanese. (Do the Japanese have
Boys from Brazil are here.” People would had ever seen a burger duplicated. “Not burger joints?) Neatly set on a stainless-
click their heels or make the Nazi hand ges- really,” she replied. “You think it might steel plate is a sheet of waxed paper, and
ture, and it took me a while to catch on to happen, and then somebody adds avo- atop that rests a deconstructed burger,
what they were doing, but I did. cado.” By the owner’s calculations, this spot with a dollop of mayo on the top half of
offers more than 300,000 possibilities. At the grilled sesame-seed bun and a burger
Did you ever think about losing the accent the minimum, you can ask for a one-third- made from Niman Ranch beef on the
in order to blend in better? Not that a guy pound plain burger on a regular bun. At the bottom half. Lettuce, tomato, red onion,
built like you could blend in.… extreme, you can have, for example, a two- and pickle sit in one orderly pile, fries in
Yes! The German accent was the evil accent. thirds-pound veggie burger topped with another. The people who run the Burger
It’s one thing when you have the French ac- herbed-goat-cheese spread, roasted-corn- Joint have gotten everything right, except
cent and women go, Ooh. But with German, and-black-bean salsa, hard-boiled egg, and the name.

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17 | Double Bacon Deluxe “hamburger.” I know everybody in Chicago said. The meat, a secret blend, tastes like
with Cheese is depressed because the Cubs never win. chuck. The sesame-seed bun is small, soft,
R E D M I L L B U R G E R S S E AT T L E I never realized they were also deaf. I’d be and grilled. I recommend a visit to the auto-
I got up to leave. My friend, a Seattle resi- disheartened, too, if I had to eat burgers mobile museum across the street, although
dent, yanked me back. I’d just finished in Chicago—Poag Mahone’s was the only they won’t let you play drive-in and eat your
eating the basic Red Mill Burger, which is place I found that did burgers right. Good burger in a vintage car.
an overdone quarter-pound patty with let- bakery buns, soft and sweet. Tasty ground
tuce and a light, spicy mayo dressing that sirloin given a nice char on an indoor grill. 20 | Hamburger Sandwich
turned the meat white. Just in time, she re- Even a “Burger Eater’s Bill of Rights.” Poag LO U I S ’ LU N C H N E W H AV E N , C T
membered what she loved: the burger with Mahone’s lived up to most of its promises, The crew numbers two. A young man takes
everything. The American cheese is artfully although the pickle spear, guaranteed your order and makes change. An elderly
melted, the thick pepper bacon superb, the “crisp and cold,” was a tad warm. woman in elastic-waist slacks makes the
soft roll pretty wonderful, the red onion toast, forms the patties, broils the meat,
sweet, the lettuce and tomato good enough, 19 | Our Famous Burger assembles the burgers (with a schmear of
and the mayo dressing just right with this SIDETRACK BAR AND GRILL something like Cheez Whiz, a tomato slice,
pile of ingredients. It’s a first-rate burger, YPSILANTI, MI and raw onion), slices them in half, sets
provided you ask for your meat rare. It Here is one of my core culinary credos: The them on the counter. She’s fast, real fast. In
won’t come rare, but it will be juicy. closer you come to a college campus, the a senior-citizen table-tennis tournament, I’d
worse burgers get. Sidetrack Bar and Grill— put my money on her. There are no buns,
18 | Hamburger named for its location next to an old railroad no fries, no ketchup. Louis’ Lunch claims to
P OA G M A H O N E ’ S C A RV E RY A N D siding—is an exception. This modern-looking have made America’s first hamburger sand-
ALE HOUSE CHICAGO pub, around since 1850, doesn’t seem con- wich, back in 1900. If it’s true, it was as sig-
The television, tuned to a Cubs game, was cerned with pleasing undiscerning Eastern nificant a moment as the discovery of fire.
so loud I had to scream my order sev- Michigan University freshmen. “We don’t
eral times, and all I was trying to say was get much of a young crowd,” my waitress alan richman is a gq correspondent.


self-reflexivity, more uniform complicity in “just can’t help being who they are.” been more tears shed on reality TV than
the falseness of it all—it made things more Well, the e≠ects of this sequence—by by all the war widows of the world. Are we
real. Because, of course, people being on a which casting directors must get crazier so raw? It must be so. There are too many
reality show is precisely what these people and crazier with their choices, resulting, of them—too many shows and too many
are! Think of it this way: If you come to my once the show has aired and had its effect people on the shows. And I just get so ex-
o∞ce and film me doing my job (I don’t on the country, in a casting demographic hausted with my countrypeople—you know
have one, but that only makes this thought in which one must scrape the barrel that the ones, the ones you run into who are all
experiment more rigorous), you wouldn’t much harder to find people who’d even go like, “Oh gosh, reality TV? I’ve never even
really see what it was like to watch me do- near a reality show—remained, for many seen it. Is it really that interesting?” I mean,
ing my job, because you’d be there watch- years, gradual and nearly imperceptible. I’m sorry, but go starve. To me that’s about
ing me (Heisenberg uncertainty principle, But now…bros, have you watched TV re- as noble as being like, “Oh, Nagasaki? I’ve
interior auto-mediation, and so forth). But cently? From what can be gathered, they’re never even heard of that!” This is us, bros.
now dig this: What if my job were to be on basically emptying out group homes into This is our nation. A people of savage senti-
a reality show, being filmed, having you these studios. It has all gotten so very real. mentality, weeping and lifting weights.
watching me, interior auto-mediation, and Nobody’s acting anymore. I mean, sure,
so forth? What if that were my reality, bros?
Are your faces melting yet?
they’re acting, but it’s not like they’re ever
not acting. That’s what I’m trying to say.
the club appearance wasn’t enough.
This is where we are, as a people. And And I just don’t see how you can’t love it. I asked them to dinner—the Miz, Melissa,
not just that. No, the other exciting thing They’re all there, all the old American gro- and Coral—because I had to know for my-
that’s happened—really just in the past tesques, the test-tube babies of Whitman self if they were real. If all those years spent
few years—involves the ramping accelera- and Poe, a great gauntlet of doubtless eyes, being themselves for a living had left them
tion of a self-reinforcing system that’s been big mouths spewing fantastic fountains with selves to be, or if they’d maybe begun
in place since the birth of reality TV. See, of impenetrable self-justification, mutter- to phase out of existence, like on a Star
because the population from which pro- ing dark prayers, calling on God to strike Trek episode.
ducers and casting directors can draw to down those who would fuck with their But then I got distracted. You know how
get bodies onto these shows has come to money, their cash, and always knowing, al- it is, when you’re kickin’ it. I got to telling
comprise almost exclusively persons who ways preaching. Using weird phrases that them about some of my all-time fave mo-
“get” reality shows and are therefore hip nobody uses, except everybody uses them ments. I talked about the time Randy and
to the fact that one is all but certain to be now. Constantly talking about our “goals.” Robin were drinking on the upstairs porch—
humiliated and irrevocably compromised Throwing carbonic acid on our castmates it was the San Diego season. Big Ran was
on such a show, the producers and casting because they used our special cup and then telling Robin about his personal philosophi-
directors, who’ve always had to be careful calling our mom to say, in a baby voice, cal system, involving a positive acceptance
to screen out candidates who are overly “People don’t get me here.” Walking around of epistemological uncertainty, a little thing
self-aware and therefore prone to freeze up in a huggable T-shirt with a kitchen knife he liked to call “agnostics.” When Robin (I
and act all “dignified” in front of the cam- behind our backs. Telling it like it is, y’all. thought very sweetly) complimented Ran
eras, are forever having to work harder and (What-what!) And never passive-aggres- on his philosophical side, which she hadn’t
harder to locate “spontaneous” individuals, sive, no. Saying it straight to your face. But noticed up till then, Big Ran goes: “I have a
people who, as the Miz says approvingly, crying, crying, crying. My God, there have lot of knowledge to share.”

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