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The $14 Burger 

Wednesday, Mar 22 2006
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It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a $14 hamburger. And not just a hamburger: Frequently, there must also be cheese.

There is a new wind blowing down Hollywood Boulevard, a wind promising $800,000 condos and $16 martinis, a wind whipped up by the reluctant parting of velvet ropes and the vibrations of ten thousand Arctic Monkeys CDs, scented with the sweet aroma of charring $75 steaks. The street-corner evangelists have moved back to Kansas and most of the street punks are off in Whittier or someplace, but the clean, glittering boulevard gleams with polished leather and gym-toned torsos — torsos yearning to be filled with Grey Goose cocktails and Kobe beef, and the French fries that will make tomorrow morning’s Xtreme Cardio class seem all worthwhile.

The new Hollywood hamburger bars have ale lists instead of boilermakers, architecture instead of sawdust, and all manner of artisanally made soda pop as well as the traditional Coke and Sprite. There may be several television screens scattered around the dining room, but they most assuredly will be tuned to something ironic and arty instead of the Lakers game. Portions will be supersized, but the burgers are more nibbled at than consumed. The blue cheese will have impeccable breeding. There will be Shiraz and Grüner Veltliner by the glass; you can almost count on it. Burgers and fries, a couple glasses of wine and a split piece of chocolate cake will end up costing pretty much a C-note by the time you add in the tax and tip. Connoisseurship has its price.

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The new Hollywood burger bar is almost certainly open until 3 a.m., and will almost certainly have on its menu the alcohol-absorbing equivalent of the famous Father’s Office burger, smeared with blue cheese and a creamy cheese, garnished with sweet onions, arugula and bacon. They will overhandle the meat and cook it gray, no matter how fervently you plead.

“In my day,” says the creaky restaurant critic, “we went to Oki Dog after the bars closed. Or Tommy’s!” Let me pause to wipe the spittle off of my chin.

Perhaps the most gym-toned torso in Hollywood belongs (or at least used to belong) to the actor-model Lucky Vanous, a handsome, chiseled young man who enjoyed a few minutes of fame as a construction worker ogled by foxy office workers in a 1994 Coke commercial. Half of female America wanted to run their fingers along the contours of his stubbly chin, and his abdominal muscles were boroughs unto themselves, so clearly were they defined.

A few weeks ago, he opened his dream restaurant, Lucky Devils, at the core of new Hollywood, on the same block as the Geisha House and the notoriously exclusive Mood, with Rokbar just a block away. Lucky Devils is a sleek place, more diner than palace of fine dining, but highly designed all the same, festooned with raw wood and flat-screen televisions, dominated by a bank of beer taps that bristle like the radio mikes at an Oscar-night press conference. If Lucky wants to listen to an Allman Brothers live album, he will listen to that Allman Brothers live album, at a volume that will cause whitecaps to skitter across the surface of your artisanal draft root beer.

In a move that could have come straight out of Zoolander, Mr. Vanous, no longer content to possess the most splendid midsection in Hollywood, seems engaged in a campaign to destroy everybody else’s in a whirlwind of half-pound Kobe-beef hamburgers, organic 10-ounce hot dogs smothered in chili, grilled-cheese sandwiches on rosemary bread, Scharffen Berger chocolate cupcakes and delicious toasted-pecan French-vanilla shakes. If you haven’t remembered to order a side of broccoli sautéed with sliced garlic, or bothered to swap out your first-rate mountain of French fries for a salad, the only green things you will see on the table all night are a scrap or two of arugula on the cheeseburger and your groaning American Express card.

A few blocks down, in a corner of the Roosevelt Hotel that you could swear used to be home to a dry cleaner or something, 25 Degrees is the latest restaurant project from the O.C.-based team that brought us Dakota, Whist and Meson G — a bordello-style, flocked-wallpaper saloon with a big list of wines by the half-bottle, the chance to have Red Hawk or Crescenza on your cheeseburger instead of ordinary cheddar, and big Chinese takeout containers filled with herb-flecked pommes frites. The soundtrack is probably close to the one you played in your car on the way to the AC/DC concert, if you were into stuff like that, a grinding mix of ’80s guitar rock played with enthusiasm and played loud. The single dessert is a slab of chocolate cake big enough to feed 10.

Good enough as it goes. But if you want a great, dripping, bloody, expensive hamburger in Hollywood, you’re still going to have to go to Hungry Cat. Meow.?

Lucky Devils, 6613 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 465-8259. Open Sun.–Wed., 11 a.m.–midnight; Thurs.–Sat., 11 a.m.–3 a.m. AE, D, MC, V accepted. Beer and wine. Street parking. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $20–$50. Burgers $12.95-$16.95.

25 Degrees, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 785-7244. Open Mon.–Thurs., 5 p.m.–1 a.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5 p.m.–3 a.m. AE, MC, V accepted. Beer and wine. Valet parking. Dinner for two, food only, $25–$65. Burgers $9–$12.

Hungry Cat, 1535 N. Vine St., Hollywood, (323) 462-2155. Open Tues.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; Mon.–Sat., 5:30 p.m.–midnight; Sun., 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.–11 p.m. AE, MC, V accepted. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $40-$70. Burgers $14.

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