At 9 p.m. on a Monday, the dining room at Hatchet Hall is starting to empty as another busy dinner service draws to a close. Checks land on tables and seats at the bar open up while servers count tips and close out their stations. You can feel the pressure release like a gently hissing balloon.
But through a door at the end of the bar, the exact opposite is happening in an adjunct space that nearly stands on its own. The Old Man Bar is a dimly lit man cave where votive candles flicker from cut-glass coupes, dead animals hang on the walls and the crackle and hiss of a vinyl record is sometimes echoed by the sounds of a gently burning fire. Here, enthusiastic drinkers slide into booths and the energy swells. Bar spoons swirl in tandem in large glass beakers as rock steady spins (and skips) on the turntable. In just more than an hour, the burgers will arrive, and some of the customers have a hard time keeping their cool.
If there is a singular culinary creation that has been overdone more than all the others, it is likely the burger. Nearly every restaurant worth its weight in ground chuck has a variation on the menu, and establishments devoted entirely to the beef patty have been proliferating like rabbits for decades. For burger enthusiasts, this can be good — there are many options when cravings strike — but for the burger creators, all of this proliferation makes it difficult to stand out from the crowd.
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David Wilcox is definitely making his mark. On Sunday and Monday evenings at 10 p.m., his take is featured at the plainly named pop-up Burgers and Records. The recurring event at Hatchet Hall originally was scheduled to run through the month of March, but now that the burger fetishists have taken notice, his stay has been extended through April. Wilcox is a bit of a nomad, working a series of one-off events and consulting gigs after a stint at Mill Valley Beer Works in the Bay Area and Gjelina before that. He says he’s focusing on his family life while taking odd jobs to pay the bills. He makes bread out of his home kitchen for sale. He recently slaughtered a lamb for an upcoming roast.
He’s also been traveling, which lends a unique perspective to his cooking. On a motorcycle trip that took him through Washington, he stumbled on a seafood shack on Whidbey Island that serves the oyster burger he cites as his current inspiration. Wilcox uses smoked oysters and smoked pork belly, which, paired with a patty cooked over a wood-burning grill, yields a burger that eats like a smoldering camp fire. Melting raclette and a briny aioli add even more body, which is cut with a side of fermented carrots with an acidic crunch.
It’s a solid burger, but there are lots of solid burgers around town, so part of the anticipation is driven by the fear of missing out. Only 23 are available each night, and his fans show up well before the prescribed hour, nosing around for early orders that won’t be granted. What is there to do but sip cocktails while waiting? That at least half of the customers in the bar are anticipating the same event only adds to the cachet, and when the burgers finally arrive, the hunger pangs beat an almost audible drum.
Wilcox says he’ll change the burger style for April. He’s currently dreaming up a riff on the stoner burgers he used to serve friends after hours (runny eggs, sharp cheddar, pickled green beans for punch), but he admits he’ll likely have several other ideas come and go before he settles on the final one. Whatever he imagines, it will warrant another visit to the back bar at Hatchet Hall, where the Sazerac alone, made with Armagnac and Dickel Rye, is worth the trip — and worth the Tuesday morning hangover.