Bob's Big Boy: The Story of an LA Icon
Double-Deck Hamburger, Googie and Classic Cars
You've probably seen him — the chubby kid with the cowlick and the mischievous glint in his eye. The larger-than-life statue is only one of the many iconic elements that make Bob's Big Boy in Burbank stand out. The diner is such a classic it was named a California Point of Historical Interest. Opened in 1949, it's the oldest operating Bob's Big Boy in the United States. It's also famous for its architecture, its classic car nights and its nostalgic appeal.
THE BIG BOY IS BORN
In August 1936, 22-year-old Bob Wian sold his DeSoto Roadster for $300 to make a down payment on The Pantry, a 10-stool hamburger stand in Glendale that he reopened as Bob's Pantry.
Six months after opening Bob's Pantry, Wian was asked by a customer to make "something different." As a joke, Wian cut a hamburger bun twice horizontally to create a middle bun, added two burger patties, and unknowingly invented the now-ubiquitous "Double-Deck Hamburger" that spawned countless imitators.
Wian's creation quickly became a hit, but it had yet to be named. According to restaurant lore, a chubby six-year-old named Richard Woodruff had been doing chores at Bob's Pantry in exchange for free burgers. When Wian called him "Big Boy," the name stuck and the rest is hamburger history.
Warner Bros. animation artist Ben Washam sketched a caricature of Woodruff in checkered overalls holding a burger, which inspired the familiar company logo and beloved statues.
Architect Wayne McAllister was inspired by the Space Age, World's Fair pavilions and roadside dining culture when he designed the building. Large, curving windows contrast with sharp angles, incorporating elements of Streamline Moderne and Midcentury Modernism. McAllister also mixed the practical with the eye-popping. The 70-foot-tall neon sign, which made it easy for drivers to see the coffee shop from the road, was so distinctive it helped build the Bob's Big Boy brand. McAllister designed many popular restaurants including The Smoke House in Burbank and several circular drive-ins, all of which are now gone. He was also responsible for several early Las Vegas casinos including The Sands, The Desert Inn and The Fremont.
The iconic Double-Deck Hamburger is available in two combos, served with fries and dinner salad: the Original with two "never frozen" burgers, lettuce, cheese, mayo and red relish; and the Super Big Boy Combo with larger burgers and twice the amount of cheese.
In addition to the classic Double-Deck, burger options include Bleu Cheese, Pastrami, Bacon Cheeseburger, Patty Melt, and the plant-based Veggie Burger and Vegan Burger.
Along with the signature burgers, favorites from the extensive menu include Pappy Parker's Fried Chicken, Bob's Famous Chili Size (1/2 pound burger topped with chili, cheese, pinto beans) and the hearty Big Ham Steak Breakfast.
And since this is a "cheat day," why not go all in with an old fashioned Thick Milkshake (vanilla ice cream, whipped topping, maraschino cherry, served with a sidecar tin) or the decadent Hot Fudge Cake - vanilla ice cream between two layers of Devil's Food Cake, smothered in hot fudge, with whipped topping and maraschino cherry.
Cars & Stars
Bob’s Big Boy has been synonymous with car culture from the beginning. The original Glendale location was a mecca for carloads of local teens, who lined up along Colorado after high school football games.
CLASSIC CAR SHOW
Car hop service at the Burbank location ended in 2014, but that retro vibe comes alive at the Classic Car Show, which dates back to the 1950s and takes place every Friday night from 4pm to 10pm. Car enthusiasts like Jay Leno converge on the parking lot to show off gorgeous vintage cars, hot rods, lowriders and even DeLoreans. The informal auto show is a great opportunity to soak up a little history by chatting with regulars - some of them have been eating at Bob's for decades.
THE BEATLES, DAVID LYNCH & "HEAT"
Bob's Big Boy has been a favorite for generations of celebs, from Bob Hope and Debbie Reynolds to David Lynch, who famously ate lunch there daily in the '80s - per the LA Times, he always ordered a chocolate milkshake, scribbled notes on Bob's little square napkins, and made sure to arrive at precisely 2:30pm because "it increased the odds that he would encounter perfection.”
During their 1965 summer tour to support Help!, The Beatles wanted to eat at "a real American diner." According to Bob's GM Mike Lopez, that August the Fab Four dined at "the last booth on the right as one walks in, where the end of the windows facing out towards Riverside Drive stop." A plaque commemorates the event - nearly 70 years later, regulars and tourists from around the world continue to request "The Beatles Booth."
Bob's Big Boy appears twice in Michael Mann's epic 1995 crime drama Heat. In an early scene, a parolee played by Dennis Haysbert gets a job at a diner (Bob's). Later on, Robert DeNiro and his crew (Val Kilmer and the late Tom Sizemore) are waiting at the diner for their driver Danny Trejo, who has to bail on their bank heist because he's being tailed by the LAPD. DeNiro recruits Haysbert for the caper, which leads to one of the all-time great movie shootouts in the streets of Downtown LA.