A Fond Pink Remembrance of Hippopotamus Hamburger

San Francisco Public Library
​We were really young when the Hippopotamus Hamburger Restaurant (aka the Hippo or Hippo Burger) was open on Van Ness, but we remember a pink, cartoony wonderland of happy hippos created by Wolo von Trutzschler. We'll never forget the dizzying array of hamburgers prepared in ways we never thought of but definitely approved ― like topping patties with ice cream, hot fudge, a pickle and a cherry, which was always the one we wanted most, minus the pickle. We didn't recall, but have been reminded, that even the toilets took on the hippo theme at this restaurant, which was open for over 30 years, reportedly starting in the early 1950s and closing in 1987.

Wolo von Trutzschler
​The Hippo Cook Book, written by owner Jack Falvey and illustrated by von Trutzschler, was released in 1969. It's out of print, but there are used copies on Amazon for about five bucks, a total steal. Most of the recipes are doable, but a few skew silly, like this recipe for a Grassburger: "Into the patty work your refined grass. Knead it in and enjoy the Laugh-In." At the time of the book's writing, Falvey made 57 different kinds of burgers; in its later days, a sign saying "Burgers Made 100 Ways" was out front.

The Hippo was a people-watcher's delight, as Falvey himself described well. "You may sit next to a Black Panther or a priest," he wrote, "a white-tie opera goer or a 'hippie,' a worker in soiled overalls or a whole Japanese camera clicking group."

It was also a place where local restaurateurs would converge. "It is not unusual to find Vic or Rolland Gotti of Ernie's, or Vic and Lyn Bergeron of Trader Vic's, Bumps Baldauf of Senor Pico, the gang from Los Gallos, Barnaby Conrad of Barnaby's Cabaret, Claude Rouas of L'Etoil and/or even Art Zimmerman of Zim's hamburger chain!"

Celebs dug it, too. "With a menu like the Hippo's, and its great variety of the hamburger, a guy like Herb Caen comes in and orders an omelette! Dame Margot and Nureyev came in, ate a 'Hippieburger' then went to went to Haight-Ashbury and got pot luck! What luck! The great Tennessee Ernie Ford ordered a Diet Steak and gave us a plug on his national network show. Bing Crosby eats just a plain hamburger ― ditto with Pat Paulson."

For another great time capsule, check out this 1974 menu to ogle such exotic and Hippo-tastic delights as the Montecarloburger, Peninsulaburger, Islandburger, and Bronxburger (average price: $2.35).

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When I was a little girl I got to go to the Hippo on special occasions.  I always got a cheeseburger and a mocha milkshake.  Best. Milkshake. Ever.

I walked through the parking lot of the mini-mall there for the first time last week, and almost started to cry when I saw a little plaque that called it "Hippo Plaza."

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