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Killer Queens: Hamburger Mary’s Comes to Houston

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By Brandon Wolf
Photo by Theresa DiMenno

Bars and clubs all have their own niches of clientele,” says Mark  De Lange, owner of Houston’s new Hamburger Mary’s. “I wanted a place where every member of Houston’s LGBT community would feel like they fit in.”

In late February 2017, De Lange created just such a place by bringing Hamburger Mary’s to Texas. With 17 locations in seven states, the franchise is known for its funky décor, huge hamburgers, and lush drinks. However, what really sets it apart is that each restaurant is also a show bar that features a lineup of professional drag entertainers and other performers.

A Long-Term Dream Is Finally Realized

De Lange says he first thought about opening a Hamburger Mary’s location in 2005, after dining at several other restaurants in the franchise. But it took 11 more years before all the right elements finally came together in the summer of 2016.

“I wanted it to be ‘in the neighborhood’—the area of bars that are clustered on Pacific Street or nearby,” De Lange explains. He particularly liked the Hollywood commercial strip on Hyde Park, just a block east of Montrose Boulevard, that had been fully leased for years.

Then last summer, the Hollywood Style Center decided to close their space in that strip. De Lange moved quickly to secure both a Hamburger Mary’s franchise and a lease on the open property.

The Hamburger Mary’s franchise team traveled to Houston and met with De Lange. The franchise prides itself on creating unique restaurants, each adapted to the local area. They want each restaurant to be a special experience for customers who visit, so no two locations look anything alike.

After the Houston build-out design was developed and approved by the franchisors, the franchise team helped De Lange develop a basic menu and drink list.

“They advise each new restaurant to start with an attractive but basic menu, and then build on it once the restaurant is established,” De Lange explains. “When a restaurant first opens, they want a heavy focus on smooth operation. If the staff is overburdened with too many offerings, the service quality will suffer, and that’s not the impression you want the first customers to leave with.”

It was good advice. During the soft opening, more than 3,000 customers were served. Reviews on the restaurant’s Facebook page show that the guests were pleased with the food and the staff. “But there is more to come,” says De Lange. “The menu will be expanded with lots more offerings.”

The Hamburger Mary’s Shows

Each day a different show is offered. Tuesday is Game Night, Wednesday is Dining with the Divas, Thursday is Fuego Latin Divas, Friday is a Variety Show, Saturday is the Mary’s Illusions Show, and Sunday is the Broadway Brunch.

Hamburger Mary’s restaurants are well-known for their charity work, so all game proceeds are donated to local organizations. De Lange says that in the short time his restaurant has been open, donations have already been made to the Houston Gaymers for $900 and Avenue 360 (formerly Bering Omega) for $1,000.

There’s Something About Mary’s: At Hamburger Mary’s, all dishes come with a side of fun. Here, guest performer Amanda Nicole wows customers with a high-energy show.
There’s Something About Mary’s: At Hamburger Mary’s, all dishes come with a side of fun. Here, guest performer Amanda Nicole wows customers with a high-energy show.

Bubbalicious emcees the Wednesday Divas show and the first Saturday drag show. Alexyeus Paris emcees the second Saturday drag show. Each show has a different lineup of four drag performers drawn from a sorority of house divas: Tommie Ross, Dessie Love Black, Dina Jacobs, Porsche Paris, Janet Andrews, and a few special-guest performers.

Lady Shamu hosts the Game Night and the Latin Divas show. Michael and Jonathan host the Variety Show. They also co-host the Broadway Brunch, with Violet S’Arbleu. One customer reviewing the Variety Show on Facebook commented: “Who doesn’t love a drag queen floating on a hoverboard while playing a violin?”

The performers spend a minimum of time on the house stage because they are required to “touch every table,” interacting with all the customers and working the entire room. De Lange says that 90 percent of the contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race have either been performers at a Hamburger Mary’s restaurant, or have actually been discovered there.

Designing the Houston Hamburger Mary’s

De Lange points out that his Houston restaurant was the most expensive build-out of all the franchise locations so far. It is also the only restaurant in the franchise that is in a predominantly LGBT area of town. The Houston build-out was completed in less than two months.

Painted in a “Tiffany Blue,” the restaurant has campy decorative touches and several stunning chandeliers. Behind the cashier is a huge painting of Catherine the Great that had hung in the poolroom at Rich’s bar for five years after migrating from Red Square, a straight disco in the Midtown area. Catherine is now embellished with bling and is holding a pink feather duster in her hand. “At night when we close, she touches the place up for us,” De Lange says with a grin.

On the walls are framed caricatures of famous performers beloved by the LGBT community, such as the Village People, Cher, and Cyndi Lauper. There are also campy posters of the franchise’s mascot, Hamburger Mary, set in a variety of iconic paintings such as the Mona Lisa, The Scream, and A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. She is also seen in classic movie posters such as Gone with the Wind, The Birdcage, and The Wizard of Oz.

Tongue-in-cheek menu items include Britney Fried Pickle Spears, a Black & Bleu Boy Hamburger, the Gym Bunny Club Salad, and Blanche Devereaux’s Hawaiian Flatbread. The Classic LGBT Sandwich is of course made with lettuce, guacamole, bacon, and tomato. The signature house dessert is Fried Twinks— two deep-fried Twinkies with raspberry sauce and whipped cream.

From the bar comes “Special Tease” cocktails such as Pretty in Pink, Not Your Granny’s Lemonade, and Mary Queen of the Rodeo (a Bloody Mary).

The huge Original Mary hamburger with all the fixin’s is just like the first one served 45 years ago in San Francisco, complete with a steak knife plunged through the middle to keep it all together.

A 45-Year LGBT Tradition Continues

The original Hamburger Mary’s was a funky, friendly dive that emerged on Folsom Street in San Francisco’s Castro district, pulled together in 1972 on a shoestring budget. Mismatched flatware and dishes, kooky artwork, and antiques added to its authentic hippie-era charm. Billed as an “open-air bar and grille for open-minded people” where everyone was welcome, its staff was friendly and personable, and the food was made-to-order.

Hamburger Mary’s describes itself as “a family of locally owned independent restaurants” rather than a typical restaurant “chain.” The restaurants are unique for their deep roots in the history of local LGBT communities, and for their awareness of the cities they are located in. For example, in Oak Park, Illinois—a mecca of Frank Lloyd Wright homes—the franchise pays tribute to the iconic architect with lots of earthy mid-century touches.

From hosting charity game events and fundraisers to sponsoring local athletic leagues and theater troupes, each location does its part to give back to the community. Over the years, Hamburger Mary’s has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity. After the Pulse nightclub tragedy in the summer of 2016, franchises held fundraisers for the survivors of the shooting.

Hamburger Mary’s locations include Chicago (two locations) and Oak Park, Illinois; Denver, Colorado; Brandon, Orlando, Daytona Beach, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Tampa, and Jacksonville, Florida; Kansas City, Missouri; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Long Beach, Ontario, and West Hollywood, California.

The franchise’s branding is built around its campy mascot, Hamburger Mary—a busty, big-haired blond with a giant smile and a sly wink. She shows up in a wide range of outfits ranging from a pirate to a mermaid with a clamshell bra—and most recently, of course, as a Texas cowgirl. Individual franchises have honored her with everything from life-size statues to a neon sign.

For those who have been waiting for the franchise to come to Houston—and for those who are eager to find out what the buzz is all about—stop in and check out this fun new spot. And, Mary—if you want to be sure to see a show, remember to make a reservation!

Family Dining by Day, Show Bar by Night

Hamburger Mary’s is open every day except Monday. The full menu is available from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, while the late-night menu of appetizers (or “starters”) is served from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. From 5 to 7 p.m., the bar has a happy hour with a different drink special each day.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the first dinner seating for the evening show gets under way at 7:00, with a second seating at 7:30. The show begins at 8:00. All menu items and drinks are available during the show, and servers deliver them quickly and inconspicuously.

On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Hamburger Mary’s features two evening shows. Seatings for the first show are at 6:30 and 7:00, with the show starting at 7:30. Seatings for the second show are at 9:00 and 9:30, with the show starting at 10:00.

On Saturday, a brunch menu is offered from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The full menu is offered from 2:30 to 11 p.m., and the late-night menu from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.

On Sundays, the restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Two brunch shows are scheduled. Seatings for the first show are at 11:00 and 11:30 a.m., with the show starting at noon. The second seatings are at 3:00 and 3:30 p.m., with the show starting at 4:00. The brunch menu is offered from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and the full menu from 2:30 to 7 p.m.

Reservations are strongly recommended for the dinner shows. They can easily be booked on the Houston Hamburger Mary’s Facebook page.

An outdoor covered porch is open during restaurant hours for food and drink service, depending on the weather.

De Lange says he hopes to expand the weekend hours to 5 a.m., offering clubgoers a place to eat after the area bars close. A menu of breakfast dishes, starters, and select items from the regular menu will be offered.

The facility is available for private parties and social functions, but only on Mondays when the restaurant is normally closed.

  • The original Hamburger Mary’s opened in 1972 in San Francisco’s Castro area. [Photo Courtesy Hamburger Mary’s]. Copyright 2017 OutSmart Magazine
  • Twins Ashley and Brandon Wright are the Hamburger Mary’s franchisors.  They are also franchisees, and thus understand the day to day business realities.   [Photo: dnainfo.com]
  • Chicago’s Hamburger Mary’s offers outdoor dining from spring to fall.   [Photo: patch.com]
  • Hamburger Mary’s in Tampa, Florida.   [Photo: 813area.com]
  • Hamburger Mary’s in Oak Park, Illinois pays tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright.  Oak Park is filled with homes designed by the architect.    [Photo: oakparkbeer.com]
  • Hamburger Mary’s in West Hollywood has a colorful neon sign featuring the franchise mascot.  [Photo: wehoville.com]
  • Staff members at Denver’s Hamburger Mary’s have fun advertising their restaurant.  [Photo: diningout.com]
  • Jacksonville’s Hamburger Mary’s hosts a fundraiser for the survivors of the Pulse nightclub tragedy.   [Photo: jacksonville.com]
  • Mark De Lange waited for a commercial space for a Houston Hamburger Mary’s.  Finally, the Hollywood Style Center became available .  [Photo: Google Street View]
  • In late 2016, De Lange got the commercial space lease he needed and bought a franchise.   [Photo Courtesy Mark De Lange]
  • The make-over and build-out was finished in a record two months.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • De Lange checks out the construction in late January 2017.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • The raised booth area starts to take shape.  De Lange found the chandeliers at an antiques auction.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • A much larger chandelier hangs over what will be the bar area.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • The contractor builds portable front stairs for the stage.  After a show, they are turned around and slide effortlessly into the space under the stage.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • The kitchen waits for the grille to be fired up, and start cooking hamburgers.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • The custom-designed booths feature campy magazine montages between the booth seats.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • The Houston Hamburger Mary’s Facebook cover page features Hamburger Mary as a rodeo queen. [Photo Courtesy Mark De Lange]
  • By mid-February 2017, the restaurant began their soft opening.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • You bring yourself and an appetite.   Hamburger Mary’s provides the food and the fun.  [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Hamburger Mary smiles out from the front doors, holding the signature hamburger and mugs of beer.  [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • An outdoor seating area is open whenever the restaurant is open, depending on weather conditions.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Inside, framed artwork with Hamburger Mary adds a campy touch.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Hamburger Mary in “The Scream”.  Owner De Lange says she’s screaming because she needs a signature hamburger.    [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Hamburger Mary shows up in “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”.  She brought her lunch.  [Photo Courtesy Mark De Lange]
  • New franchises always start with a smaller menu, giving them time to establish themselves.  But additional offerings will be added soon.    [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Lunchtime at Hamburger Mary’s – and a look at some of their campy cocktails.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Mary Queen of the Rodeo is Hamburger Mary’s Bloody Mary.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • The calorie-conscious Gym Bunny Club Salad arrives on colorful dinnerware.  [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • It’s Saturday night, and a server keys her order into the tracking system.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • A server gets ready to deliver a tasty starter – MMMMac & Cheese Balls.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • This is how the chefs make sure each dinner item includes exactly what it should .   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Catherine the Great reigns, with some added bling and a pink feather duster.  She has previously worked at Rich’s and Red Square nightclubs.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • A server double-checks his orders on the tracking system.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Against Tiffany Blue walls, caricatures of performers beloved by the LGBT community add to the festivity.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Cher.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Marilyn.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • A lot of margarita choices to choose from.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Hamburger Mary Lisa looks down from her perch above the deejay booth.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • The well-stocked bar.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • The bar area’s triple screens.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Saturday night customers chat before the first evening show.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Hamburger Mary in “Gone with the Wind”.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • The deejay goes over the details of the first evening show with emcee Bubbalicious.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Three signature burgers ready to serve to hungry guests.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Guest performer Christina Ross in the dressing room before the first show.  [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Ross checks out her gown and headdress in a mirror.  [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Dina Jacobs (left) is one of five house divas, who perform frequently on Wednesday and Saturday nights.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Porsche Paris (left), also a house diva, finalizes her hair as guest performer Amanda Nicole looks on.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • House diva Tommie Ross moved to Houston to perform at Hamburger Mary’s.  [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • House diva (and OutSmart cover girl) Dessie Love-Blake in a diva show.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • House diva Janet Andrews in a diva show.   Four performers entertain during each show, and the line-up varies from show to show.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Dinner arrives shortly before the first Saturday show begins.  Weekend shows are always sold out and reservations are recommended.  [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Friends celebrate the birthday of one of their group.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Lights begin to dim 15 minutes before show time.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Busy servers graze hips as they work to deliver dinner to their guests.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Two friends choose bar seating for the show.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • It’s always a packed house on Saturday night.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Tee-shirts make a perfect place for a campy comment.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Emcee Bubbalicious works the room just prior to the first evening show.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • This customer also chose a bar seat for the first show.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • The Saturday night deejay monitors all the audio input and output.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • In the kitchen, signature hamburgers are cooking on the grille.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • The magazine montages between the booth seats.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • De Lange says the booth area is the most popular seating area.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • The stage changes colors as show time nears.  Servers make sure all their guests are satisfied.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Emcee Bubbalicious gets the audience ready for the first show.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Legendary diva Dina Jacobs is the first to be introduced.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Paris and Nicole strut their stuff on the house stage.    [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Guest performer Christina Ross brings a touch of Las Vegas to Houston.    [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Ross works the room.  All performers are required to ‘touch every table’, interacting at some point with each guest.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Nicole puts on a high energy performance.    [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • At Hamburger Mary’s, everyone fits in.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Diva Dina Jacobs, a former Miss Texas Classic USA channels Lena Horne.  At 70 years of age, Jacobs is in her prime.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Jacobs works the room, never missing a beat.    [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • The servers and audience clap along with the music.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Guests enjoy the festive atmosphere.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Paris gets the audience really pumped with a Whitney House song. [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Any evening at Hamburger Mary’s is memorable.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Two guests with birthdays get a chance to compete in an impromptu dance-off.  The audience decided it was a tie.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Ross in a stunning pink outfit.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • The dinners are big, and take-out boxes are popular.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • Dessie Love-Blake performs at a Wednesday night Divas Show.   [Photo Courtesy Bubbalicious]
  • Porsche Paris performs at a Wednesday night Divas Show.   [Photo Courtesy Bubbalicious]
  • Kara Dion performs at a Wednesday night Divas Show.   [Photo Courtesy Bubbalicious]
  • Lady Shamu (left) emcees the Thursday night Latin Show.  [Photo Courtesy Pablo Martinez]
  • Latin Divas ready for the Thursday night Latin Show.  [Photo Courtesy Pablo Martinez]
  • Latin Night includes some beefcake.  [Photo Courtesy Pablo Martinez]
  • Latin Night performers.  [Photo Courtesy Pablo Martinez]
  • Variety Night on Fridays is definitely a variety showcase.   [Photo Courtesy Daniel Ramirez]
  • Angelina plays a violin while riding that hoverboard – but you’ll have to come to a Friday Variety Show to see that happen.  [Photo: Angelo S. Ortiz Vela]
  • Dessie Love-Blake in the Saturday night Illusions Show.   [Photo Courtesy Bubbalicious]
  • Dina Jacobs in the Saturday night Illusions Show.   [Photo Courtesy Bubbalicious]
  • Houston Hamburger Mary’s has an active Facebook page, and an E-Club that provides exclusive offers and specials.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]
  • A Saturday evening performance seen through the windows, from the opposite side of the street.   [Photo: Brandon Wolf]

Brandon Wolf is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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Brandon Wolf

Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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