I’m still not certain which of those came first, but decades before the drive-thru and hip-hop, the Southland abounded with neon lit drive-ins and cute car hops either working their way through college or waiting to be discovered by the movie czar in a Cadillac convertible. The girls, sometimes on roller skates, earned their tips taking orders and hooking trays loaded with burgers, fries, malts and pies on car windows while their male counterparts were pumping gas across the street. Our salubrious climate and penchant for everything on four wheels made L.A. the nation’s unchallenged capital. Most neighborhoods had a drive-in during their heyday, but hot boulevard corners with spacious parking became scarcer — and car-hop safety became precarious — as times and tastes changed while drive-ins gradually disappeared in the ’50s and ‘60s.
And then there were none. Well, actually one survivor in L.A. County. The good news is that it’s our own Toluca Lake landmark, Bob’s Big Boy, established by the chain’s founder and namesake Bob Wian way back in ’49. It’s both a date bait place for young romantics and a nostalgic outing for the young at heart. Wian’s first place was a Glendale counter where the entrepreneur came up with the original “double decker” burger featuring two beef patties instead of one. The split sandwich innovation caught on, and Bob’s Big Boy rapidly expanded into a major family restaurant chain that prospered for years. The operation was noted for its trademark chubby youth figure and for its server training school where every newcomer learned to do things Wian’s way, which led to consistency at every location. Ah, for the good old days. Eventually Wian took big bucks and an upstairs title as Bob’s merged. By then, the drive-ins were disappearing as the chain splintered into an array of full restaurants plus quickie places with a lamentably limited menu called Bob’s Jr. Like the little Pandas and other spin-offs, the venture didn’t reflect well on the original. It’s a lot like Hollywood where “sequels are seldom equals.”
To the present. Not everything is “burgered” at the enduring Bob’s sit-down restaurant and drive-in on Riverside Drive. The well maintained place is open seven days and nites with a broad, sensibly priced menu and breakfast anytime. Of course no restaurant is better than its management and things are winging at Bob’s since energetic and likeable Mike Lopez took the helm. The service is much improved and Lopez’s staffers praise Mike as “a go getter” and “a guy who makes it happen.” Patron and The Tolucan Times Publisher Mardi Rustam told the Palate that, “Mike Lopez is doing a great job.” I’ll buy that!
For Mike Lopez’s suggestion box. Mike, I’m a long time customer who misses Bob’s luscious spoon malts that disappeared from the menu some years ago. Bring ‘em back, please!
Be a “beach bum” at your home bar. First, kick off your shoes then rim a chilled cocktail glass with sugar. (Just rub edge with a slice of lime and dip sticky ridge into sugar.) Combine 4 parts (2 oz.) light rum, 1 ½ parts triple sec and 1 ½ parts fresh lime juice. In a cocktail shaker. For good measure, add a dash of Grenadine. Shake well; pour and enjoy.
See you next week same time same space. Meanwhile treat yourself and somebody special to dinner at a full service restaurant.