A Burbank-Toluca Lake legend passed away this past week after 62 years, and it will be missed a lot more than the transient sitcoms and failed pilots of sitcoms shot at the nearby Warner Brothers studios will ever be. I’m talking about the best show in town. After 62 years in business, Papoo’s Hot Dog Show shuttered its doors on Sunday for reasons that have nothing to do with business, which was by all accounts as strong as ever. Owner Leona Gardner says, in an interview with the Burbank Leader, that the city of Burbank was enforcing code violations that would have started a domino effect of remodeling that she could not afford. “The renovations were really the last straw,” Gardner told reporter Mark Kellam, the city specifying that the hood covering the grill was not in compliance with city ordnances for health and safety. Gardner explained, “The letter said that statute in 1964 when the hood was put in was in violation because the [deep fryer] underneath it was a few inches bigger than it should be. Once you rip that out, you have to redo the kitchen. And we need to redo the roof. Really, there’s a lot of renovation that should be done here and I’m not in a position to do it right now.”
The restaurant was a local landmark, to be sure, and one close to a lot of hearts. But it was a pop culture touchstone as well, its proximity to the Warner Bros, Universal and Disney studios making it a easy stop for the movie industry looking for a vibrant, lived-in location. It would make a fascinating investigation indeed to try and spot the many appearances Papoo’s has made in the movies and on TV since it first opened its doors in 1949. One indelible impression of the Show came in 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, when the restaurant was primarily an outdoor eatery.
The other comes courtesy of the wonderfully flea-bitten exploitation classic Revenge of the Cheerleaders (1976), in which several of the title characters and their goofy boyfriends take time out from partying and the various other hostile and sociopathic exploits which take up the movies 88-minute running time for a dance sequence that I wrote was “the drive-in equivalent of a musical interlude from Chico and Harpo.” Better still, this one features a completely rhythmless David Hasselhoff tearing up Papoo’s dance floor (such as it was) in a turn so spectacularly bad that many believe it singlehandedly spurred on the Saturday Night Fever phenomenon purely as a cultural emetic designed to flush all memories of Hasselhoff’s moves from memory forever. Thank God for YouTube, then, and low-budget DVDs!
Though I hadn’t been there for years, Papoo’s had always been a favorite of mine and my coworkers, given how easy it was to drop in for a Friday lunch. (This was back in the days of the early 00’s when most of us actually still had money to spare for lunches that we didn’t pack or defrost for ourselves.) And I often took my oldest daughter in with me to Papoo’s when it was my turn to pick up everybody’s grub. Leona and the staff would always greet her loudly, fawn over her and make her (and me) feel like she was a one-of-a-kind princess whenever she came in. It is my impression that if one were to gauge by the effusiveness of the folks at Papoo’s there are multitudes of princesses and princes toddling the streets of Burbank, and many who will remember ending up feeling pretty royal when all they thought they were doing was following Dad inside for a burger. And it was a hell of a burger too, to say nothing of the hot dogs. Whatever you ordered, Papoo’s put on quite a show. It’s a daily lineup that those of us who were lucky enough to frequent its performances, or silly enough to take them for granted, will dearly miss. Here’s hoping that somehow, someway the curtain will once again rise on this fine Burbank-Toluca Lake tradition, Papoo’s Hot Dog Show.
(Photos courtesy of Blogging Los Angeles and Dear Old Hollywood.)