By Jim Stanford on March 30, 2012
Today is the last day of Billy’s Giant Hamburgers. The landmark Town Square eatery is closing after 28 years.
So devotees better move fast to down one last gut bomb, at least in the tiny nook with ’50s-style counter service that distinguished the place. The burgers may resurface in some yet-to-be-determined dining venture, possibly down the street at Teton Theater, but the character of Billy’s will disappear into history like a coating of burnt gristle scraped from the grill.
I worked in Billy’s my first winter in Jackson Hole. I had been hired that fall to wait and bus tables in the adjacent Cadillac Grille, but it quickly became obvious that Billy’s was more my speed. I only had been in the valley a few weeks when, on my first day on the job, Harrison Ford came in for a Billy’s burger. He sat with his back to the window and ate quietly. I knew I had come to the right place.
Working the grill at Billy’s left me coated in grease and sweat, with burn marks up and down my arms. Sometimes I had 10 or 12 beef patties sizzling at once.
I don’t miss those days, and moving on to working on the river was probably one of the healthiest changes I’ve ever made in my life. But we had some fun behind the counter, which was a lot like being on stage. I worked with two of the actors from the Jackson Hole Playhouse, Scott and Roy, who with a theatrical flourish could mess with the tourists without them knowing it.
One of the more absurd moments came one night when we were rocking out to Phish’s “Golgi Apparatus.” Scott didn’t even know the band but played along. The song builds to a crescendo, and as Phish blared, “I SAW YOU …” the three of us bounced up and down in unison, Scott flipping burgers on his spatula in time — all while a crowd of blank-faced Midwesterners chewed another bite.
Since roughly 40 percent of Jackson Hole has worked at the Cadillac at some point (Tony’s Coffee, anyone?), there is a long list of notable Billy’s alumni, including KMTN’s Fish-Mon, former DJ Mike Hangin’, DJ Mr. Whipple, Igneous skis founder Adam Sherman and author Storms Reback, to name a few.
Last night I went back for one final Billy’s cheese with grilled onions and jalapeños. They already were out of fries. The staff was suitably surly and rowdy. As people offered condolences, a server shrugged. “There ain’t no better way to collect unemployment than a restaurant closing,” he said.
As Ben Roth and I passed the farewell guestbook around, a family from Wisconsin chatted us up. I had a flashback when the mother began calling the server “Billy.” “Are you Billy?” they used to ask, back when I was a grease-slinging skid. The tourists would be lined up at the door on a summer morning, waiting for us to open.
Mercifully, those days are gone. Last night, as always, we left full. I think I’m still digesting the half-pound burger.
(Top photo via Cadillac Grille)
Posted under Food