For nearly two decades, Burger Joint was one of the mainstays of the New York City burger and hidden restaurant scene. It opened originally in 2002, but when the Parker New York Hotel (formerly the Parker Meridien) closed in the spring of 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic, Burger Joint was lost with it. New Yorkers know that most things in this city come and go, but this is one of those rare moments when a place reopens exactly as it once was. As of November 1st, 2021, Burger Joint is back with the reopening of the hotel as the Thompson Central Park.
Earlier this week, I was amazed to discover that not only the food was exactly how I remembered it (the delicious “The Works” burger delivered), but also all of the décor was retained down to the cardboard signage, the wall-to-wall graffiti, and even the vintage television hanging in the corner. Burger Joint is serving the same exact recipes and has brought back most of the original staff, including Roxy, who has been there since day one in 2002.
I used to spend a lot of time at Burger Joint in the mid-aughts. The Parker was the go-to hotel for corporate stays when I worked at the Abercrombie & Fitch headquarters and even after I moved back to New York City, I’d visit former colleagues who came to town. We’d chill at the rooftop pool and settle in to Burger Joint when we got hungry. When I heard Roxy’s voice call out to the Thompson Hotel team eating inside, I instantly recognized the same voice from the past calling out orders.
Just like before, there’s nothing that reveals Burger Joint’s existence, tucked behind thick floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains in the lobby of the Thompson Central Park. Down a long hallway, a neon burger sign is all that denotes what lies beyond. I’ve always loved the juxtaposition between the divey 1970s interior of Burger Joint and the posh monumentality of the hotel lobby. The multi-level atrium lobby was once adorned in marble, but it will get a classy revamp when the rest of Thompson Central Park opens up this spring. For now, you can see a portion of the new lobby, book a room on the floors that are completed, check out a pop-up bar called SRO (Standing Room Only), and take in classic New York cuisine at Burger Joint.
Once inside Burger Joint, you’ll be comforted by the scent of burgers, brownies, and milkshakes wafting over from the open kitchen. Beers on tap (pitchers available) include Bronx Brewery’s World Gone Hazy IPA and the Well-Earned Pilsner, as well as the classic Bud Light.
With the long lines of yesteryear, you would need to know what you wanted in advance, or you would be yelled at and sent to the back of the line. If you freeze, just ask for “The Works” which puts everything on your burger or cheeseburger: lettuce, tomato, onion, sliced pickles, mustard, ketchup, and mayo. There is also a vegan Beyond Burger, a spicy slaw cheeseburger (aka the “Slawburger”), along with the classic hamburger and cheeseburger options. Two cooks on staff spend most of their time just cooking burgers to that perfect texture.
Visually, the interior features vinyl booths, 1970s-era wood veneer paneling with sports and movie posters taped haphazardly, and no shortage of graffiti scribbles on the wall. The hotel management offered us a marker to add to the graffiti, and we did just that by welcoming Burger Joint back. There is one difference from the past: the old television doesn’t work anymore.
The new Thompson Central Park features a lobby and public spaces designed by Thomas Juul-Hansen, including a large-scale painting by Chuck Hipsher. The hotel design overall, with rooms by Stonehill Taylor (which also designed the rooms at the TWA Hotel) takes inspiration from the art district that emerged in this neighborhood starting in the late 19th century and early 20th century around Carnegie Hall.
While most of the artist studio apartments have disappeared, including the most famous one above Carnegie Hall, the area remains a hub for art institutions with its proximity to The Museum of Modern Art, City Center, The Art Students League, and the theaters on Broadway. Specifically, the interior décor gives homage to the recording studios that were once on this site. The rooms all feature stunning photographs of musical instruments from the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection, for example, and the elevators have a rockstar feel.
Because of its popularity, a visit to Burger Joint always shows a cross-section of the New York City population. In its first couple of days of re-opening, that remained true. So if you’re looking for a glimpse of a bygone New York — one that miraculously remained unchanged despite a shift in real estate ownership — head back into Burger Joint.
Next, check out the top 10 hidden bars in New York City!