Johnny Cash, Jacqueline Onassis, Bob Dylan, Al Pacino, Bill Belichick and Adam Sandler.
What do these famous names all have in common?
They’ve all enjoyed a meal at the restaurant currently run by Reading resident Bill Bartley—the world famous Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage.
Located directly across from the Holyoke Gate in Cambridge’s Harvard Square, Mr. Bartley’s has been serving up unbelievable burgers as thick as a man’s arm since 1960.
As many as 800 burgers a day, according to Bartley, who lives with his wife and their two children on Pleasant Street, and also has two kids who are in their mid 20s.
“That’s if I didn’t go to Grumpy Doyle’s the night before,” Bartley says with a wide grin, his sense of humor nearly as irrepressible as the popularity of his eatery.
Known for serving up burgers named after Harvard heavyweights and political figures, Mr. Bartley’s was opened by Bill’s parents, Joe and Joan Bartley when they took over the Harvard Spa 51 years ago, and since then, the only thing more challenging than gaining admittance to the venerated Ivy League institution that gives this section of Cambridge its name, is getting a table at Mr. Bartley’s during the lunch rush.
You might expect someone who runs such a bustling business to be in a constant state of agitation, given the heavy workload, but not Bill Bartley. His sense of humor endures, regardless of how busy the restaurant gets.
With a sinking feeling of regret, even as the words passed our lips, Reading Patch asked what was in one of the more interestingly named items on the menu—the Viagra burger. We were anticipating, at worst, some reference to crushed up pharmaceuticals. Instead, we were told that someone so young shouldn’t need to ask that question. Touche.
Despite running a business in Cambridge, Bill Bartley, a graduate of Austin Preparatory School—when, as he puts it, “the men were men, and the girls at St. Mary’s were nervous”—loves living in Reading, but said that if he were in charge, things would be different.
“When I take over, the first change I’m going to make is you can get a compost sticker 24 hours a day,” he said. “And you can throw a TV set out on the curb anytime you want. Those would be the first two changes I would make.
“I bet I would get a lot of votes with that platform,” he added with a laugh.
One unique thing about Mr. Bartley’s is the menu tends to change with the news. That is, candidates for office and other prominent folks who find themselves splashed across the front page often find they have their own signature burgers before long.
For example, Reading Patch spoke with Bill Bartley at the height of the media frenzy surrounding Harvard graduate and undrafted NBA sensation Jeremy Lin, and, already, he had a burger named after him at Mr. Bartley’s.
“It’s the most underrated burger on the menu,” he said, referring to Lin’s low college profile that led to him not being selected in the NBA Draft. The Jeremy Lin burger comes with mozzarella cheese, marinara sauce and french fries.
Such is also the case with Sen. Scott Brown and would-be democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren—a Harvard professor. While there are still many months to go before Bay Staters will decide whether or not the senatorial seat that once belonged to Ted Kennedy will remain in GOP hands, according to Bill Bartley, if divination through burger sales is any indicator, it’s another term for Wakefield native Brown. Hands down.
“Nobody buys the Elizabeth Warren burger,” he said. “You can’t give them away."
But we’re not breaking any new ground here. Mr. Bartley’s has been the recipient of a mountain of plaudits over the years, and has been featured on television food shows such as Diners, Dives and Drive-Ins, where Bill Bartley traded jokes with host Guy Fieri.
Although the Bartley’s chose Reading for the renowned school system, Bill Bartley says there is one major change that he’d like to see: “A fence would be okay, but if we could just move North Reading and Stoneham, that would be great,” he laughed.
So the next time you find yourself in Crimson country, stop by Mr. Bartley’s for one of America’s truly great hamburgers and support a fellow Reading resident at the same time. Just keep it under your hat if you hail from North Reading or Stoneham.