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To enjoy Burbank, open wide and say, 'Ah-ha'

Yes, it's named for a dentist, but those with broad minds will embrace what this city has to offer, from a luxe hotel to a burger to die for.

March 14, 2004|Chris Rubin | Special to The Times

Burbank — How much fun can you have in a city named after a dentist?

I pondered this question as I prepared to leave home for the weekend. I fully believe in the local getaway and have spent nights in hotels in Santa Monica, Pasadena, Beverly Hills and even downtown L.A. But Burbank?

The city, named for land-developing dentist David Burbank, who owned much of the area in the late 1800s, is less than 10 miles over the hill from my Silver Lake home. Nevertheless, it's never been high on my "must visit" list. That changed with the opening of the Graciela Burbank, a 2-year-old luxury boutique hotel. The 101-room hostelry was developed by Robert Zarnegin, one of the men who's also behind the Peninsula Beverly Hills. A weekend rate of $157 clinched the deal.

But what to do in "beautiful downtown Burbank"? My girlfriend was out of town, so it would be a solo weekend, a rare opportunity to be free of ringing phones and demanding e-mails.

As I headed over the hill, I had a full itinerary in mind. Burbank isn't quite the same as, say, Santa Monica on a weekend. But it does have entertainment-related options. Why not pay homage to the engine that drives this machine? For this Friday afternoon, I had several choices: attending a taping of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" or going on a studio tour at NBC or Warner Bros. None of these options is available on Saturday or Sunday, so I had time for only one.

The skies threatened so I was glad I had chosen the indoor activity: "The Tonight Show." I arranged a ticket in advance through NBC's website (; click on tickets at the bottom of the page) and was thus able to avoid the long line of ticketless people who show up each day. The theater seats 350 and was far smaller in reality than it looks on TV.

Wearing a denim shirt with the sleeves rolled up, Jay Leno came out to warm up the crowd. He was loose and funny, interacting with audience members and posing for photos as though he were in a comedy club. "Let me put on one of my dorky, ill-fitting suits, and we'll start the show," he said, as he left to get dressed 10 minutes before taping was to begin.

The hour, filled with trained animals, Eric McCormack from "Will & Grace" and Irish rock band the Thrills, passed quickly. (Unlike other tapings, which can seem to go on forever, the show ran straight through, with no retakes and no breaks, except for commercials.)

After the taping, I drove to the Graciela Burbank, just a few blocks up Pass Avenue from Warner Bros. Check-in was quick, and my room was lovely: fine Italian linens on a comfy bed (a Sealy Posturepedic 700 Plush, the same sleep set used at the Peninsula) and Dorothy Prentice Aromatherapy toiletries.

The finishes were elegant, from the polished granite bathroom counter to marble walls in the shower. An armoire held the 27-inch television and DVD player, and there were a couple of chairs, one for the large work area, one for relaxing and reading. I learned later that designer Cheryl Rowley, who also worked on Hotel Casa del Mar in Santa Monica and the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, was behind the look, from the peach-hued walls to the profusion of fluffy pillows on the bed.

Table for one

I could have burrowed into that room but needed some sustenance. A friend had touted Gary Bric's Ramp, a place that's been around in various incarnations for more than half a century, as authentic Burbank, so I decided to give it a try. (The name derives from the current owner and the building's proximity to the Golden State Freeway.) I took my server's suggestion and ordered the 12-ounce filet mignon, accompanied by broccoli and a baked potato. The filet was a fine, flavorful cut served sizzling on a platter. I ordered a glass of Beaulieu Vineyards Cabernet and watched the crowd from my perch in the rear of the restaurant. The place was unself-conscious retro, with walls of rough-hewn wood decorated with ceramic and copper food molds and trivets in the shapes of animals, like something you'd find in Big Bear. I wouldn't return for the decor, but I'd go back any time for the beef.

I returned to the hotel, lamenting the loss of Chadney's, the long-shuttered jazz bar across from NBC, and considered stopping at Dimples, known for its karaoke, but it was raining, and no friends had answered the call to join me. So I grabbed my novel and headed back down to the Graciela lobby, where I took a seat by the fireplace, ordered a glass of Fess Parker Syrah, and reclined on an overstuffed sofa.

For a low-key hotel with a residential vibe, though, the Graciela had a hopping bar. At one table in the Library Lounge, director Garry Marshall, who founded the nearby Falcon Theatre, an innovative company focusing on new works, hung out with a couple of friends, while other industry types talked about "the business" over martinis. It was an entertaining way to end the day.

A burger at the counter

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