Mr. Bartley#039;s: The only place you can eat Dick Cheney with a side of fries

by Beacon Staff • November 29, 2006

So goes the motto at Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage in Cambridge. And it's true the food's tasty and the restaurant only accepts cash.

This Harvard dive has been around for more than 40 years, serving up the best burgers cooked to order.,Real Food. Real Money.

So goes the motto at Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage in Cambridge. And it's true the food's tasty and the restaurant only accepts cash.

This Harvard dive has been around for more than 40 years, serving up the best burgers cooked to order. It's old school not just in character but in practice as well.

The one-room dining area is always packed with people. Servers squeeze between tables wearing Bartley's T-shirts depicting a cartoon burger with punching gloves and the tagline "You can't beat our meat."

You can try, but nothing will come of it.

All of the 30 or so burgers on the menu are named after local and national celebrities and political figures. Try the Professor Skip Gates ($9.25), a teriyaki burger with grilled pineapple on top. The Bill Clinton, a juicy BBQ cheeseburger, is a popular choice as well ($9.25).

Other humorous burgers include the Dick Cheney, "only a heartbeat away," The Jeb Bush, "the best Bush yet" and the Viagra, all of which are served with french fries or Bartley's tasty onion rings.

If your plate doesn't come with onion rings or sweet potato fries, it's worth spending the extra $1.25 to try them. The onion rings are famous around the city because they're sliced thin and battered to crispy perfection.

At Bartley's, you never have to worry about burnt burgers. Although medium-cooked burgers tend to run a little pink, well-done ones are broiled just right.

After all, when you've been cooking burgers for this long, it's hard not to know what you're doing. For the vegetarians or those who shy away from red meat, every beef patty can be replaced with a veggie or turkey burger on request.

If you decide to pop in for lunch-and can actually get a table-burgers can be ordered with a bag of chips instead of fries or onion rings. Other food on the menu includes sandwiches that are named after local colleges; there's even an Emerson sandwich made with roast beef and boursin cheese.

The meal includes chips or fries and a pickle ($7 to $9). Wraps are another great lunch choice too, and are all named for celebrities that have dined in Bartley's at some point or another, including Denis Leary and Al Pacino.

For drinks, you can order a soda, but be sure to try Bartley's specialty bottled root beer ($1.75). In the summer, the tangy raspberry lime rickeys are especially refreshing. The extra thick frappes are a great way to end lunch and dinner.

Choose from chocolate, vanilla, coffee or strawberry, or make it a candy frappe by adding M Ms, Oreos or another favorite sweet ($4.25). If you're still too full of burgers; take a frappe to go.

The atmosphere in Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage is what you'd expect from an old college hot-spot. The walls are completely covered in funny posters and stickers from bygone eras. If you're on a date, you won't be without a conversation piece or two.

Tables and green plastic chairs are pushed close together so you can get to know your neighbors if you want to-sometimes even without choice.

In the middle of the restaurant is a long communal table, guaranteeing you'll never sit alone. It's also perfect for bigger parties. Waiters and waitresses can be heard throughout the night shouting out orders to the kitchen.

If loud, crowded restaurants are not your cup of tea, skip Bartley's. It's always full of customers, and you may want to call ahead to see how long the wait is. Since burgers are cooked to order and the restaurant is typically full, meals can take a little longer than typical fast food. However, Bartley's is worth the wait.

If you wait it out, you'll be rewarded with the presence of Mrs. Bartley. She can still be found as a hostess some nights. Mr. Bartley can be seen roaming the restaurant and recommending you try his family recipe of sweet relish that's found on every table. In the spring and summer, be sure to come by and sit at the outdoor tables.

They're a hot commodity but are a perfect way to spend an afternoon people-watching and enjoying Bartley's beloved burgers.

Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage is located at 1246 Massachusetts Ave., right past the Harvard Book Store. Take the Red line to Harvard Square. Open Mon. to Sat. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Sundays. Price Range: $7 to $10. No reservations. (617) 354-6559.