The small building, a roadside hovel, is modern in a 1930s kind of way, with a metal exterior made of pipes and a metal roof that slopes up from left to right at a 30-degree angle leading up to the big metal letters: Shake Shack. One might be likely to pass it by without even noticing it, nestled as it is beneath a bouquet of treetops on the southeast side of low-key Madison Square Park. The building itself might not be much, but it’s hard to miss the scores of people standing in line and sitting on patio chairs, all single-mindedly focused on this little roadside faux-dive like they’re facing Mecca.
Shake Shack is the brainchild of restaurateur, philanthropist, and handsome guy Danny Meyer, prez of the USHG, and the Madison Square Park Conservatory. It’s an achievement in form and function, and crowds of people turn up daily during spring and summer for its highbrow take on good old American lowbrow food: custard, shakes, hot dogs, and burgers. There’s also a dish for dogs called the Poochini, which has ice-cream, peanut butter, and a biscuit.
But the burgers, ahh the burgers, are nearly perfect, and can turn usually mild mannered nine-to-fivers into competitive eaters who call themselves "Tiny." Throughout the large patio area where most people eat, all that can generally be heard is silence...chomp...silence. The occasional lines of dialogue are almost always devoted to the food. "I think I wanna go stand on line again," said a Shake Shack virgin by the name of Scott after polishing off the Double Shack Burger (two patties, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and a Thousand Island-like sauce). Scott works down on Wall Street and made the long trip up on his lunch break with his co-worker Russ, an admitted Shack cultist. "Our boss would fire us if he knew we were up here," says Russ. "As long as we’re not late for our one o’clock," says Scott. "It’s one o’clock now," says I. "It is?"
When Shake Shack reopened its windows in early April, I was there along with the throng on their lunch breaks, waiting for that first Shack burger in six months. It was a nice day, and I was with two friends who were equally passionate Shack devotees, so we didn’t think twice about the line. At one point, a shaggy-haired neo-hippy walked past, did a double-take and asked what the hell the line was about. I was sorry to tell him that, no, we weren’t waiting for Phish reunion tickets. We were here for the burgers.
"Must be a pretty good burger, man!" he said.
"You better believe it, brother," I said. And he took his place right behind us.