UPPER WEST SIDE — Hordes of hungry meat lovers descended on Big Nick's Burger Joint on Wednesday to celebrate the restaurant's 50th anniversary with 1962 prices.
The Kennedy-era pricing — featuring 60-cent hamburgers, 35-cent fried egg sandwiches and 15-cent coffee — quickly drew a line that wrapped around the block at Broadway and West 77th Street.
The beloved neighborhood eatery will offer the discounted anniversary rates through midnight Wednesday. To prepare for the onslaught of customers, Big Nick's ordered hundreds of extra pounds of meat and put its entire staff on duty, Sheri Imirziades — aka Big Nick's wife — said.
"I love his hamburgers. They taste like when you cook at home," said 70-year-old Marva McWilliams as she waited patiently on a line that was several dozen deep at 2 p.m. "The smell of the burgers cooking when you're waiting, it gets your taste buds excited."
Trendy burger joints like Shake Shack, 5 Napkin Burger, Five Guys and Mel's Burger Bar have proliferated on the Upper West Side in recent years. Still, customers continue to flood Big Nick's, a more modest option that's open 24 hours a day and serves a boggling array of burgers, sandwiches, salads and blue-plate specials.
"It's old-school, it's traditional and it always gets good marks on cleanliness," said regular customer John Virag, a fan of Big Nick's burgers, fries and pizza.
A beaming Nick Imirziades, 71, stood outside the restaurant, talking to a steady stream of well-wishers who offered congratulations on staying in business for a half-century.
"I came here from another country and I started from zero," Imirziades said. "It's wonderful that people have supported me. I support them, and they support me back. We don't compromise on quality or quantity."
Imirziades, who lives around the corner from Big Nick's, said he was 19 or 20 when he emigrated from Greece. He got his first restaurant job as a night-shift dishwasher in a 24-hour restaurant in what's now the Body Shop on Broadway and West 76th Street.
Since then he's built a local eatery empire that includes Big Nick's Pizza Joint on West 71st Street and Columbus Avenue. Over the years, he's also owned and operated Burger Joint Too, Burger Joint Also, Pizza Joint Also, and Niko's, a Mediterranean restaurant.
The original name of Big Nick's was Burger Joint, but when the restaurant started serving a Big Nick burger to compete with McDonald's Big Mac, it came to be known as Big Nick's, Sheri Imirziades said.
When Big Nick's first opened, burgers weighed 4 ounces and cost 60 cents. Today a regular size burger is about 8 ounces and costs $5.80. The biggest hamburger on the menu is the sumo burger — weighing in at about a pound and selling for $10.55.
City Councilwoman Gale Brewer stopped by to read a proclamation honoring Big Nick's. She said Big Nick's and other mom-and-pop businesses — which she's trying to preserve with new zoning laws — are the lifeblood of the Upper West Side.
"This is what makes a neighborhood," Brewer said.