Hot Doug's, Chicago's beloved gourmet hot dog joint, is closing today, and in some ways it honestly feels like I've lost a longtime friend.
My wife and I have been hardcore regulars at Hot Doug's, making the pilgrimage once every week, barring illness or vacation, for the past seven years. If you've ever been, chances are you won't have to ask why; in case you haven't, imagine a 45-seat restaurant in primary colors, with walls covered in hot dog memorabilia and a killer playlist of mostly '80s punk (some Madonna, some Beatles), serving an ever-changing menu of the world's most exotic and delicious "haute dogs". Here's a random list of some of our favorites:
Brown Ale Buffalo Sausage with Bacon-Garlic Mayonnaise and Serendipity Cheese
Uber-Garlic Pork Sausage with Smoky Bacon Sauce, Smoked Gouda Cheese and Roasted Garlic Cloves
The Mountain Man ( a Damn Tasty Combination of Antelope, Elk, Venison & Buffalo) with Red Currant Mustard & Smoked Gouda Cheese
Portabella/Swiss Cheese Pork Sausage with Blue Cheese Dijonnaise & Duck-Fat-Sauteed Shiitake Mushrooms
... and I could go on forever ...
You could get a wide variety of "regular" dogs there as well - Classic Chicago and so-on - but we always ordered from the Specials menu and we were never once disappointed.
Hot Doug's was a massively successful small business, especially after being widely showcased in all kinds of "Best Restaurant" and "You Must Eat Here Before You Die" blogs, newspaper reviews and TV shows. The line was typically out the door and down the block; we stood in that line for over an hour on numerous occasions and in all weathers, and it was always worth it. Not just for the ambiance and the creatively delicious food, but also for our weekly chat with Doug himself, who always (but always) manned the counter. No friendlier, wittier hot dog genius ever walked the earth.
Having made more money than God over the past 13 years and being ready for a change, Doug has now decided to go out at the top of his game. Since he announced the closing back in May, the fabled lines have become even crazier; over the past couple of weeks, people have literally been camping out overnight to guarantee a place. The media circus and the line hype are inevitable, under the circumstances, but not our scene; we made our final visit last week.
We were, however, instrumental in making this happen:
So long, Hot Doug's, and thanks.