- Michael Gebert
- Doug Sohn with a bumper sticker I made, 2006
By now there’s been enough written about Hot Doug’s (which closes today for good) that people who got in line at 2 AM could have still been reading tributes to it by the time they got to the front of the line. Does anybody need more from one more hot dog-lovin’ writer? The deepest things I had to say were probably a few years ago when Chicago magazine published a list of Chicago’s most important restaurants ever (Alinea, Trotter, Frontera. . . ) and I blogged the case for Doug Sohn’s sausage emporium being one of them:
It kind of says it all that the only place actually busted under our short-lived foie gras ban wasn’t a French restaurant but a hot dog stand. . . . Doug Sohn [saw] no contradiction in putting foie gras, artisanal cheese and truffle honey on a sausage, and then naming it for someone on American Idol. He’s the godfather of all the high-low combinations that are currently one of the liveliest aspects of our dining scene.
Anyway, besides being a customer from almost the beginning, when his was my neighborhood dog stand (although I must admit, I ignored his place till someone told me about it, because the previous five dog joints in the original space on Roscoe hadn’t impressed me), I’ve done my time touting Hot Doug’s: I interviewed him about his book in 2013, I used his place in an April Fool’s gag . . . , and I shot video of him for Key Ingredient in 2011. His ingredient: the supremely unappealing hot dog condiment, chicken feet. Doug said he was surprised that he was chosen to join a list of what had been, until then, pretty exclusively high-end chefs, but I knew that someone would pick him sooner or later—he was one of the important guys on the scene, and somebody everybody liked and liked what he did.
So instead of one more florid tribute that Doug would be the first to knock down with a self-deprecating joke, I went back to the original footage from that shoot to see what was there. Nothing brilliant—hey, if it was brilliant it would have made the final cut!—but once I assembled the best bits, it made a pretty nice tribute to the experience of Hot Doug’s and Doug’s own smart-alecky persona. As it shows, he loves rock ‘n’ roll (and had one of the best restaurant playlists in town), he takes the craft of making encased meats on a bun seriously (but he’s never taken himself seriously), and he’s fast with a wisecrack. Here’s four-and-half minutes that pretty much encapsulate what Hot Doug’s was all about, for future generations:
And since so much of the discussion has been about the lines at Hot Doug’s and why people would put up with them, here’s a quote from my 2013 interview that sums it all up:
Eddie Lakin of Edzo’s Burger Shop came to me, we’d talked a few times before he opened, but he came to me after he’d been open for a little while. And he asked me, when you’ve got a big line, and you’re chatting with the guy at the front of the line a little and you can tell people in the line are getting steamed about the line, how do you handle that? And I said, that guy’s going to get ticked off no matter what, and if he leaves he leaves, but you have a customer right in front of you and you have to focus your whole attention on him while he’s standing there. You can’t pick and choose the customers you’re going to treat right.
And that’s why a hot dog stand had both some of the best food in the city, and some of the best service in the city—and was one of the best-loved places in the city. Thanks, Doug Sohn.