No one waits in line at Hot Doug’s for a hot dog

One of the worst things about Internet culture in the last five years is its tendency to mock the unfettered joy of others. Someone’s always there to remind you there is some atrocity you should be rending your garments over instead of just…being…in-between the decisions that keep you up at night.

All this brings me to the line at Hot Doug’s.

hotdougsLet me make this clear because it seems to have escaped notice: Hot Doug’s is not, at its core, about hot dogs. And people do not wait in line at Hot Doug’s because they are interested solely in consuming a hot dog.

Hot Doug’s is both simple and complex. Simply, they are encased meats. Here’s where it gets complicated: I have never, during a visit, spent more time dining inside Hot Doug’s than I have waiting outside in its line. I would argue this is true for most people. So what happens in the line is as important as what happens when you sit down to eat.

This is why people who are selling their spots on Craigslist for hundreds of dollars are missing the point entirely.

I don’t blame people who have never been to Hot Doug’s for thinking a long wait in line for a place is bullshit. In any other case, I’d agree with them. But I’ve waited in line at Hot Doug’s for an hour in ten degree weather and been happy to do it.

We live in a world that is trying to eliminate any shared physical experience. The movies, the theater and the line at Hot Doug’s feel like the last semblances of humanity’s group project. (There is no line at Kuma’s. You put your name in and find a space of your own to wait.)

I’ve never had a bad experience in a Hot Doug’s line. Every time I expected someone would, for example, ignore the signs about keeping the doors in the vestibule closed on a winter’s day? Never happened. People want to be in that line so there’s a shared sense of responsibility.

Here’s why people waite in line at Hot Doug’s:

– Because the guy that owns the place has been standing longer than you (until this week, anyway). And he’s standing there to take your order. With a smile. And a warm greeting. And a reminder that you should just get the small drink instead of the large because it’s free refills.

– Have you ever had to wait for a table at Hot Doug’s? I haven’t. Do you know why? Because Doug Sohn and his team are wizards. I placed my order and miraculously – every time! – there’s a table waiting for me and however many friends I came in with. Doug knows exactly how long to make small talk with you and everyone else in line to make things run smoothly.

– Doug Sohn is the only person in Chicago to incur a fine for selling foie gras. Not Charlie Trotter who made it a thing. The little guy who owns the sausage stand on the corner of Roscoe and California. However you feel about foie gras aside, here is an example of an average guy telling grandstanding politicians to take a flying leap and getting pasted on the chin for it.

– If you are in line at closing time, you get a seat.

– The specials this week include salsa verde wild boar sausage with chipotle dijonaise, jalapeno bacon and smoked gouda and escargot and guanciale sausage with parsley-garlic butter and camebert cheese for nine bucks each and if you want gourmet food on that level anyplace else in Chicago it will cost you three times as much.

– This:

People waited in line at Hot Doug’s because all of this matters. And they voted with their feet. They said they wanted this to remain and were willing to put in the time necessary to make it happen.

So you, guardian of the free time of others, who mocked those folks who were waiting in line at Hot Doug’s?

They had more fun than you.

11 comments for “No one waits in line at Hot Doug’s for a hot dog

  1. Stephanie
    October 3, 2014 at 3:07 am

    I visited Hot Doug’s the first time with my (now) ex-boyfriend. Just to make this clear, he had an extreme phobia of large crowds of people…but ironically, even though the guy behind him kept getting overly close to him and we were most likely becoming dehydrated from waiting outside in the middle of a hot July day, everything seemed to melt away the moment we got inside. The camaraderie that was formed between our fellow line-mates and the fact that we were all willing to share the shade and a cool breeze when we got the chance, the new friends that we made (even for just that short period of time), and most of all Doug himself were the reason we kept coming back. The food may have been amazing and the reason why I kept demanding my friends to try “this adorable little hot dog place” but it was the experience that made the memory I have of Hot Doug’s the best memory of all. I am honestly going to miss everything about Hot Doug’s and I want to thank Doug for giving me some of the best memories of my adult life!

  2. Moondog
    October 3, 2014 at 5:56 am

    Regarding the foie grias, he paid a $250 fine and was written up in all the city’s newspapers as a result. Small price to pay for publicity.
    Doug, if you’re reading this, my offer to buy the place still stands at $1. Let’s work something out, my friend.

    • daisymarie3534@gmail.com
      October 3, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      Regarding the fine, Doug did not do it for the publicity. It was a small price to pay for running his restaurant as he saw fit. People come to Doug’s for the community, the music, and for the wonderful being that Doug is. That’s worth way more than a dollar.

  3. October 3, 2014 at 7:09 am

    I suppose in the day the line was the thing and I never teased any of my friends for going and undertaking the long wait. I figured it was a social thing (arguably similar to Kuma’s, actually, but I see your point where those experiences diverge).

    What’s happened since Doug announced his closing isn’t an experience of pure, unfettered joy, though. It’s turned into a mass episode of FOMO, which seems antithesis to Doug’s actual core philosophy, and opposite the reason people enjoyed waiting in that line for so many years. If Doug really wanted to go out on top without leaving a bad taste in so many people’s mouth he would have done better to simply close, with no announcement, and none of this buildup. That would have truly ensured the Magic of his legacy would have lived on.

    Also, Demon Dog’s was a better dining experience all around. Just saying.

    • Scott Smith
      October 3, 2014 at 7:22 am

      There have been some bad actors recently, no question. The folks selling spots in line, for example. I don’t think it’s left a bad taste though, puns aside. People camped out last night in the rain under tents. That core philosophy is still there.

  4. Nugent2112
    October 3, 2014 at 8:53 am

    I waited in the line Tuesday morning. For every person selling their space in line, there were people like the two guys walking down the line with a box of Dunkin Donuts coffee and a stack of cups and giving it away to any who were thirsty. That’s what the community was like and it was there until the very end.

  5. Harmon
    October 3, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Hot Doug’s is an example of what is described in Ray Oldenberg’s book, The Great Good Place. These are places outside the home, but not somewhere you go to shop or just get business done.

  6. the pats
    October 3, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    we want to thank doug and his staff for fine food and friendly faces, over many years. i am proud to say that i have no idea how many times we’ve had the honor of eating there, countless is a good number. we were there at roscoe and claremont, before the fire. we were there for his 50th birthday, coincidentally. we were there when tv cameras showed up to promote the book, as my husband said in his 5 seconds of fame, ‘the food is great, but doug is the main attraction. he’s like family.’ that pretty much says it, we were there every week. last week we said our goodbyes and had our farewell dinner. there will be a withdrawal period of course, but we will go on. today i have the same feeling i have each time one of our children takes a big life step. a little trepidation, and a lot of excitement. because we know as people, they are the best! the same goes for doug and staff. they will do well.

  7. B Fabes
    October 3, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    You can also find camaraderie in concert lines and my favorite, beer fest lines (especially awesome because everyone brings beer to share with the line).

  8. October 3, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Well said, Scott. Hot Doug’s has always been a treat worth waiting for, and complaining about the line misses the point. I think the only other time I’ve enjoyed waiting in line was the night Obama was elected and we were standing outside Grant Park to be let in. Says a lot that I group these things together as happy memories. Really nice post!

  9. scott graves
    October 5, 2014 at 8:08 am

    We travelled through Chicago several years back and went to Hot Doug’s after seeing it on a No Reservations episode. It was an amazing experience just like the article said. I am sorry to see it go. I always wanted to go again. BTW, the foie gras on duck sausage was the best meal I had on the whole trip. Thank you Doug for a great memory.

    Scott Graves, Spearfish SD

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