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The Lines Outside Hot Doug's Aren't Shrinking On Its Final Day

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Oct 3, 2014 4:40PM

The line outside Hot Doug's in May. (Photo credit: Bart Shore)

It's a chilly day in Avondale but that didn't stop scores of people from lining up outside Hot Doug's, which serves its final "Duck Fat Frydays" today. Damn near everyone and their parents have queued up to get a final taste of the "encased meat emporium's" treats.

Here's video of Hot Doug's doors opening for the last time, courtesy of Eater Chicago.

There's no question there's been a bit of piling on the closer Hot Doug's gets to calling it a day, and it's expected there would be some backlash from folks who believe "it's only a hot dog." Moving beyond the facts that Doug Sohn was a trailblazer as one of the first to incorporate haute ingredients at a hot dog joint, in a town with a near-sociopathic obsession with putting sport peppers, celery salt and no ketchup on their hot dogs, it's wise to remember there's more to this than just the winding lines and tubesteaks.

Here’s why people waite [sic] 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 [sic], jalapeno bacon and smoked gouda and escargot and guanciale sausage with parsley-garlic butter and camebert [sic] 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.

For me and a few others, the shuttering of Hot Doug's has reminded us of another iconic hot dog joint closing. Where Doug Sohn is leaving on his own terms with a victory lap for the ages, however, Demon Dogs exited with a whimper. For those of us who came of age in the mid to late 1980s and 1990s, Demon Dogs was the Hot Doug's of its time, without the gourmet sausages.

The difference with Demon Dogs was owner Peter Schivarelli's decision to install a Ticketmaster booth in the restaurant. Schivarelli, a former 43rd Ward superintendent and manager of the band Chicago, would see lines rivaling Sohn's filled with people laying down cold hard cash or credit cards for tickets to shows all across town. I spent my fair share of time in those lines, shivering from the lakefront chill, waiting to buy tickets to see Dio at UIC Pavilion, Rush at the Rosemont Horizon, or Depeche Mode at Aragon Ballroom. Then Ticketmaster embraced the Internet Age and those kiosks suddenly became antiquated. Coupled with getting older, the visits to Demon Dogs became fewer and farther between. (I recognize this may be the only time someone has waxed nostalgic about Ticketmaster in a positive manner.)

As with the lines at Hot Doug's, I never had a bad experience in the Demon Dogs lines, standing next to other music loving kids. And we would all head inside after we procured our prized ducats and eat a couple of the namesake wieners, with some of the crunchiest fries I've ever eaten.

Hot Doug's and Demon Dogs remind us that businesses come and go, but it's rare for them to be remembered fondly.