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Chefs + Restaurants

Weeknights at The Wieners Circle

Chicago’s notoriously raucous, heckler-friendly hot dog joint is surprisingly tame place to grab a bite Monday through Friday.
wieners circle

After more than two months of forced closure, The Wieners Circle—commonly described by Chicagoans as “The hot dog place where you get heckled”—is open again. Never mind what shut it down (Those health department people are so picky! Who needs “hot running water” anyway—it’s not a day-spa!). The Wieners Circle is a red and yellow box on the North Side, not far from Wrigley field. It has scarred Plexiglas windows and, in this season, the picnic tables out front drip with dull, dirty icicles. Every area chat board hosts a near-daily argument about where to find Chicago’s best dog. I’d like to suggest not that The Wieners Circle is the best, but that it is certainly the most misunderstood hot dog joint in town.

In addition to a “char dog” (griddle-charred Vienna beef hot dog) or a “char polish” (charred Polish sausage), you will be served, depending on your behavior, a small, medium, or obscene portion of verbal abuse. As reputation would have it, you will be called fat or ugly; men will be addressed as “ma’am;” simple requests will be glued together with the F-word. But The Wieners Circle’s famous (and well-documented) abuse only hits this level of virulence—and worse—on weekends, when drunks like to show up with fists still mechanically swinging post-bar-brawl. If you’re on North Clark and jonesing for a dog on Saturday night, don’t say I didn’t warn you: It will be ugly.

Weeknights at The Wieners Circle don’t get as much attention, but the little box transforms from a haven for slurs and insults to something a little gentler. I showed up recently on a Monday night around 10 P.M. A well-dressed, middle-aged couple entered right in front of my boyfriend and me. We’d seen them park and stumble from a vintage baby blue Jaguar. A twenty-something guy waited for his order. The following ensued:

Woman behind the counter: What can I get you?

Middle-aged woman: Ummmm....I don’t know......

Woman behind the counter: There are only four [expletive] things on the menu. And tell your husband to put his cigar out! Don’t you know the law?

My boyfriend: Can we get two char dogs and a grape soda?

Me: And a Diet Coke, please.

Man behind counter: You don’t need to be on a diet—you look good.

Me: Thank you! You think? Because I have been eating so much…

Man behind the counter: Okay, shut up.

[My boyfriend smiles.]

Man behind counter: Is this guy a cop? [He is referring to Twenty-something Guy because Twenty-something Guy is wearing a black winter cap with a visor on it.]

Twenty-something Guy: I’m a jerk but I’m not a cop.

Middle-Aged Woman: You’re a cop? Oh my gosh, that’s so funny [points to her husband], because he’s a judge!

[Judge waves innocently, sucking on extinguished cigar. Woman behind the counter puts her head in her hands and shakes it.]

The staff, wrongly or rightly famous for vulgarity, finds itself as often the audience for customers who show up knowing they’re allowed to act out here, free of the burden of always being right. I might not send my grandmother to The Wieners Circle, but I’d send a hungry friend who wanted a little adventure on a weeknight, possibly some sass, and a Polish sausage, rotated dutifully on the grill and topped, Chicago-style, with condiments that include a mysterious fluorescent green relish—a Chicago signature that some might call obscene.