CHICAGO - Dozens of hotdog-obsessed Chicagoans lined up overnight in a downpour to get one of the last wieners off the cooker at legendary Hot Doug's, which shuts down on Friday after making frankfurter history with exotic ingredients like alligator.
Police cruisers rolled by all night asking fans of Hot Doug's, named after 52-year-old proprietor Doug Sohn, to keep the noise down in their tents and folding chairs on the sidewalk in the north-side Chicago neighborhood.
"It meant something to be here on the last night. We were determined," said Paul Suwan, 37, a graduate student at Columbia College who came with two friends at 12:45 a.m. and huddled under umbrellas.
Still in line hours later, Suwan said he was going to order one of every Hot Doug's special of the day. The 13-year-old restaurant made its mark with ingredients such as wild boar, escargot, guanciale and Jack Daniels.
People in Chicago, once a global meatpacking capital and world sausage exporter, pride themselves on hot dog appreciation.
Chicagoans are famous for their no-ketchup policy for hot dogs. They prefer mustard or sauerkraut. But at Hot Doug's they might top a dog with much fancier condiments: foie gras, for example.
Hours-long lines have long been the norm on weekends at Hot Doug's, but this week the queues began forming every night close to midnight, growing to more than a 100 people each morning for the 10:30 a.m. opening.
Sohn, who worked the counter on Friday and posed for photos, said he was shutting down to try something new.
His humble, bright-coloured eatery seats only 40 people, but it earned an international reputation for its unique take on the ballpark staple.
Chicago area food historian Bruce Kraig, author of the book Hot Dog, says Hot Doug's innovations became the basis of more recent upscale hot dog joints across the country, including Dat Dog in New Orleans, Biker Jim's in Denver, and Let's Be Frank in Chicago.
"He's a pioneer of using a variety of other kinds of meats for his sausages," said Kraig. "He was doing things like duck, venison, alligator, and pheasant varieties of sausages."
Sam Ross, 38, a local music DJ who was in the line on Friday said the draw was not just the hot dogs.
"Doug himself was the magnet in drawing people, in both his personality and what he put into the food. That's what brought us all together."