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TODAY

Monday, July 23

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Little Bucharest, the Romanian restaurant that would pick you up in a Limo for free, is closing. One Chowhound reports: "When we asked why, Branko [Podrumedic, the owner] replied: 'Yuppies. They don't buy goulash.'"

Last week I posted about today's closing of Demon Dogs. I soon heard from a friend, a connoiseur of encased meats, who reminded me that the hot dogs there were, frankly, not that good to begin with. I believe the subject of her e-mail was, "Get thee to hell, Demon Dogs."

I had to confess that I'd never been, and when I went later that day, I conceded her point. It was a cheap meal -- $1.68 for a dog and fries -- but not a great one.

Still, Demon Dogs will be missed, whether I was a regular or not. It was one of the hundreds of micro institutions that define my Chicago, much more so than the Sears Tower or even the Cubs. When I return from travels, it's the mango vendors and neighborhood bars, not Navy Pier or Michigan Avenue, that tell me I'm home.

I'm probably wringing my hands over nothing, but it seems that hot dog stands are becoming an endangered species in this city. Is it true there were once 2,000 stands in Chicago? When was the latest census?

Sure, there's the Wiener Circle and its abuse shtick, but that's more performance art than anything else. And Hot Doug's is a treasure, if it's rattlesnake sausage you're after. Super Dawg endures. But what of the classic stands, lacking both pretense and shtick? The glorious building on State that once housed the original Gold Coast Dogs outpost has been vacant for two years. I expect it will be high-rise condos before long. How much longer will the other downtown stands last?

This weekend I saw that a building had been demolished at Lincoln and Barry, one of those great triangular buildings created by our diagonal streets. At its point there had been a hot dog stand. I'd passed it many times, always telling myself, "What a great stand. I got to get there someday." Now the shop's Vienna Beef awning lies crumpled on a pile of rubble. Nearby, bricks are bundled to be sold as vintage building blocks.

10312003_awning.jpg

Fig1. The sad remains of a lost hot dog stand.

And so here's the saddest thing of all, and the point of all this: I never got there -- I can't even remember its name -- and I'd never been to Demon Dogs until its final days.

This isn't really about hot dog stands.

Little Bucharest? Still haven't been.

When the Rainbo Rink closed (to make room for condos, of course) I was depressed for a week -- but I'd never been there, either.

10312003_rainbo.jpg

Fig2. Rainbo makes room for condo.

This spring a chain bar opened near my home. My friends and I have refused to go, angry that it took the place of a funky resale shop. "It's destroying the character of the neighborhood!" we lament.

But I had never bought anything at that resale shop. Charlie's Ale House, however, is thriving, and it possibly reflects the new neighborhood -- people happy to pay $11 for meatloaf and $3 for valet parking -- more accurately than any other business on that stretch of Clark.

Friends, Chicago will continue to lose its funk and charm -- today go the hot dog stands, tomorrow go the bowling alleys, pancake houses and taquerias -- and we have only ourselves to blame. If we didn't patronize these gems when they were around, we are hypocrites if we mourn them when they're gone. (I know, I know: Who's this "we," Kemosabe, right? But surely I'm not the only one guilty of being a drive-by preservationist.)

It comes to this: Let's stop this nonsense of "meaning to go" to that joint down the street with the cool signage -- let's go. Let's find out what's inside. Let's eat something exotic -- goulash? -- for the first time. Let's drop a few bucks at the dollar store.

No more excuses. No more "But it looks unfamiliar and intimidating inside." None of this "But I can make a hot dog myself" business. No more "But I'm a vegetarian." Go. Go now, before our city is reduced to overpriced bars and chain restaurants.

10312003_dinergrill.JPG

Fig3. The Diner Grill serves it up 24 hours a day.

Me, I'm off to a great start. For years people have told me how important it is to have a slinger at the Diner Grill. At 1:30 this morning, I finally had one. (Verdict: It's very important to have a slinger, though probably just as important to limit it to a once-a-year indulgence.) For the sake of all that is cholester-holy, I urge you to do the same.

 

About the Author(s)

Luke Seemann is momentarily decisive.

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