Wiener’s Circle: The One and Only

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If you live in Chicago and don’t know what Wiener’s circle is then you’ve likely never left your house. Which isn’t an excuse either since every food program and travel show in existence has covered this establishment of screaming women, blistering char dogs and raucous drunk patrons. So for those hermits out there who don’t watch television, let me get you up to snuff. Wiener’s Circle is a hole-in-the-wall hot dog counter in Lakeview with a closet-like kitchen and a handful of stools. It employs vivacious black women to serve Vienna Beef hot dogs and greasy fries in a fast and impatient manner. Their patrons are simple locals by day and drunk DePaul students by night. Oh, and they make the best char dog in the city of Chicago. There, you’re up-to-date.

So, why even discuss this Wiener’s Circle if everyone’s already heard of it? Well I’ll tell you why. Because for all the idiots who flock to this joint now as some sort of tourist attraction, the fact that they serve one of the best hot dogs in Chicago has become as much a curse as a triumph. When I have a buddy in from out of town I will often take them to this establishment to illustrate the Chicago style hot dog along with our quintessential cheddar fries; the perfect floppy potato strings with the skins on the tips and that ideal Wisconsin Merkt’s sharp cheddar scooped from a can and globed on. My friend of course is horrified when without hesitation I walk past the massive line of drunk people and directly to the counter to place my order. Though I’ve been coming to Wiener’s Circle since I was a child and have met both owners, the success of this maneuver isn’t based on preferential treatment. Rather, I simply know I can bypass the fools looking to scream at the servers, gain one of these unruly female’s eye contact and in an instant become a respected patron, one who is here for only one reason: To eat their awesome food.

Of course, it wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time when Lakeview had as many families as it did 20-somethings, Wiener’s Circle was just another hot dog stand serving a good Chicago style char dog. Some, of course, don’t prefer the char dog and even I must admit it’s the only type of meat I would ever order “well done”. But I find to blacken the dog’s casing creates a texture and taste profile so powerful it can still assert itself beyond the mountain of toppings a Chicago style serving demands. Wiener’s Circle has always executed this perfectly, and, sadly, many of its contemporaries have closed. Demon Dogs, for instance, used to soak up much of the DePaul kids without the tolerance for such disorderly conduct. Alas, the CTA finally got around to removing the squatting establishment from their property after a few decades. Now the much larger and affluent school sends their spoiled flock to the Circle for its hot dog needs.

And the tradition of screaming obscenities has gone off the deep end entirely. It used to be that if someone walked into the busy joint but failed to produce a decisive order when they reached the counter the lively women who work there would distribute a tongue lashing that left some dopey Cubs fan looking flabbergasted. Now, anyone who arrives after 10pm is practically begging for abusive treatment, and the tasteless school boys inevitably shout offensive insults themselves from the back of the line just to entice the women to scream in return. Oh how their fraternal friends will be so impressed when they retell their moronic exploits of ordering a chocolate shake and getting a flash of shaking boobs in return. Similar to London tourists who seek to make the Queen’s guard break from their stoic positions with idiotic acts of silliness. Like most cultural abnormalities, this phenomenon has grown from a humorous act of spontaneity to irritating and sophomoric repetition.

So, just stop going, you say. Go stand in the orderly and polite line of Hot Doug’s patrons to order your gourmet encased meat. But you and I both know; it’s not the same. Wiener’s Circle is an icon of degeneracy, and with that comes the ultimate street food, blackened and overflowing with gluttony. It is these very throngs of inebriated yuppies that keep my beloved Wiener’s Circle in business and unchanged. I must accept that such deliciousness comes at a cost. And I must go during the day.

David Frankel McLean

About David Frankel McLean

I’ve been thinking philosophically about Chicago since I was jaywalking the streets at the age of 10. I don’t root for both baseball teams and I don’t put Ketchup on my hot dogs. When someone says they’re a Chicagoan they are speaking of a heritage and a doctrine, not just a location. What that doctrine is I’m not entirely sure, it’s constantly changing with the growth of the city and I’ll spend my entire life trying to figure it out.

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