The line didn't rival the monstrous queues that wound around Roscoe during the final days before Hot Doug's closed its doors in Avondale in 2014. But with a menu of seven new and never-served-before encased meats coupled with single-digit temperatures, Monday's pop-up outside Publican Quality Meats remained a most-impressive showing of die-hard tube-steak enthusiasm.
"This is crazy," Doug Sohn said inside PQM before the doors opened.
Passers-by could see the frosty breaths of Doug's loyal customers waiting in line in the cold for the supply of 2,500 sausages and 1,300 orders of precious duck-fat fries. Doors opened at 10 a.m., but the first in line arrived at 6 a.m. Rogers Park's Dave Burke stood with friends while wearing seven layers to help hinder the cold. The National Weather Service reported wind chills that dipped to -30 degrees.
"I think Doug's matches not only quality but also the experience," said Burke. "I can get a quality sausage at a lot of different places, including The Publican, but the experience of going in and seeing an old friend...that's what gets me about Hot Doug's."
Burke said he had no second thoughts after seeing the weather forecast, though he forgot his gloves. Burke also has a Hot Doug's tattoo and waited in line for the restaurant's final day. Those lines approached a seven-hour wait, while Monday's moved briskly with customers making it through in about 35 to 45 minutes. They dined either at PQM's communal tables or went around the block to The Publican which had beer and cookies. Meanwhile, PQM staff delivered coffee and spiked-drink orders to keep customers warm waiting in line. A few customers even moved near PQM's exhaust fan, hoping the extra heat would prevent frostbite.
For Doug's regulars, a few changes popped out. PQM accepted credit cards, breaking Sohn's cash-only policy. Those who had trouble remembering what sausages they ordered were aided by the labels affixed to wrappers, complete with the PQM logo. There were even packaged sausages available to go for home kitchen enjoyment. PQM's staff performed much of the heavy lifting, manning cashier stations and some took orders. This allowed Sohn to focus on what he enjoyed the most: Taking selfies with loyal customers and catching up with faces he hadn't seen lately.
The second group of customers waiting in line featured a mother-daughter bonding adventure with folding patio chairs. Marist High School student Kaitlyn Bowe and her mother, Dawn, waited in line buoyed by the promise of 10 extra credit points from her chemistry teacher, Ron Dawczak. Neither Bowe had heard of Hot Doug's before the assignment, and pressing matters further, Kaitlyn's a vegetarian and there wasn't a veggie dog on the menu. But she did make a concession and snagged a couple of her mother's duck-fat fries. After mom sampled the Bic Markos (apple-bacon-sage-duck sausage, Virtue cider mustard, smoked-blue cheese, honey drizzle), she became a convert. "I've never had a hot dog like this before," she said. "I understand now."
Meanwhile, Burke and his friends ordered all seven sausages on the menu and shared so everyone could have a sample. Burke just smiled and shook his head in satisfaction after that first bite: "I missed it so much."