"Go!” This is Carla. “You can make it!”
Eight. Friday night. Tapped out. Cupboard’s bare. Broke, broke, pelado. Except, heh-heh, just saw an ad that says free hot dogs today and tonight only, at the opening of Dog Haus, downtown. Till ten o’clock.
So I muster all the change I can lay my hands on, race into the night, and in under an hour I’m at Broadway and Ninth, across from the Wigs Plus store.
Quite a scene. Shadowy figures mill around outside the big glass-front space.
“So, dogs free?” I ask this bouncer-looking guy managing the line.
“Yeah, if you sign up for Yelp. Or if you’re military, or if you pay three bucks toward the Monarch School.”
Ah. Yelp. That’s why everybody’s heads-down in their cell phones.
But I ain’t signing up for no Yelp. Rather pay $3 for Monarch. It’s a school for homeless kids, here in San Diego.
So I walk up to the counter and scan the way-big wall menu. It’s divided into “Haus Dogs, all-beef skinless dogs, $5.99,” “Haus Sausages, hand-crafted sausages, $7.49,” and “Haus Burgers, hormone and antibiotic free (good news!), $7.49.”
“Uh, which ones are free?” I ask the guy at the register.
“Any of the Haus Dogs,” he says.
That means seven choices. The Sooo Cali (“wild arugula, crispy onions, spicy basil aioli, avocado, tomato”), the Downtown Dog, the Cowboy, the Old Town, the Scott Baioli — oh yeah, that Happy Days guy plus aioli — the Little Leaguer (chili, onions, cheese), and the Free Bird (turkey dog with avo, ranch, smoked bacon, tomato).
’Course, the “Haus Sausage” menu is tempting, too, if you didn’t have to pay full price ($7.49). “Another Night in Bangkok” is spicy Thai currywurst with slaw, peanut sauce, and crushed peanuts. The “Reservoir Hog” is basically a Polish kielbasa, chili, slaw, and mustard. Then there’s a whole build-your-own option for dogs and burgers. Think ten bucks before you’re through.
I need two. One for me, one for Carla. First one that grabs me is the Old Town Dog, because it’s bound to be hot. Menu says it has “smoked-bacon-wrapped dog, pickled jalapeños, chipotle aioli, caramelized onions, and cotija cheese.”
So I ask for that one. “Uh, can I get two, one for my friend?” I ask.
“Only free to people who come and order personally,” he says. “You want one more?”
“My friend will kill me if I don’t,” I say.
“Which one?” he asks, and gives me a wink. Man. Doesn’t charge me the $5.99. Can’t tell you how much that wink means.
So I go for the Downtown Dog (smoked-bacon-wrapped dog, caramelized onions, mayo, pickled peppers, mustard, ketchup). He does charge me another $3 Monarch donation for Carla’s dog, but that’s it. I scrabble together the six bucks, plus a Washington for a tip, take my number, and head for the bar. Why? Because someone’s told me all beers are $3 tonight, too. Might just have enough.
Man. This place is packed. I ask Kim, who’s got a blinding smile and tattoos all the way up both arms, about a stout. She gives a sample. Meh. IPA? She gives a sample. It’s a Green Flash West Coast Double IPA. Oh, yes. I take that.
Only disappointment? Small glass. “That’s because it’s over 8 percent,” says this guy at the next stool. Marshall. He and his buddy Shane are carving into two dogs and a burger. “We live right here downtown,” Marshall says. “We’re attorneys. Employment law. Defend renters against landlords. Think Robin Hood. Uh, you going to eat those dogs or am I going to have to?”
Because, yes, my two dawgs have arrived. The Downtown looks more “eat me!” with its toasty buns and yellow mustard, red ketchup, and creamy mayo. Natch, have to take a bite, just to make sure it’s good enough for Carla. It’s got a sweet-and-savory thing going on with the ketchup and caramelized onions and the beef. But for me, can’t beat the heat of the Old Town. The beef dog works well with that chipotle, cotija’s harmless, and the bun — Hawaiian, I’m thinking — adds a sweetness. Plus that zing! from the jalapeños. One’s filling enough.
The Robin Hood gang is paying full freight. Buying from the “Haus Sausage” column. Marshall swears by the Hot Chick ($7.49), with chicken fontina (a cheesy recipe), tomato, avo, crispy onions, Sriracha, and ranch. Except he got them to put the spicy Thai currywurst in instead of the chick. Shane got the Hangover Burger, with smoked bacon, chili, mayo, white American cheese, and a fried egg on top ($7.49). The Soo Veggie (smoked apple, tomato, avo, arugula, crispy onions, and great toothpaste-tube squirts of green spicy basil aioli) looks like it was meant for this lady who shows up, Jackie. They order a couple more rounds of $3 drinks from Kim. Heck, they only have a block to walk home.
Point is, this is sophisticated stuff. And now I think about it, hot dogs have been in sleep mode for decades while burgers have steadily got gentrified.
Till now. Dog Haus turns out to be a franchise. Started up in Pasadena in 2010. This is the 21st store already. Two weeks ago they announced a half-billion-dollar development deal for the construction of 300 new locations. They’ll be in 19 states. If this works out, dogs are about to experience serious upward social mobility.
Me, I’m thinking shorter term. I mean, tonight, if it hadn’t been for the Dog Haus, I would have been in the serious dog house.
Hours: 11 a.m.–midnight daily (till 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays)
Prices: The Sooo Cali Dog (arugula, crispy onions, spicy basil aioli, avocado, tomato), $5.99; Downtown Dog (bacon-wrapped dog, caramelized onions, mayo, mustard, peppers, cotija), $5.99; The Cowboy (bacon, BBQ, cheese, crispy onions), $5.99; Old Town (bacon-wrapped dog, jalapeños, chipotle aioli, caramelized onions, cotija), $5.99; Scott Baioli (bacon, garlic aioli, cheese, caramelized onions), $5.99; Another Night in Bangkok (spicy Thai currywurst with slaw, peanut sauce, crushed peanuts), $7.49; Reservoir Hog (Polish kielbasa, chili, slaw, mustard), $7.49
Buses: All downtown
Nearest bus stop: Ninth and Broadway
Trolley: Orange and Blue lines
Nearest Trolley Stop: City College