Hot dogs, shots, and insults? Wiener’s Circle makes its long-awaited return

Lincoln Park’s famed hot dog stand reopened during Halloweekend 2021 with new renovations — most notably a new bar. The reopening of the infamous Wiener’s Circle came after almost a year of being closed due to Covid-19 and delays in renovations.

When you first arrive, you have to go through a mini alleyway to get to another outdoor patio area. An interesting feature has to be the heaters above each patio table. Even though most of the tables and umbrellas were put up for the winter, one can still enjoy the overall atmosphere.

After walking through the heated outdoor area, you walk into the neon-lighted bar. The menu is full of drinks with lewd names — I ordered the “Basic B-tch,” which was a vodka and wine-infused slushie.

In addition to the new bar, there’s also a small party room with a flat-screen Apple TV that allows you to watch cable and use streaming services — and it doubles as a karaoke machine. A neon sign that displays “Wiener’s Circle” and the hot dog stand’s logo sits on the far side of the room.

The bright neon renovations add to the overall experience — an experience that centers around community. Some of the regulars have been coming since they were young, which only solidifies its community.

“A lot of people that come there, they’ve been coming there since they were little kids being brought there by their parents,” said Evelyn Morris, the general manager of Wiener’s Circle. “They’ve grown to still like the place. They love the environment because we are in the community.”

Morris went as far as to say she’s the mother figure of the community as customers come in and talk to her about their personal lives. It’s not one-sided, either, as Morris enjoys her job and the people she comes into contact with.

“So when I come to work, I have so many people that put a smile on my face,” Morris said. “You know, a lot of people hate going to work; I love going to work just because I can engage with my customers [and] learn a lot. I ask questions as well. I have some things in my life that I need answered and a lot of [them are] there for that as well.”

At Wiener’s Circle, customers and employees often get into verbal spats. But, that’s all a part of the fun, especially amongst regulars. As an outsider looking in, watching videos of some of these verbal spats, the atmosphere can appear quite chaotic. Knowing the fine line between who can and cannot take the insults is something employees have gotten good at. Ari Levy, the owner of Wiener’s Circle, says that customers ask for verbal abuse much of the time. Even with the harshest jokes, there’s usually laughter, which tends to be at the expense of someone’s feelings.

With the harshest jokes and verbal back and forth, there are plenty of good moments to be had. Morris says her favorite moment had to be when “Conan” visited with Jack McBrayer. Later in the night, The Insult Dog had made an appearance as well. The Insult Dog was a puppet manned by Robert Smigel, who worked for “Saturday Night Live.”

Levy describes another great moment when Wiener’s Circle made a viral commercial with actors from Second City. The commercial talked about the curbside insults, as this was during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We had some professional commercial guys that are really, really talented approach us and say that [they] want to make a commercial for us, and [I] say, ‘well, we’re, we’re a hotdog stand trying to survive a pandemic. Look, we can’t afford to do it.’ They’re like, ‘well, we’ll do it for free. You just pay the cost of the production and it’ll be great,’” Levy said. “And we did it and it got millions of views. And really, I think it got a ton of laughs from people — I mean, we really got great reviews on it.”

Another amazing aspect of Wiener’s Circle has to be the lit-up sign outside of the stand. In one instance, it read “‘I own you, Aaron Rodgers’ – Science.” The sign refers to when the Green Bay Packers quarterback claimed he was “immunized” from Covid-19 despite never taking the vaccination. The quote itself is a remix of when he said “I own you” after a touchdown during a game against the Chicago Bears.

Morris’ favorite sign was the one acknowledging racial injustice in America and the death of George Floyd — it said, “I can’t breathe, I can’t jog, I can’t kneel, I can’t watch birds.” Levy’s personal favorite had to be when the sign said, “We proudly support bun on bun & dog on dog.”

Wiener’s Circle has been a staple in the Chicago community for years, and it will continue to be for the foreseeable future. The hot dog stand sits pretty with its new bar, heaters and neon lights in Lincoln Park on 2622 N. Clark St.