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“I Get to Slap My Boss”: The Wiener's Circle Serves Chicago Hot Dogs and Good-Hearted Insults

Kathleen Hinkel
Jordan Brooks and Roberta “Poochie” Jackson
Jordan Brooks and Roberta “Poochie” Jackson work the late-night window at The Wiener’s Circle. Credit: Kathleen Hinkel for WTTW

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You could go to The Wiener's Circle at 2622 N. Clark St. in Lincoln Park for just a hot dog. It often appears on lists of Chicago’s best dogs, but the char-grilled sausages or even the cheddar fries aren’t the only things that draw celebrities, social media buzz, media coverage, and fans from around the city.

It’s the insults.

If you visit the stand late at night, be prepared for a fusillade of crass comments, both from the beloved staff and the customers who try to match them. The employees say it’s all done with love, and the fact that many of them have worked there for decades despite the aggressive environment offers some evidence for that assertion. No matter what you think, it has been great for business over the decades – and it makes for an electrifying experience while you scarf down some street food.

Photographer Kathleen Hinkel visited The Wiener's Circle in May to capture the food, customers, and, of course, the colorful language of the employees steering the ship.

When the sun is shining, The Wiener's Circle could be any old Chicago hot dog stand, with picnic tables out front, colorful vintage signs touting Vienna Beef sausages, and a cramped, bare-bones shack crowded with workers and a line of customers.

A line of people wait in line outside the Weiner's Circle

A plastic menu above the ordering window inside lists the limited offerings in movable blue type: burgers or a chicken sandwich, polish sausages, fries, chili, and a hot dog either steamed in classic Chicago fashion or charred on the grill.

Menu board showing the food items available

Not every hot dog stand offers a char dog, crisp and blackened from the grill, with the ends sliced in an X…

Hamburgers and hot dogs being cooked on a flaming grill.

…but The Wiener's Circle’s hot dog is otherwise a traditional Chicago specimen: a poppy seed bun, yellow mustard, chopped onion, a pickle spear, sliced tomatoes, neon relish, celery salt, and optional hot pickled peppers.

Closeup of a Chicago hotdog being topped with condiments behind the counter

“It’s amazing, I love a char dog,” says Raquel Zakoor as she snaps a photo. When a friend informs her that there’s already another one waiting for her at the back of the restaurant, Zakoor betrays no regrets that she bought an extra. “That’s ok, I’ll eat that one, too.”

Woman holds her arm out with her hotdog while she takes a photo of it on her phone

But if Zakoor were to visit late on a weekend and ask a worker for the ketchup, violating the inflexible laws of Chicago hot dogs, she would become the recipient of what makes The Wiener's Circle unique, and infamous: a profanity-laced insult.

“No ketchup, a–hole,” snaps Roberta “Poochie” Jackson to a customer who makes the critical mistake of asking for the condiment. If you want ketchup, you’ll have to dress your hot dog with it yourself.

Roberta “Poochie” Jackson behind the counter conversing with an ordering customer

Poochie is the best-known of the famously foul-mouthed Wiener's Circle employees who offer not just dinner but also a show if you stop by for a bite at night. Poochie calls herself the H.B.I.C., or “Heavy B-tch in Charge,” and holds down the late shift every Friday and Saturday night. Over 26 years of working at the restaurant, she has earned herself a place in the pantheon of local comedy icons. The Wiener's Circle might not be The Second City, but Poochie still has a devoted audience who will chant her name when she slings an especially spicy put-down.

Poochie wearing a red apron holding hamburger buns while laughing

The heckling is part of the charm – and has been for years. (Manuel Murillo, pictured, has worked there for over two decades.) The hot dog stand opened under its current name in the ‘80s, and had its status as a place to both take and give curse-filled invective solidified by such segments as one on public radio’s This American Life in the ‘90s and on Conan in the 2010s. In the past decade or so, the restaurant has also become known for messages on its outdoor sign both cleverly hilarious and bluntly political.

Manuel Murillo pointing two fingers out of the ordering window at customers

“Our customers are everything to us, even though they’re crazy as sh-t,” says employee Ragen Eggert. Among the everyday Chicagoans who visit the stand, you can also often find local celebrity fans, from Jeff Tweedy to former Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Ragen Eggert smiles as she gives the finger to the photographer

While most people know that good-hearted abuse is part of the experience, there can be an uncomfortable dynamic at play, given that The Wiener's Circle is located in predominantly white Lincoln Park but has a mostly Black staff. Every once in a while, a customer oversteps the line, but Poochie takes it in stride. “When people use racial slurs, I don't get angry,” she says. “People who are ignorant, you gotta let them go about their ignorant way.”

Nighttime view of the Weiner's Circle as people sit and stand around the red picnic tables

Despite the yelling and swearing, Wiener's Circle employees say they appreciate the place they work, and many have been working there for decades.

“I never thought I would work at a hot dog stand,” says Evelyn Morris, the general manager. “I came here and I was able to scream at people. I realized I was less stressed giving aggression to my patrons with love. It kept me here for 36 years and it has kept my life simple and calm. I love it,” Morris says.

Evelyn Morris raises a finger while talking out of the ordering window at customers

“I raised my children here,” she says. “When I get to work and I let everything out with love and a smile, I never go to bed angry. And I get to slap my boss.”

Evelyn Morris with a large smile looking out of the ordering window

Joseph Taylor has only been at The Wiener’s Circle for about a month, but says, “I love it. It’s fun. The people are great and it’s been a great experience. Everybody who comes here is happy.”

Joseph Taylor wearing plastic gloves raises two piece signs while working behind the counter

“The Wiener's Circle is my stage,” says Poochie. “My customers love me. I love them too. That makes me feel good,” she continues. “Everything I do is to make you laugh and come back. Even the ones I really offend, I still put a smile on their face by the end.”

She’s planning to do a proper stand-up routine at the restaurant in 2025. “[I’m going to] rip everyone who comes a new one,” she says.

The inside of the Weiner's Circle showing workers behind the counter and customers ordering

It wouldn’t be the first performance that The Wiener's Circle has hosted: Earlier this year, the Swedish DJ and producer Marshmello performed a set from the rooftop. The restaurant’s reputation draws people from across the country, like Jacksonville’s Myesha Deedee Rountree (center), and even the world: the English singer Ed Sheeran tried his hand at serving hot dogs when he visited last year. Other celebrities might suffer a different sort of hazing, like when the Philadelphia Eagle Jason Kelce stopped by and was ribbed as “Taylors Boyfriends Brother [sic]” on the restaurant’s sign.

Customers stand in line to order, laughing and taking pictures

“I’m here testing out which hot dog is better,” says Gregory Piper, who was visiting from New York City. “I begrudgingly admit Chicago is better. Can’t say the same for pizza, though.” (Try telling that to The Wiener's Circle staff at night.)

Gregory Piper smiles at the camera holding his half-eaten hotdog sitting at the counter

The national attention and long-term success helped lead the owners who took over The Wiener's Circle in 2015 to expand slightly. In 2021, they turned the longtime parking lot into a bar and patio space where people can enjoy their food and host private events.

People stand and sit at picnic tables in the new patio

The stand is popular with Cubs fans before and after games up Clark Street at Wrigley Field.

Customers wearing Cubs jerseys waiting for their orders

The experience of waiting in line or suffering a particularly cutting insult can encourage companionship among strangers, as with (left to right) Adison Cunningham, Manny Fresh, and Melanie Larkin, who made friends while waiting for their food late in the evening.

New friends pose for a selfie inside the Weiner's Circle

Fries with oozy cheddar sauce make an enticing late-night treat, after all – especially in an area thick with young people and bars.

Closeup of a cardboard container of cheese fries

They might even lessen the sting of a Cubs loss, as for the suburbs’ Karl Rio, who came to The Wiener's Circle for the first time with his friend Amy Hopkins, who was visiting from Maui. 

At the very least, you’ll get to enjoy a hot dog and laugh while doing it – as long as you have a thick skin.

A woman and man laugh while eating their food at a picnic table