ISAIAH BRANCH-BOYLE/Durango Herald
Face it. When you’re drunk, you eat hot dogs.
Few want to admit their love affair with the bad beast of the deli, but if you’re still not out of that closet, consider the after-midnight crowd at the Durango Dawg House. They eat from 150 to 200 dogs on a busy night, server Marley Herckner said.
It’s the last stop on the weekend bar-hopping trail, no matter the sniveling against this most unholy and unhealthy of snacks.
The Dawg House, near the corner of College Drive and Main Avenue, sells veggie dogs, gyros, shrimp salads and even funnel fries and chocolate-covered bananas in this kiosk-sized shop, but it’s the dozens of dogs that account for the winding line on one of downtown’s busiest corners.
Fellow worker Joe Lacey said 80 percent of the late-night folks come for a bite after a night on the town. Many just point to the Chicago Dog, slide their plastic across the counter, and then grab a seat on the tiny patio, he said.
Others go for the Great Danes of the dogs such as a Southern Comfort, a bacon-wrapped dog cloaked in pulled pork, coleslaw and barbecue sauce, or The Sledgehammer that adds Polish sausage, chili, sport peppers and cheese.
So does the Dawg House serve Durango’s earliest breakfast?
On a recent Saturday about three hours before dawn – when normally I’m climbing out from between the sheets – I went downtown to see for myself. Other than lots of cops, none of whom was eating hot dogs, I suspect I was the only sober person beating the street.
A 26-year-old Arkansas transplant, Travis Martin, talking between mouthfuls of sauerkraut, sized it up: “If you’re downtown, you’re gonna be bar hopping. If you know anything about Durango, you better be on foot,” he said. “You need a hot dog before you go home,” he said. “Next time, I’m having the same dog, minus the kraut.”
Ladies, if you are looking for good odds, there were about 10 males to each female on this drizzly Saturday night.
The one female I recalled seeing was wearing a black T-shirt that read, “My Indian name is ‘Runs with beer.’” She was eating a Frito pie – a dog buried under chili, shredded cheese, onions and Fritos.
“Greasy food energizes,” she said.
With those wise words she vanished into the night, so I turned back to Martin to ask why drunks love hot dogs. I actually asked lots of folks why drunks love hot dogs, but I didn’t get answers.
The next morning I called one of my neighbors, a self-described “former drunk.” Back in his drinking days, there was no Dawg House. He’d just stumble on home, cook up 15 corn dogs and call it good, he said.
“You need to catch folks early in the day, while they still can unravel one of the great mysteries of our universe,” my neighbor advised.
The two of us set out on foot on a late Sunday morning to seek answers.
“Why do drunks love hot dogs?” I asked Sixth Street Liquor’s Charlie Fox, who works multiple jobs as a raft guide, store clerk and ski tech.
“Oh my,” Fox said as he slowly removed his glasses, arched his eyebrows and dragged his palms down his face. “Why do people choose to live under bridges? … I do not know these things.”
But seconds later, he came up with an answer, waxing on about the satisfaction only a hot dog can provide.
“Of course it’s all about the accoutrements,” Fox said.
That’s bar French for mustard, relish and ketchup, I explained to my neighbor, unaware that the mere mention of the “k” word would likely fling open the flood gates of folks passionate about how a dog should properly be dressed.
“Anyone who puts ketchup on their hot dog must be from north of the Mason Dixon line and east of the Mississippi,” 20-year Durango resident Robert Butrymowicz warned from his bar stool at Orio’s Roadhouse.
Butrymowicz, like Fox, “does the Durango two-job shuffle,” working as a plumber and fly-fishing guide.
“Why do drunks love hot dogs?” I asked.
When you’re hammered, eating Polish sausage with raw onions, mustard and kraut on a poppy-seed bun seems like a good idea, he said.
“On my trip down the river the other day, I saw some mustard on my thumbnail, but come to think about it, I can’t remember actually eating that hot dog,” Butrymowicz said.
Bartender Edie Wentz, who was unaware that a hot dog haven was a mere stone’s throw from her front door, said drunks like hot dogs because they’re convenient and easy to eat. “Just aim and bite.”
Durango resident Shafi Majeed chose his words more thoughtfully.
With Pabst Blue Ribbon in one hand and Camel cigarette in the other, he pondered.
“The highest part of your brain shuts down, and the lower brain caters to a false sense of well-being,” Majeed said of the combination of beer followed by hot dogs.
He referenced Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil to draw a parallel between hot dog consumption and the perspectival nature of knowledge and the conflicted condition of man.
Or something like that.
“It’s an inner conflict. Our brain gets to navigate this mess to sort it out,” Majeed said.
But it was Butrymowicz who had the final word at Orio’s Roadhouse. Drunks love hot dogs “because they have a lack of nitrates in their bodies,” he said.
It came as no surprise that registered dietitian Susie Young had a different take on what the body might be lacking.
“Salty foods are appealing because alcohol will deplete electrolytes such as sodium and potassium,” Young said.
Durango Dawg House dogs are made with 100 percent Black Angus beef, but for the sanctimonious, a Soy Smart dog topped with spinach casserole is available to ease all guilt.
I’m not making this up.