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The Best Bar Snack Is a Hot Dog

And bars are finally getting the message.

Step aside, olives: A hot dog au poivre at the Portrait Bar. Photo: Eric Medsker/The Portrait Bar
Step aside, olives: A hot dog au poivre at the Portrait Bar. Photo: Eric Medsker/The Portrait Bar

For a long time, it seemed there were only two bars that served hot dogs in New York: Rudy’s, the famous Hell’s Kitchen dive that for years has handed them out as free snacks; and PDT, the St. Mark’s cocktail den that’s attached to Crif Dogs. In addition to Crif favorites, PDT also offered, in the past, collaborations with name-brand chefs around the city; if someone wanted a kimchee dog designed by David Chang, PDT was the place to get it.

Perhaps because other owners and bartenders didn’t want to appear to be copying the East Village’s most famous faux-speakeasy, nobody really followed suit. Instead, bars would serve fussy signature burgers and fancy deviled eggs. Shishito peppers became ubiquitous. You could easily find tinned fish, marinated olives, charcuterie and cheese plates, Spanish tortillas, soft pretzels, shrimp cocktails, and boatloads of oysters. Hot dogs, however, remained more or less uninvited to the high-end cocktail party — a situation that made zero sense, as “hot dogs are the quintessential bar food because they’re easy to prepare in the kitchen and even easier to eat when standing belly-up to the bar,” says Gregory de la Haba, an owner of McSorley’s Old Ale House, which has been selling a Feltman’s dog for several years. “Plus hot dogs are affordable.”

Luckily, some operators have gotten the message: At the Little Ned bar in NoMad, the Ned Dog is an all-beef Niman Ranch frank with bacon jam and Taleggio cheese, perched high on a brioche bun and delivered on a wooden plank. In Williamsburg, Basik — keeping true to its name — serves a straightforward Allen Brothers beef dog, either plain with mustard and ketchup or as a chili cheese dog. (Owner Jay Zimmerman’s inspiration was Frank ‘N Stein, a chain that once dotted the U.S.) The most ornate dog in town is surely the Hot Dog au Poivre at the Portrait Bar, tucked inside the Fifth Avenue Hotel. Chef Andrew Carmellini’s kitchen fills a toasted, split-top brioche bun with green peppercorn aïoli and a layer of crispy potatoes, then inserts a grilled beef dog that has been tossed in au poivre sauce and chives. He tops that with more sauce, chives, and discs of pickled onion. “It’s not a new idea,” Carmellini says, “but if we were going to do one, it was going to be the best one we could do.”

The most famous hot dog in town is the much-discussed $29 sausage at Alex Stupak’s Mischa, a smoked, eight-ounce pork-veal blend spiced with garlic, mace, and paprika. Though technically a restaurant entrée, the hot dog is ordered at the large bar, where it is sometimes sliced up for sharing purposes. On the other side of the price spectrum, the best bargain in dogdom is at Grand Army, where the house frank recently moved to the happy hour menu and sells for $7.50. It sits in a split-top Orwasher’s brioche roll and is topped with applewood-smoked bacon, truffle pâté aïoli, mustard, diced onion and pickle, and herbs.

The prize for greatest dedication to barroom hot-doggery goes to H & H Reserve in Williamsburg. Last year, it welcomed in a full-blown branch of Dog Day Afternoon, the Windsor Terrace–based Chicago hot-dog purveyor. For the shortest connection between butcher and bar, there’s Jeremy’s on the Upper East Side. It is owned by Jeremy Schaller of neighboring meat legend Schaller & Weber. The butcher’s cocktail franks go into the pigs-in-a-blanket plate that is Jeremy’s top-selling appetizer. (If you don’t want to head uptown for Schaller & Weber quality, join the TikTokers at Ray’s on the Lower East Side, which also serves a Schaller link.)

Hot dogs began to creep back onto the bar-world radar during the pandemic, when state law dictated that bars selling to-go drinks also had to offer food. Suddenly, watering holes that had never sold anything other than drinks added chips or the most basic of hot dogs to the menu. Now, a few blocks from Rudy’s, Rum House owner Kenneth B. McCoy offers a simple steamed all-beef frank from Allen Brothers, served on a Martin’s potato roll with Gulden’s brown mustard. “It feels so fitting to have a hot dog on our menu in Times Square, as we have terrible hot dogs sold on all the corners around us,” McCoy says. At nearby Madame George, meanwhile, chef JC Colón came up with mini wagyu wieners that play off street-cart dogs with riffs on classic toppings such as pickled mustard seeds and homemade mushroom ketchup.

And over by PDT? The new cocktail bar Romeo’s — across the street — is run by Evan Hawkins, formerly of Broken Shaker. He serves a Brooklyn Hot Dog Company beef-and-pork frank in a toasted split-top bun with jalapeño relish, crispy fried onions and yellow mustard.

But PDT itself has hardly been overshadowed. Owner Jeff Bell recently asked Billy Durney of Hometown Bar-B-Que fame to contribute his own guest dog to the menu. Durney laid a thick slab of pastrami bacon, melted Swiss, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing into a bun, transforming his dog into another underappreciated bar snack: a Reuben.

The Best Bar Snack Is a Hot Dog