Nearly 80 years after it originally opened, Los Angeles’ iconic 18-foot, mustard-smeared, cement hot dog stand has returned in time for National Hot Dog Day.
Longtime fans of Tail o’ the Pup came prepared Wednesday night for its new grand opening in West Hollywood. They wore ketchup and mustard costumes, and red and yellow baseball caps and stockings. One patron wore red and yellow suspenders; another brought a Basset hound in a hot dog costume.
Mayor Lauren Meister, who helped cut the ribbon, said she was thrilled to see the stand back in business after nearly two decades.
“It’s a part of our history,” she said as she carried two boxes of hot dogs to her car. “I remember eating these back at the old location. It’s very exciting.”
A line of patrons stretched to the street corner after the ribbon-cutting ceremony as stools and booths inside filled up with visitors young and old, dousing their dogs in yellow mustard.
Patrons can expect the same beef franks at the new Santa Monica Boulevard stand, just down the street from the eatery’s original location. But the old dog has some new tricks.
The new menu features corn dogs; fries, with or without chili, cheese and grilled onions; smash burgers and milkshakes. There are also homages to the stand’s original menu, like the 1946 Pup — a split-and-grilled hot dog in a toasted bun with grilled onions and housemade mustard.
Also on the menu are vegetarian options; the Baseball Pup, a foot-long hot dog with sweet relish, mustard and onions; beer, wine, hard seltzer and canned cocktails; and a dog menu featuring “Doggy Beer” and “Doggy Pups.”
Lizzy Shapiro, who came to the opening in her “most fabulous hot-dog-colored dress,” was excited to see the new menu options.
“I’m a vegetarian, so it’s rare I find a corn dog I can eat,” she said.
Nikki Looper, who came with Shapiro, wore a ketchup-colored dress.
“It’s more flattering than mustard yellow,” she said.
Looper opted for the Manhattan Pup, loaded with sauerkraut, mustard and onions.
The revival of this cultural landmark, as it was officially declared in 2006, comes at the hands of the 1933 Group, a Los Angeles restaurant consortium. Tail o’ the Pup has been on the group’s radar since the ’80s, when co-owner Bobby Green saw it for the first time as a kid on a family vacation to L.A.
“From that trip I remember three things,” Green said. “The palm trees, the Hollywood sign and that hot dog stand. It’s just one of those things that sticks with you.”
The hot-dog-shaped stand, a classic example of mimetic or programmatic architecture, debuted on La Cienega Boulevard in 1946 under then-famous dance duo Frank Veloz and Yolanda Casazza. While serving visitors to the Kiddieland amusement park, it became an icon, serving as a backdrop for photo shoots, TV shows and movies.
“It was like this mascot of Los Angeles,” Green said. “One of the key features that helped form the L.A. identity.”
Jeri Williams, who frequented the stand’s old location when she was in graduate school, said it’s just as she remembers it.
“I’ll definitely be coming back,” she said.
First-time visitors such as Patrick Polk, who used to drive by the old stand regularly but hadn’t stopped in until Wednesday night, were also impressed.
“All the decorations really take you back,” Polk said. “You can feel the history.”
Tail o’ the Pup stayed alive through a number of ownership changes and relocations. But in 2005, it was bought out by a development company looking to build an apartment complex. To the dismay of Angelenos and tourists alike, Tail o’ the Pup closed and the stand was moved by crane into a storage facility.
“It was a real loss for the city,” Green said.
He and his partners kept tabs on Tail o’ the Pup. In 2016, the business popped up under new owners in the form of a food truck, but the mobile restaurant struggled and closed shortly thereafter.
A few years later, Green received “the magical phone call.” It was from his friend Tommy at the Valley Relics Museum where the hot dog stand was set to be donated. While Tommy was delighted to house the massive frank, he didn’t think it was meant to collect dust in a museum. So he reached out to Green, who leapt at the opportunity to buy it.
After nearly 60 years on the street and 16 more spent in a Torrance warehouse, the old Tail o’ the Pup wasn’t quite up to code anymore. The plaster was cracked, the paint was chipped and faded and the hardware was outdated.
Over the next four years, Green and his partners challenged themselves to restore the hot dog as accurately as possible. They used archived pictures and crowd-sourced information online. Old regulars provided input on the best color for the bun and the proper amount of mustard that should drip down the sides. The 1933 Group also turned to Angelenos to find a home for the rehabilitated stand and to past employees to recreate the menu.
“Everything had to be perfect,” Green said. “It had to be true to my memories and everyone else’s.”
Now standing at 8512 Santa Monica Blvd., next to a Shake Shack and across from a bike shop that also sells kombucha, Tail o’ the Pup gives Angelenos more than a “tasty hot pup.” It offers a glimpse into Hollywood’s golden age and an excuse to be nostalgic.
“It feels so, so good,” Green said of the final product. “On so many different levels.”
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