Saturday, May 29, 2010

Gus's Downtown

I thought we might be getting the hang of this thing. After all, both Robert and I have been eating hot dogs for years and I thought I knew what to expect. The next stop was at Gus’s Hot Dogs on 4th Avenue North between 19th and 20th Streets North. To start with I thought I knew for sure where this place is… but I was wrong. Before a new parking deck was built on 4th Avenue near Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard there had been a hot dog stand facing 4th Avenue, adjacent to the old Burch & Tant location. The name of this place was Jimmie’s Hot Dogs. I had just noted the 4th Avenue address without paying much attention to the street number and immediately pictured that stand in my mind. When we arrived at what we came to discover was the wrong location there was no hot dog stand to be seen. The old building was gone and there was empty retail space available in the new building approximately where Jimmy’s was once located. We started walking around the block and asked a security guard near the entrance of the 20th Street parking deck; “Where is Gus’s Hot Dogs?" He explained to us in short order that Gus’s was still right around the corner, “right over there” but that Jimmy’s was gone.

This was both good news and bad news to the brother and I. The good news was that our destination for the day was alive and well doing business right where they have been for over 60 years. The bad news was that we had started the trip without adequately noting the address. We proceeded to go to Gus’s Hot Dogs.

Gus’s is one of the other lesser known classic hot dog stands in downtown Birmingham. Our visit to Gus’s was the first time I have ever been in there. This became somewhat of a Twilight Zone experience as we learned the owner's name. Pete’s Famous Hot Dogs, just 2 blocks away is run by Gus. Gus’s Hot Dogs is run by George. Go figure… it seems that both of these hot dog stands were opened many years ago by Pete and Gus. Their businesses later were taken over by Gus and George. Oddly the names have this real mis-match today. I wonder if somewhere there is a "George's Hot Dogs" run by a guy named Pete.

Regardless, when we finally arrived at Gus’s, somewhat humbled by our lack of knowledge, we went in to place our order. We waited and watched as George filled a couple of orders ahead of us. When he took our order he asked if it was “to go” or to eat there. When we told him we would be dining in, his total countenance changed; it was remarkable. He told us to step into his “dining room”, the area to the left of the front door where his counter doesn’t continue to the window. In this little nook there is a small counter and a couple of stools where two can pause to eat in relative peace. Robert and I were both delighted to eat in George’s/Gus’s dining room. We had our usual order of a hot dog and chili dog each “all the way”. What a surprise awaited; the expected hot dog sauce was much sweeter than anticipated. It was good but totally not what we expected. The chili dogs were good but the topping was not what either of us would call chili.

A couple of observations here. George apparently does a very big take-out business, evidenced by the continuous stream of take out orders and the stack of open bags stacked and ready on the little counter behind the galley. I also noticed he has quite a variety of options for presentation of the hot dog which includes slaw dogs, cheese dogs, chili dogs, chili cheese dogs, chili slaw dogs, and at the bottom the polish sausage. This last entry, the polish sausage, was one that I found intriguing. I thought about it for days and almost went back on Saturday just to have one. This visit to Gus’s convinced me that I would return for more.

I had thought that Pete’s was the sole survivor in downtown Birmingham from the 1940’s hot dog stands. I stand corrected, Gus’s is a member of that club along with Pete's and at least one more! Gus’s doesn’t get the publicity that Pete’s does and I suspect doesn’t have as large a following as does Pete’s, but it should. What else did we learn from this visit to Gus’s?
• They serve a really good hot dog, different but good.
• Their chili dog, like Pete’s doesn’t have chili on it.
• Gus’s has a “dining room”, something Pete’s doesn’t have.
• There is more than one survivor in downtown Birmingham.
• The prices at Gus’s are very good. (The best deal yet among our first stops).


  1. I realize this is a very old article and you may not even be keeping track of this blog anymore. I used to work downtown around 2003. There were 4 downtown Hotdog places of note. Pete's, Gus' s, Jimmy's and Tony's on 2nd. Gus' s is far and away the best. I don't know what you call chili (canned hormel?) But Gus' chili slaw dog is the perfect combination of spicy chili with the creamy slaw on a well prepared dog situated on a steamed bun. I have since moved out of the Bhm area but I still stop by Gus' s when in the area.

    1. I'm not quite sure what this guy is trying to communicate. Yes there were more downtown hot dog stands in the past. Take a look, We have visited and written about some of them. Two that he names (Jimmy's and Tony's) were long gone (unfortunately) before we started this blog. It looks like he has missed the soon to die Lyric Hot Dogs which as of today is still open.

      Now his comment about chili; I stand by my comment that the "chili dog" at Gus's isn't topped with what I think of as chili. It is a spiced meat sauce which is OK with me; it's just not chili. I would never want to eat a bowl of this stuff like I would chili. That's my point. I never mentioned Hormel or any other brand name.

      Slaw dogs? To me a slaw dog is an acquired taste that I have never yet acquired. And "steamed buns" often turn out to be gummy. I would rather have a very lightly toasted bun; that's what I fix at home if I have a hot dog.

      Isn't it great that we can have different tastes and preferences?. That way we keep lots of different people in business preparing lots of different products.