I’ve wanted to write a blog post about The Happy Dog ever since I started blogging about Cleveland in March. Located at 5801 Detroit Ave. In the revived Gordon Square Arts District, this corner bar is quintessential Cleveland and one of my top three places to take people new to the city.
With an excellent list of draft and microbrews that they’re continuing to build on, consistently friendly service, and a solid mix of live music, there’s reason enough to go. However, what sets The Happy Dog apart as a unique Cleveland experience is in the name. Last October, Eric Willams, the chef and owner of Momocho, came into the mix with the idea of streamlining the menu to offer just hot dogs, veggie dogs, tots and fries.
The quarter pound dogs created by Blue Ribbon Meats specifically for The Happy Dog and Field Roast vegan Italian sausage dogs are the canvas on which patrons can create their inexpensive masterpieces. With over 50 toppings (newly updated in August), you can mix and match to your heart’s content. For the traditionalist, the black truffle honey mustard, sliced gouda cheese and chorizo chili is a great spin on the classic chili dog. There’s also Scott’s favorite heart-attack-in-a-meal: fried egg, sliced cheddar and bacon.
But don’t stop there – other options that come highly recommended from my visits include raspberry crunch mustard, warm pineapple-ginger-currant chutney, baby bok choy coca cola stir fry, garlicky escarole, and marcella’s grape jelly and chile sauce. The best part about create-your-own hot dogs — it’s completely up to you and always unique. It also pays to be indecisive at Happy Dog — dogs cost $5 with as many toppings as you’d like; tater tots and fries are $2.50 with your pick of sauces (bacon, either of the chilis, any of the cheeses and fried egg can be added for only $1 more).
To pair with your hot dog, there’s over 75 beers, including more than 20 on tap and a variety of domestic, craft and import beers. My favorites include their Dogfish IPAs and Ale, their selection of Eastern European beers, and my number 1 choice – the Sea Dog Blue Paw Blueberry Ale from Bangor, Maine (I’m a sucker for fruit flavored ales). There’s also liquor, wine and – if you don’t want alcohol – Frostie Root Beer, Blue Cream Soda, Orange and Grape sodas.
If I love The Happy Dog so much, why have I waited this long to write about it? Two reasons, I guess. First, I’m not the greatest food writer. I know what I like (beer and hot dogs with a combination of housemade toppings) and why I like it. However, I’m not that good at describing how the rasberry crunch mustard, baby bok choy coca cola stir fry and gouda combine to form a subtly sweet taste that perfectly complements the beefy hot dog. Really…what did I even mean by that? There are plenty of bloggers and food critics out there who can describe food like a beautiful painting, but my talents fall short in this area. Of course my inability to express myself artfully just means you’ll need to go to The Happy Dog to find out how amazing rasberry crunch mustard+baby bok choy+gouda really is.
The second reason I’ve waited is that I first wanted to attend one of The Happy Dog’s most celebrated evenings of entertainment – their semi-regular Polka Happy Hour hosted by DJ Kishka. When I first heard about The Happy Dog, Polka Happy Hour was synomonous with it. However, every Friday it was being held, I was either out of town or had tickets to something else. Except this past Friday. I placed it on my calendar a month ahead of time so that I could specifically make it. My only disappointment of the evening — the fact that I haven’t been able to go sooner.
Scott and I walked in the door around 7pm (it starts at 6, runs til 9). I’m glad we got there when we did because the few seats left at the bar were filled within another 15 minutes. I’m also glad we walked in right behind another couple since DJ Kishka at his station by the door managed to fondly heckle almost everyone who entered or left while he was performing. However, any heckling is part of the whole ‘DJ Kishka’ experience – complete with lederhosen, alpine hat, and beard.
Add on the occasional accordion playing, dancing on tables, and rim shots and you have the perfect complement to the polka records he played for three hours. There was some classic polka and crowd favorites like ‘No Beer Today’ and ‘Ice Cubes and Beer’ and Happy Dog was as packed as I’ve seen it. The best part is that the audience was an awesome cross section – from 20-somethings to older generations. Tshirt-and-jeans to business suits. It didn’t matter who you were, everyone was united under the 1-2-3/5-6-7 beat of the polka and Kishka’s rallying cry of ‘Drink Up, Idiots!’
The next Polka Happy Hour isn’t until October 1st. However, there are plenty of other events going on at The Happy Dog. Besides a healthy combination of local and national music acts, this Friday is the Ohio City Opry Happy Hour (Clinton J. Holley djs old country classics – both myself and my parents are huge fans) and next Wednesday is their beer and food pairing event. However, even without a concert or polka happy hour, The Happy Dog stands on its own as my favorite corner bar to go to – not just in Cleveland, but pretty much in any city I’ve lived.
If you haven’t been to The Happy Dog yet, grab a hot dog with toppings piled on, a basket of tots, a beer and follow DJ Kishka’s advice: Drink Up, Idiots. And if you have already been there? Go again. It’s always worth it.
The Happy Dog 411:
- The Happy Dog Website
- Hot Dog Toppings Menu
- Beer Menu
- Upcoming Events
- DJ Kishka on Facebook
SIDE NOTE: Apologies for the 2nd two photos’ quality. I forgot my camera at home and only had my camera phone on Friday. Hopefully the next time I go to Polka Happy Hour, I can actually get some good shots. The 1st two photos were from a previous visit when I did have my camera.