Last week, Conan O'Brien had a viral hit with a video that featured Triumph the Insult Comic Dog going head-to-head with the famously hostile late-night staff at Wieners Circle in Chicago. (If you haven't watched it yet, go ahead and do so now. We can wait.) But the video did more than make us laugh. It got us thinking about all the spots around the country where customers keep coming back in part because of, and despite, guaranteed abuse. San Francisco's famed "rudest waiter alive," Edsel Ford Fong, may be long dead, and New York's legendary Soup Nazi may now be just the CEO of a chain of totally friendly soup stands, but there are still many other places where you can get your fill of humiliation at the hands of a proprietor or waitress.
Durgin Park, Boston
At Boston's Faneuil Hall, this restaurant has been renowned for decades for its rude servers with some extra-wicked pissah attitude. Word has it that lately the service at Durgin Park is just plain lazy as opposed to playfully gruff, but you can still likely find a heavy helping of Boston brassiness with your baked beans.
Ed Debevic's, Chicago
Think of it as the PG equivalent of Wieners Circle: more "buzz off" than "fuck off." The sign at this famed brusque-service diner is "Famous since 1984," but Grub Chicago says no self-respecting Chicagoan has set foot inside since about 1994. But the tourists keep coming to see the "rude waiters" do disco dance numbers.
Zeitgeist, San Francisco
Despite landing regularly on Esquire's national best-bars list, this beer garden and bicyclist haven in S.F.'s Mission district is well known for bouncers and bartenders who really, really do not like people. It's not shtick; it's just a fact. There's a list of things that will get you kicked out of this place, and one of them is taking pictures. As for the barmen, one SFGate blogger once described them thusly: "Besides scowling things like 'Fucking yuppies' if someone with a shirt with buttons orders a drink, there is always an unpleasant sort of life-has-kicked-them-in-the-nuts, unhealthy tweaker vibe [from the bartenders] ... "
Sushi Nozawa / Sugarfish, Los Angeles
Legendary sushi chef Kazunori Nozawa recently closed his eponymous, 25-year-old sushi place in a Studio City mini-mall, Sushi Nozawa, and converted it into a new location for his growing chain called Sugarfish. Nozawa was famous for telling diners to leave if they tried to linger too long after eating, and for being staunchly anti-maki — if you even tried to order a California roll he might kick you out. Though the stern chef may not be behind the counter nightly anymore, his famed "Nightly Special: Trust Me" sign lives on in memory.
Pat's King of Steaks, Philadelphia
It is a well-known fact amongst Philadelphians that if you order your cheesesteak wrong at this ever-popular late-night joint, you will be sent to the back of the line. A guide: For a sandwich with Cheez Whiz and onions, it's 'Whiz Wit.' Without onions? 'Whiz witout.' You can also opt for provolone instead of Whiz, wit or witout. Those are your options. You have been warned.
Peter Luger, New York
You go there for the Porterhouse. Your weathered, wizened waiter will probably scowl at you and do you no favors. It may not have ever been intended as shtick, but it almost is, and being perennially named the best steakhouse in the city by Zagat affords the ability to be a little chilly if it means turning the table. Eat your steak and shut up.
Beacon Drive-In, Spartanburg, South Carolina
Roadfood aficionado Michael Stern has said, "The Beacon is the most intense restaurant you will ever visit." It's fast, it's loud, and a guy named J.C. Strobel who has been yelling out orders for decades stands ready to scream at you, too. You go there for some good fried chicken, or a Chili Cheeseburger A-Plenty, but as soon as you've ordered, should you hesitate, J.C. or another employee will yell, "Move on down the line!"
Sushi Sasabune, Honolulu
Like Nozawa in L.A., Sasabune also uses the "Trust me!" sign (it's not clear who started doing this first). And if you sit at sushi chef Seiji Kumagawa's counter in this renowned Honolulu restaurant, be prepared to follow his rules. And whatever you do, don't ever, ever mix wasabi into your soy sauce.
Sam Wo, San Francisco
This 100-plus-year-old restaurant in S.F.'s Chinatown was known in guidebooks of the sixties and seventies as the home of the "world's rudest waiter," Edsel Ford Fong. Before he died in 1984, Fong was known for calling patrons fat, criticizing their menu choices, seating people with strangers, groping female patrons, taking orders with a cigarette in his mouth, swearing, and loudly reminding people to tip him. (He was portrayed, briefly, in the mini-series of Tales of the City.) The restaurant is temporarily closed right now as the owners try to bring the building back up to code, but it should reopen soon, with its still-rude staff intact.
Shopsin's, New York
When Kenny Shopsin reopened his eclectic diner as a tiny stall in the Essex Street Market after a hiatus, New Yorkers were glad to have him back, in whatever form. As New York Magazine describes him, "[He's] plump, grouchy, and with his gray bouffant bursting out from beneath his Mets cap, looking a bit like a dyspeptic Shelley Winters." And nothing much has changed. "Fuck!" he was recently heard yelling as the orders roll in. “I was getting used to not working — give me the ticket, asshole."
Ino Sushi, San Francisco
Don't get us wrong — this twenty-seat temple of sushi inside San Francisco's Japantown mall serves some of the best sushi in town, if not the country. Chef Noboru Inoue has been serving the freshest nigiri for 33 years in this very spot, alongside his wife who makes their house-blended soy sauce. But there are rules, and this is not a place for hooting it up. There is no music playing in this dining room. If you sit at his counter, you will wait for him to signal that it's time to order, and you should speak no sooner. And do not expect any plates — the fish will land right on the immaculate wood surface in front of you. Also, you do not add wasabi to your soy sauce, and you do not dip your nigiri rice-side-down. Flip it. Fish first. Or else you will be scolded.
Dick's Last Resort, Various Locations
It's kind of hard to understand franchising the whole obnoxious-waiter thing, but that's what Dick's Last Resort has done. With twelve locations around the country, it's hard to see all that uniform, obligatory rudeness as anything but bad dinner theater. But, alas, the place is pretty successful.
Wieners Circle, Chicago
It's said that the whole mutual verbal abuse thing at Wieners Circle dates to the early nineties when one of the proprietors called a customer an asshole for the first time. There's a no-bullshit, actual racial tension to it all — the staff is largely black and the clientele is largely middle-class white — and that's probably why people love it. Humor is only truly funny when it's kind of dangerous, and real. Of course, at Wieners Circle it's also just outright hostile and occasionally gets more heated than funny. Descriptions don't really do it justice. Just watch the video again.
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