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Earl hot-dogged for Second City crowd

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Updated: July 18, 2012 6:19AM

About the time John Belushi, on break from filming “The Blues Brothers” (1980), was hustling folks into Sylvester’s Sneak Joint, the after-hours bar behind the Earl of Old Town, Earl Pionke was hustling hot dogs from his stand in front of the Earl.

“It was silver with a big umbrella, nice big wheels,” Pionke said during a conversation on the front porch of his Pullman home. He nodded toward a black SUV parked in the street and says, “About the size of that. I bought it in Queens, N.Y. I brought back the hot dogs and the tomatoed onions they didn’t have in Chicago. Tomato sauce and onions. And sauerkraut.

“But Chicago people didn’t want New York hot dogs. So after two months and many hot dogs, I just went with regular Slotkow­ski [garlic-laced sausages]. Their Polish was the best in town. From 3 until 4:30 in the morning, I’d have at least 20 people lined up for that Polish. I had carnations on top of my hot-dog stand for the ladies. I always played classical music on my portable radio — WFMT, of course.”

As John Prine once remarked, “He was trying to get the people getting out of Second City and hustle them into the Earl. It was a circus.”

While Pionke was a hands-on operator, he did recruit his talent to source out food.

“Stevie Goodman is in New York with [Chicago songwriter] Harry Waller,” Pionke said. “I go, ‘Steve, while you are there, go pick me a couple hundred pounds of hot dogs, bring them on the plane, they’ll charge you, so what?’ So he done it a couple times. The third time out, he says, ‘I’m done.’ I go, ‘What do you mean? I’ll pay you extra.’ He said, ‘You don’t need to pay me nothing.

“ ‘I’m just tired of having 12 dogs follow me all through the airport.’ ”

Dave Hoekstra

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