Bill Murphy is in the back room of Murphy's Red Hots (1211 W Belmont Ave, 773-935-2882), his 21-year-old hot-dog joint, slowly getting worked up about a certain red condiment. "You put ketchup on something and what do you taste? Ketchup!" Each time he says the word, he manages to say it with a little more hatred.
Yet despite Murphy's conviction that any dog with ketchup is nothing more than "a ketchup sandwich," he is more than happy to participate in a little experiment. Unsure if Chicago's antiketchup sentiments are anything more than a myth, we ask Murphy to put the stuff on every hot dog ordered during a recent Wednesday lunch rush. Thanks to our bad luck—dare we call it Murphy's Law?—most people order Italian beefs that day. But we do manage to give five suckers the red-bottle treatment. Below, they live to tell about the experience—though some of them just barely.
Pete Stott eats at Murphy's every chance he gets, so he is more confused than angry when he sees Murphy reach for the ketchup bottle. He protests meekly, saying "no" while peering over his glasses, trying to determine whether Murphy has gone insane. Stott knows something is up, because occasionally he does order ketchup on his dog. And Murphy "gives me shit [about it] every time."
A man of few words (at least when ordering a hot dog), Chuck Eberwein asks Murphy for a dog with "mustard, onion, pickle." And when Murphy squirts a curvy line of ketchup down the dog, Eberwein shoots him a homicidal glance and orders again. "Mustard. Onion. Pickle," he says, only this time it looks as if he is going to reach over the partition and squeeze Murphy's neck. To our surprise, Eberwein (who turns out to be as sweet as sugar) admits later that he does order ketchup. But only "occasionally."
Russ Tomes knows exactly what crime he's committing when he asks for ketchup on his Polish. "I know, I know," he says when Murphy shoots him a look. "The ketchup. I should know better. I guess I was just raised wrong." The entire store gives Tomes a hard time about it, but he laughs it off. "I just love my ketchup," he says. At which point Murphy shakes his head. "He's proud of it, too."
Shy, quiet Benjamin White insists "ketchup's for fries," but admits since he's "never tried it" on a dog "it might be [good]." Yet when Murphy attempts to put ketchup on his dog, he doesn't seem surprised–he just shakes his head and smiles. Perhaps there are other people in his life who try to put ketchup on his dogs? "Yeah," he says with a sigh. "My wife does."
Murphy hasn't even squeezed the bottle—he is just waving it menacingly over the dog—when Michelle Cohen throws her hands up in the air. "No!" she yelps. "No ketchup!" Later, she explains that an aversion to the stuff is in her blood two-fold: "I'm Canadian," she confesses. "We don't like ketchup on our dogs, either."