Bubbledogs is a restaurant from cinema. It is violently 1980s, American and flash. The sign Bubbledogs shines neon pink from the window, a twin to Tom Cruise’s Cocktails & Dreams sign which twinkled at the end of Cocktail (1988) to say his narrative arc was done. He owned his own cocktail bar, even if drunken Doug the Babycham philosopher — ‘I know when the bottle is empty… heh-heh-heh’ — was dead. He was saved by a combination of homespun small-business ethics and populist alcoholism.
Here in Fitzrovia, where restaurants gather in piles, the menu is only hotdogs and champagne, a food and a drink with such complex meaning and agonised marketing history that they surely belong together. Hotdogs have an awful reputation. I blame the Odeon for those joyless schlongs of pig, hosed off a corpse and stuck in a bun made of salt and hate; they match the movies they are made to be chewed to. Champagne brings its own burden, class anxiety in a flute, with all those sobbing bubbles.
Bubbledogs looks charming, as dim rooms flushed with neon always do; it feels like Barbie world but slutty. It could be anywhere — the Mojave desert or Dartmoor or Finchley, although Soho would be best to my mind, takeout only at 5a.m., as the drunks cry and mew, and the dirt is sucked off the streets. The room is long and thin and the tables are breakfast bars with stools, which I suppose works; it adds to the impermanence, the sense of being at the back of a movie, with the ketchup and the mustard and the poisonous popcorn. The brickwork is exposed, the floors are dark wood; this is a Coke bar for people who like sausages and fantasy. Groups sit together, so you prod strangers with pickle and pig and bang elbows. Cartoons of happy dogs line the walls; they are in pencil, so they look like they are flying. Downstairs, in the loos, they have papered the walls with menus from J. Sheekey’s, a rudeness I adore.
The menu is a marvel, if you love street food served indoors because outside it is London, and raining. There is a posh bit in the back called Kitchen Table where the owner James Knappett, formerly of Marcus Wareing, serves a menu without hotdogs, but forget that. All the hotdogs come in pork, beef or vegetarian; you can be naked, or themed. The American patriot will have Fourth of July, with bacon and coleslaw, the British patriot Breakie, with egg and black pudding, in a sort of proxy war, like Afghanistan but with condiments. We are told by a sweet and nervous waiter that we should order one at a time, because the tables are so narrow. Most people order two, he says. One man had ten, because there’s always one, to return to Doug, who doesn’t know when the bottle is empty. Did he sit on his stool and swell up, turn hotdog pink, explode? Bubbledogs does not invite overeating, even if the decor shrieks greed is good; you might fall off your stool, bang your head. Then you could be a hotdog.
M and I have three each. (I am not dining with A just now. He had a dream about Dan Hannan. He was going to be unfaithful in the dream, with a redhead, until Dan Hannan told him off. We are not speaking.) I have naked pork, then beef, then pork again. They are intense, juicy, with the perfect hotdog ‘snap’ — excellent. (I do not drink alcohol, so I cannot tell you how they taste with growers’ champagne. Bubbly, I suspect.) M is more excitable — he orders a Sloppy Joe, with chilli and cheese, and a New Yorker, with sauerkraut and a bed of onions. These are too chaotic for me; M seems happy, though. It feels too fragile to last.
Bubbledogs, 70 Charlotte Street, London W1T 4QG. Tel: 020 7637 7770.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 3 November 2012