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The local restaurant Clowndog, located off Central Avenue and Carlisle Boulevard.

Hot-diggity dog: Clowndog brings joy to Nob Hill through hot dogs


On the corner of Central Avenue and Hermosa Drive sits a clown-themed hot dog restaurant with over 50 different topping options called Clowndog. The owner, Rich Bartel, was inspired to open Clowndog because of similar restaurants in Cleveland, Ohio.

“There's a place in Cleveland that does (a) build-your-own hot dog concept and a couple of other places in the Cleveland area opened up doing the same … and I thought, well, if they can do it three times there, we can do it once here,” Bartel said.

Clowndog offers a variety of dogs, from regular to vegan to turkey. Once a dog is chosen, there are several options for buns, including corn dogs. Then there are the topping options: these range from ketchup and mustard to the more bizarre options like chocolate sauce and Froot Loops.

Bartel believes that, while the food is certainly a draw, the restaurant’s general atmosphere has also helped to keep customers coming back for more.

“The food keeps people coming back, I think, and the atmosphere. We get a lot of people that, when they first walk in the door, they say, ‘Oh wow, this place looks cooler than I thought’ … And we have a pretty bold sign right on Central, on Route 66,” Bartel said.

The sign that bears the name Clowndog can be seen when walking or driving up and down Central and is what originally drew regular customer James Rawson into the restaurant.

“I just went because I had been seeing it anytime that I would drive along Central, and I was like, ‘I've got to try a place called Clowndog’,” Rawson said. “That is such an absurd name.”

Bartel’s wife is the one who coined the name for the restaurant, which captures the essence of the clown theme and hot dog menu. The restaurant is decked out with clown and hot dog-themed items, which Bartel has been collecting for the last nine years.

“I had the idea for doing this (restaurant), and I started going on eBay and just … started buying stuff on eBay ... It was fun, I really got into it,” Bartel said. “I started collecting stuff that you would never put on a wall either, like just things that are very aesthetically pleasing to the eye.”

For Rawson, the atmosphere and affordability of the restaurant have kept them as a repeat customer.

“I like the environment, but I do think it's a little absurd. And I think that's fun. But beyond that, I think it's a very affordable restaurant … very clearly affordable — and not cheap because I think cheap carries the connotation of lower quality, whereas I think Clowndog has pretty good quality,” Rawson said.

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Clowndog is open Wednesday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Elizabeth Secor is the multimedia editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @esecor2003 

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