Saturday marked my first trip to Depot. It also served as my introduction to Depot’s legend, which apparently enjoys a substantial University of Chicago audience. My education was so enthralling I decided to make two trips in a span of less than eight hours.
Maxwell Street Depot, called “Depot” in my experience–though the place’s Wikipedia page (it’s just that famous!) claims it also uses the dubious title “Ghetto Dog”–is a hole-in-the-wall diner that sits on the corner of Canal and 31st Streets at the north end of Bridgeport. Consciously or not, the restaurant lends itself well to legend, as one of those places that is so idiosyncratic that it can’t not become a neighborhood mainstay. There are only four main dishes on the menu: cheeseburgers, Polish sausages, hot dogs, and pork chop sandwiches. Everything comes with fries, even an order of fries. There are no tables, just a ledge against the plate-glass windows enclosing the small customer order area. Cheeseburgers come with only two toppings: mustard and delicious grilled onions. All of these attributes are nothing compared to the two main features, which draw patrons from as far away as Hyde Park: the prices are dirt-cheap and Depot is open twenty-four hours.
My first Depot meal of the day was excessive: two burgers, three orders of fries, and a Coke. Here I learned the first lesson of Depot: too much Depot will make you sick. It was not more than eight hours later that I learned the second lesson of Depot: go during the day, otherwise it will be too dark to use the Porta-John.
After some Saturday night revelry, my friends and I decided that a trip to Depot at three in the morning was in order. The crowd at that hour had noticeably expanded. I ran into a large drunk man in a baby blue polo shirt, who told me, “My Lincoln got scratched up! Will you be the one to help me?” After assuring him I would be, he went on to tell me that the colors I wore were too bright, and then he promptly hassled someone to lend me five dollars “for some cheeseburgers! This guy could starve!” A more sober young man watching with amusement from the back of the room engaged me in conversation about how Bridgeport is changing. “But look at everything you have! You have Depot! This really is the best neighborhood.” While the young guy humored me, the large new friend of mine shouted, “It sure is!” as he waddled out the door to his scratched up Lincoln.