Across from Chris’ Hot Dogs sits the old Kress building; a department store that was as much a staple of Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue as Chris’ Hot Dogs was. These days, the Kress building is undergoing a major reconstruction that will help spur growth in the downtown area. The new development will house modern apartments with grand views of the fountain on one end and the Capitol building on the other. Inside will be a trendy marketplace full of restaurants and shops.
But in its heyday, the Kress building was like so many other places in the segregated American South. The white people entered on Monroe and the black people entered on Dexter Avenue.
Across the street at Chris’ Hot Dogs, everyone entered through the same door. “I don’t care what color you are, as long as your money is green,” Greek immigrant/owner Chris Katechis said. Through the years, people of all colors entered this iconic restaurant, including Martin Luther King, Jr., actress Tallulah Bankhead, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Zelda Fitzgerald, Whoopi Goldberg, and frequently, Hank Williams.
They came for one thing: Chris’ famous hot dogs topped with mustard, a secret chili sauce, and sauerkraut. Coming from Cincinnati, I had to try it because we have our own special chili dogs in Cincinnati and I couldn’t imagine that Chris’ would compare.
It didn’t. But I’m biased. I liked Chris’ hot dogs just fine, but when you’re from Cincinnati, you want your hot dogs smothered with mustard, onions, Cincinnati chili, and a mound of finely shredded mild cheddar cheese.
But when in Montgomery…
I gobbled up my Chris’ hot dog like everyone else. They were celebrating their 100th anniversary and grandson Gus said that not much had changed over the years. Except the prices.
The restaurant continues to be a landmark in Montgomery. It’s a place where teenagers have come on dates for decades now. It’s a popular spot for a quick lunch or late bite. It’s a piece of history that has welcomed Montgomery residents for a century. It’s not the fanciest place in town, but it’s probably one of the most familiar. I’ll stop by Chris’ Hot Dogs again the next time I visit Montgomery. I expect it to still be the same, but with all the revitalization happening there, like the Kress project, it’s probably one of the few things that will be.
How do you like your hot dogs?