St. Mark's Giant Dog Adopted, Re-Named

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I was on the way to Kimís Video on St. Marks Place this morning to return Brokeback Mountain (I made it through the final scene dry-eyed, but when the credits rolled and Willie Nelsonís voice sang ďHe was a friend of mine. Every time I think of him, I just canít keep from cryin,Ē I sipped my beer and let the tears come.). I stopped for coffee and a croissant at 18 St. Marks. Truth be told, I passed the storefront Ė since I still associate the Clifford-sized plaster dog atop the awning with Good Dog, the Chicago-style hot dog joint that had until recently occupied the space Ė but I did a double take when I noticed it was once again open, now called Spotís Cafť.

ďWhat happened to Good Dog?Ē I asked the gruff, heavyset man clad in a maroon apron who seemed to be the owner.

ďJust didnít work out I guess.Ē

ďBut you kept the dog?Ē

ďWe named him Spot.Ē

Iíd interviewed the owner of Good Dog and the artist who created the giant plaster dog back in March of 2007, when the dog was lying on his back, with his tongue hanging out like he wanted a belly rub, taking up the entire store. Owner Alex Tisi had been optimistic that a third hot dog joint might make it in the East Village, but given the minute half-life of businesses on St. Markís, itís no big shock that Good Dogís mascot, which took six weeks for sculptor Catalin Nastasoui to craft, outlasted the eatery itself.

Now that the dog has been adopted and re-named, we want to make sure his roots are not lost. Hereís that interview:

So how long have you been working on the dog?

Catalin Nastasoui: I think, uh, six weeks. I started in a studio on Chambers Street.
Alex Tisi: The reason he was not finished in his other location is because he was not going to fit in the elevator with his ears.

And whereís he going to go when youíre finished?

AT: Up here on an awning.

How are you going to hoist him up?

AT: Itís not drastically heavy. Four people could move it with no trouble at all.

CN: Two people, even.

Whatís he made of?

AT: He was carved out of one big square piece of Styrofoam, then covered with a layer of resin.

CT: Or five.

AT: The dogís name is JJ, by the way.

How would you define your respective relationships to JJ?

AT: Iím the dogís father.

CT: And Iím the nurse. The delivering nurse.

Where does the name JJ come from?

AT: Itís the dogís name, for some reason. Itís what he answers to. His tail will wag when heís happy to see you. Thatís what those wires are coming out of his bottom.

How did you get this job, Catalin? Did you and Alex know each other?

CN: Weíve known each other for a long time, I would say five years.

AT: Catalin is a prominent sculptor who is doing this as a favor. Every now and then you have to do things that are fun.

Does that mean heís doing this for free?

AT: For a modest gratuity. With all the hours, itís less than minimum wage.

What will make JJís tail wag?

AT: Itís actually a motor inside of him, robbed out of a Ford Taurus. Itís a windshield wiper motor, which gives you the exact motion you want for a tail.

What color is JJ going to be?

AT: Itís Golden Retriever red-brown. The actual color is called Golden Retriever. We always were partial to blondesÖ You notice for his East Village look, we gave him a spiked collar.

So is JJ supposed to be a Golden Retriever, or just a dog?

AT: Heís just a generic dog. When we call him a mutt, he gets insulted.

Have you done anything like this before, Catalin?

CN: Yes. I do ceramics. Iíve done large ceramic sculptures, but not here. In Europe.

Anything out of Styrofoam?

CN: No, but itís just another material. Itís light, and itís kind of agreeable with being carved, without involving any tools besides a knife, a saw, and some skill.

AT: And some space.

Youíve got a lot of competition in the East Village, with Crif Dogs and Dawgs on Park.

AT: A lot of competition, but nothing like this. Thatís basically why we leaned toward this format. The Chicago-style hot dog is much larger than a regular hot dog, and itís topped with pickles, relish, mustard, chopped onions, hot peppers. If youíve ever gone to Wrigley Field and gotten a hot dog there, you know exactly what Iím talking about. The hot dogs will actually come from Chicago. To the best of my knowledge, weíre going to be the only one [selling Chicago dogs] in New York.

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