Street Art: Doggie Diner Sphinx

Doggie Diner was one of San Francisco's landmark restaurants, famous not for its food but for its capped dachshund heads, giant sculptures that stood over each of its eateries. The heads remain iconic, though not quite as globally known as, say, the Sphinx in Egypt. Artist Steve Bauer decided he could combine the two icons — West and East, as it were — and the result is Doggie Diner Sphinx, a large painting that now fronts an auto body shop on Capp Street in the Mission.

Doggie Diner Sphinx, which went up over the summer, is reason enough to visit this block of Capp Street. But a few feet away is another eye-poppingly good work by Bauer: A large mural called Capp Street Honeycomb, with cells and bees by Bauer and added work by other artists — including koi fish by Jeremy Novy — whom Bauer invited to collaborate. As Bauer works in the building whose wall now features the honeycomb, the body shop next door asked him to fill the space that Doggie Diner Sphinx now occupies, to stop the wall from constantly getting tagged. From an artist's perspective, that wasn't a problem. The real challenge was the wall itself: It's made of cinder block, with irregular surfaces.

“The cinder block wall is super rough, so I thought, 'What the hell — I'll do a sphinx,'” Bauer says. “I got the body done, and I was really happy with it, and then I thought, 'When I first moved into this building in 1986, that building with the body shop was condemned and had a courtyard — and in that courtyard was a Doggie Diner head.' And I was doing the face. And I thought, 'What the fuck. I'm just going to do a Doggie Diner head face.'”

Bauer studied art at the University of Louisville, and moved to San Francisco in 1976 — when Doggie Diner was still operating. And when he's not doing art or finishing furniture, he plays the drums.

“The wall is so rough that I couldn't do anything with a brush on it,” he says, “So I had to rough it in with spray cans, and then using masking tape to map it all off and do the Doggie Diner head. But it looks pretty good.”

So good, in fact, that people who walk by that part of Capp Street inquire about it.

“I have a video of a woman who, when she was a child, she and her sister sang the Doggie Diner jingle for a radio commercial,” says Bauer, who's 62. “She came by and saw it, and I did a video of her singing the Doggie Diner jingle. I should post it on Facebook, but I never have time.”

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