"Did you hear about Don and the contest?" John Paul Deragon asked me last night at Allen & Delancey, where the Star Chefs After After Party was taking place. I was only going to stay for an hour or so, but the whole thing quickly turned into one giant catalog of who's who. It was so jam packed that I honestly could not leave even if I wanted to. There were bartenders from the city such as Sasha Petraske, Audrey Saunders, Sammy Ross, Mickey McIlroy, Marshall Altier, Joaquin Simo, Junior Merino, Kenta Goto, Toby Maloney and many other who I can't remember right now thanks to alcohol, but I also spotted some chefs in the crowd. Wylie Dufresne made an appearance as did Paul Liebrandt, Sam Mason and Johnny Iuzzini. As I overheard Eben Freeman quip later in the evening, "We just need to bring back Jerry Thomas and everyone is here."
"Are you talking about how Don shaved his head for the beard off?" I asked John in answer to his question. I have to admit, I was distracted by all the facial hair in the place. I practically squealed like a little girl when I saw John had a full-on beard. Alex Day's beard was a thick ginger carpet that probably was contributing to the sweat he was working up as he valiantly kept up with drink orders off of his new menu for the throng that choked the tight bar area. Though Matty Gee said he wasn't participating in the beard-off, when he showed up with his shock of fluffy beard and a pair of glasses perched on his nose I did a visible double-take as I covered my mouth in shock and asked squeakily, "Matty???"
"No, the Averna competition. He broke his wrist three hours before his flight to Italy, so he was rushed to the emergency room and missed his flight," John explained.
"Oh, no way! That sucks!"
But the story doesn't end there. According to John, Don then grabbed the next flight he could, flew almost 12 hours to Sicily. COMPETED. Then went on to win for several categories, including one for...wait for it...speed.
"Damn!" I said. "Getting your ass kicked by a...a..."
"A one-armed bartender?" John helpfully interjected.
"That's insane, man."
OK, this is how folk heroes are born. I can easily see the Elder Edda first taking shape under similar circumstances. The first premise of epic poem coming to light over the exploits of a contemporary over some drinks (uh, mead instead of cocktails I suppose). Heroes and giants easily borrowed from the pantheon of greats still alive during their time.
This Don Lee urban legend needs to snowball so that decades from now our grandchildren will be in bars sipping on drinks made by robot bartenders and one will say, "I don't know man, I heard back in my grandparents' days there was this one-handed bartender. No one knows how he lost the hand, but they said he later replaced it with a mechanical one that was a manual juicer. He was bald, and could out shake any bartender in town with just one hand."