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Food Writer’s Diary
DDT-Logans-Run.png Photos by Bret Thorn, collaged together by Sue Pearsall

My messed up hand and the best bars

Or at least my favorite bars

“You have a serious disease,” my new doctor, a hand specialist, told me.

That’s not something that anyone wants to hear, but I wasn’t particularly concerned.

I knew the symptom of my disease and I was pretty sure I could handle it: My right pinky wouldn’t straighten. That was it.

I’d have had it looked at last year, but I felt like doctors had other things to worry about so I stayed out of their way.

A bent pinky’s not nothing, mind you. It makes it harder to type, which is an important part of my job. It makes it harder to cook, or to applaud (I ended up balling up my right fist and smacking it with my left hand, which works pretty well), and it’s a real nuisance if you’re trying to shake someone’s hand.Dupuytrens-contracture-hand.jpg

Of course, during my 13 months basically of quarantine hand-shaking wasn’t an issue, but once I was vaccinated, out and about again, it became a subject of embarrassment. Would people think I was raised without being taught how to shake hands properly? Would they interpret my bent pinky against their palm as an odd and ineffective attempt at flirtation?

It weighed on me, so after shaking hands a couple of times with Dalton, I felt a need to show him my messed up hand and apologize for my bad hand-shaking etiquette.

Dalton is my favorite bartender at Logan’s Run, except for Maggie, Geoff and Alex, who are also my favorite bartenders at Logan’s Run — playing favorites only ends in tears.

I wandered in there one night in April, before New York City allowed people to actually belly-up to bars, sat at a table near the bar, ordered a cocktail and began chatting with my bemasked hosts — Maggie in black bedazzled mask and Dalton in a more standard one — and was immediately enchanted.

They liked each other. There was a gentle grace as they maneuvered around each other. Dalton prepared a round of Kamikaze shots for a group downstairs and Maggie made a cocktail. She asked Dalton to straw it to make sure it tasted right and I was enchanted again: They liked their customers.

Logan’s Run, like all of New York City, had had a year. In March of 2020 many of their regulars and most of the staff came down with COVID-19. It’s possible that all of the staff got it, but Dalton’s symptoms had been mild and the owner, Rick, was asymptomatic.

After the lockdown early in the pandemic, New York City passed the odd regulation that customers at bars had to order food. Geoff had cooking experience — in fact, he’d been a chef at Black Tap, known for its burgers and shakes — so Rick put him in charge of resurrecting the kitchen that had fallen into disuse.

Geoff took the assignment seriously. He brines the chicken wings himself (the Nashville hot wings are spicy enough to make me cry a little bit), makes his own pickled onions and relish for the hot dogs and also makes spicy pickles and the juice is used in the bar’s Pickle Backs.

Rick, meanwhile, decided that the cost of taking credit cards was too much to bear in the face of decreased business and Logan’s Run became a cash-only bar.

Rick was the first person whose hand I shook once I was out of my 13 months of exile. He’d been shaking hands all along and thought nothing of it, and didn’t notice my temporary deformity.

Dalton had, but he hadn’t said anything.

“Dude, what’s wrong with your hand,” is not appropriate for a bartender to say to a customer, even one who’s working hard to become a regular.

But I brought it up awkwardly, saying something overly dramatic like “I have to come clean with you about something.”

I showed him my messed up hand and he simply shrugged and said something like he assumed I had my reasons.

Logan’s Run’s bartenders, being bartenders, are good at defusing awkward situations, but they don’t have to much. It’s a friendly place with lots of regulars ranging from authors and tech people to bartenders and restaurant workers to legal aides, teachers, TV producers and some people who just seem to be quietly, independently wealthy.

And also me.

Logans-Run.jpgGeoff told me that, when it boils down to it, Logan’s Run is a beer-and-shot bar, but with everything just a little bit better. They sell a ton of bottles of Miller High Life, but the beers on tap are extensive and offer something for everyone. The Scotch list is larger than necessary, the cocktails (mostly developed by Rick’s wife, Grace, who I have never met) are better than they need to be and the food makes it a perfectly acceptable dining destination, particularly since Dalton and Geoff are both mavens at pairing the food with their beers, and Maggie can look at me and tell me what cocktail I want.

I bet Alex can, too, but I enjoy her for her movie selections when there aren’t any necessary sports to watch, which lean toward 1980s kitsch or bad horror films.

Speaking of films, the bar is, in fact, named after the 1970s sci-fi film in which people are executed on their 30th birthday.

Obviously I asked Rick why he picked that name.

“Because life doesn’t end at 30!” he declared, and then shrugged. “I don’t know, I just love the movie.”

My other favorite bar also has a conversation-starter of a name.

DDT is named not for the insecticide, but for the finishing move of professional wrestler Jake “The Snake” Roberts, in which you get your opponent in a front face lock and then sit down rapidly, slamming his (usually his) face in the mat. If professional wrestling were real, a DDT would likely be fatal, but it’s not, so we’re good.

I am blessed to have DDT as the bar closest to my apartment. It is, as far as I know, the only South African-influenced professional wrestling-themed bar on Earth, and that doesn’t begin to describe its wonders.

It’s run by husband-and-wife team Randy and Suzy Tyson. She’s from South Africa and calls herself the barkeep, and he’s the chef and loves professional wrestling. Together, with their faithful helper John Popichak, they oversee a strange and magical place that appeals to all of my dorky glitches.

DDT opened in March of 2020, which was, you know, terrible timing. Also, they didn’t get their liquor license until October of 2020, so they survived by selling Randy’s fried boneless chicken thighs, burgers, cheesesteaks etc., mostly for takeout in the early months.

Those regulars have been loyal, because Suzy’s a delight and Randy has his own gruff charm (also, those chicken thighs…), and John is sweet, has learned to make Suzy’s cocktails (such as The Chair, a highball made of tequila, mezcal, lime, soda and a tincture of the South African herb boegoe; the Atomic Drop, made with bourbon, brandy, orange blackberry shrub and lemon; and the Drinksuke Nakamura, a highball of gin, yuzu, purple shiso, lemon grass and soda), and has been known to cheer or dance a little jig when I show up. What’s not to like?

Also, it turns out that professional wrestling fans are extremely polite and enjoy drinking bougie South African-influenced professional wrestling-themed cocktails.

DDT.jpgAnd when no matches are on, Randy cues up anime films, or Twilight Zone or Star Trek episodes, or Harry Potter (which I watched while the guy in back of me was explaining to his friends the entire mythology of Tolkien’s Middle Earth — and they seemed genuinely interested), often while we listen to New York Hard Core music from the 1970s and ’80s.

Suzy’s a hugger, and Randy and John aren’t big on handshakes, so my bent pinky wasn’t an issue until I was preparing to see my hand specialist and a drunk customer (I know she was drunk because she told me three times that she was a surgical nurse) said she’d never heard of him, that I’d definitely need surgery and that I should go to her hand surgeon (she showed me her scars) and not some loser.

I really don’t take kindly to strangers telling me what to do, but she had already lectured Randy about what to do to honor 9/11 victims on the 20th anniversary of the attack (this was in early September), which he, being an adult, responded to by saying, “I honor them every day in my own way,” but was clearly thinking “don’t tell me how to run my bar, you idiot.”

Mostly DDT’s customers are delightful — stranger than Logan’s Run’s, but delightful nonetheless — but it takes all kinds, I guess.

And as I’ve said before, we’re all a little (or a lot) less sane than we were before the pandemic started, and it’s kind of our job as humans to listen to other humans as you drink with them in bars.

Sometimes DDT customers share pandemic stories, like the guy who was one of the first people in New York to get a serious case COVID-19. He was admitted to the hospital, but before long a doctor put it plainly: “You can die here, or you can die at home.”

So he went home, and it turns out he recovered. He was lucky.

Or sometimes we discuss politics, but not too much, or theology, or whatever sci-fi/fantasy rabbit hole someone wants to go down — I swear someone’s going to start to play Magic: The Gathering in a corner at some point — or the finer points of the history of a professional wrestler’s career. There are a lot of those conversations, especially now that DDT has established itself as the professional wrestling bar and people regularly cross two rivers to come for big pay-per-view events.  

Anyway, I didn’t need surgery on my hand, and by the time the doctor told me I had a serious disease I already knew what I had. I’d spoken to three people in his office who told me, starting with the person who scheduled my appointment.

“Have you ever heard of Dupuytren’s Contracture?” she asked when I described my symptoms — or rather, my symptom.

The nurse who took me into the examination room took one look at my hand and immediately handed me a pamphlet on Dupuytren’s Contracture.

The radiologist was positioning my hands to be X-rayed when I said that it seemed that everyone thought my condition was Dupuytren’s Contracture.

“It is,” he said in a way completely contrary to the equivocation that most medical professionals practice before results are clear.

Also called “Viking’s Disease” because it is more common in people of Northern European descent, which I am not, Dupuytren’s Contracture is caused by the build-up of collagen in the hand that forms cords that pull your fingers toward your palm.

It does not hurt, it is not cancerous, it is not contagious. It is treatable with an injection of an enzyme that dissolves the collagen, and then the next day the doctor straightens the finger in question. This will likely result in skin tearing — because it has contracted as the finger was pulled toward the palm — and bleeding, which is treated with bandages until new skin is formed.

My doctor urged me to research the condition so I would be adequately prepared for torn skin. He also said that the injection hurts a little when it’s made.

As far as serious diseases go, it seemed pretty manageable. And as far as a painful injection goes, I tried to ease the doctor’s concerns.

“I’ve had injections into my eyeball,” I told him (which is true, but a story for a different day, perhaps).

“You’ll be fine,” he said and waved me toward the receptionist to fill out the paperwork to order my injection. 

I’ve had the procedure, and I’m on the mend, but now I understand why the doctor was warning me. The injection just hurt a little, but having an enzyme dissolve part of your hand actually hurts pretty badly, and my pinky, previously pain-free, kept trying to straighten when it didn’t have enough skin to do so, and that hurts a lot.

Also, watching your pinky get straightened and seeing all that blood gurgle out isn’t great. My hand had been thoroughly numbed, but I still didn’t enjoy it, and now I’m wearing a splint to keep my pinky from bending back down again.

I start physical therapy next week.  

And DDT is looking for a cook as business picks up. Logan’s Run accepts credit cards again and with New York requiring proof of vaccination to enter a bar, masks have long been discarded. Rick has hired a new bartender, Sarah, who I haven’t met yet, and a third cook (Clyde has been working there part-time since the summer, and Austin has just started trailing Geoff).

And things are getting back to – what? — normal, I guess, or better, at least.

Last Friday, with my hand in a splint and a little swollen, I commiserated with Dalton, who is recovering from a broken hand. He poured shots of well bourbon and proposed a toast.

“To healing.”

To healing.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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