The rules of the competition were simple: the first person to eat fifteen hot dogs (or "dawgs" to use the preferred spelling) wins a year's supply of these tubular meats. A two-hour time limit was enforced and all trips outside and to the bathroom had to be accompanied by a witness. Six guys stepped up to accept the challenge and surrounded a small table set up in the back of the bar.
Saturday's competition at Olde Tyme Drafts and Dawgs, 2479 South Broadway, was the brainchild of owner Dion Boeke, who opened the bar in November. A once-rundown South Broadway dive, he turned the place British cute with offerings of parlor games (table skittles, anyone?) and scores of beers that can be served in giant plastic tubes. To avoid the cost and hassle of putting in a kitchen, he turned to a more practical solution for offering hungry pub-goers a light snack: hot dogs roasted right up front. Competitions surrounding the food were the next logical step to draw crowds and create a buzz.
There was an immediate whisper surrounding one contestant on Saturday, Ryan Banham, who looked threatening in a black shirt and skullcap. Word around the pub was that he'd attempted the challenge last month, but was only able to eat fourteen. He'd apparently trained by eating heads of iceberg lettuce to stretch his stomach. Knowing that trick wasn't too far off a pro competitive eater's regime, I was intrigued.
At 7:32, the contest officially started...slowly. If you've ever seen the big Nathan's Fourth of July hot dog competition televised, you know the entire twelve minutes is a flurry of soggy buns, half-chewed hot dogs, flying hands, and intense jaw maneuvering. This, on the other hand, was more like watching an incredibly focused picnic. Each contestant was given a plate with five hot dogs, and only two minutes later, a cheer went up in the crowd. Adam Lewis, a tall guy in a yellow shirt, was onto his second plate. Ryan Banham, was still working on his first, but seemed unfazed. Four minutes passed, and Adam was making quick work of the dogs, moving steadily onto his third and final plate. He seemed poised to take the competition and the crowd responded wildly.
But just as quickly as he started, Adam came to a halt. He came out of the gate too fast and now was going to have to work extra hard to get the last three hot dogs down. He stared at the hot dogs for a long time. Ryan on the other hand, was steadily moving along. Jill, the manager and official counter for the evening, ran back and forth between the table and the hot dog steamer, ready to supply the eaters with more dogs. She headed off to the juke box at one point. "I put in a song called 'Hot Dog in Hot Dog Flavored Water!'" she said. A couple minutes later: "I don't think anyone noticed this song is called Puke."
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As the minutes ticked away, a dark horse emerged. Evan Luthye, a table ender in a shirt that read "Yes" in giant letters, was almost done with his final dog. I crept in close to film the final seconds. Five minutes later, he was still on the same bite. He finally finished the bite, putting away the full fifteen hot dogs in just under half an hour. Bryan Geig, another owner, came up to shake Evan's hand and awarded him the certificate that entitles him to unlimited access to Olde Tyme dawgs for a year.
Evan seemed happy, if a little dazed by his win. Asked if he would, er, reverse the hot dogs now he said, "I'm going to try not to. But I think I'd feel better if I did."
Ryan Banham, whose steady pace never did catch him up, headed straight to the bathroom after Evan's win was announced. "Eating a lot of hot dogs is really terrible." But did he puke? "Fuck yeah!" he said, and then indicated towards his drink on the table. "You gotta save room for what's important."
Olde Tyme Drafts & Dawgs will repeat the hot dog competition monthly. Watch the website for details. -- Liz Kellermeyer