I was in New York over the weekend, doing a murder mystery party for a group called The Supper Club New York. It was a good party, and I enjoyed doing it. But for me personally the highlight of the trip was a chance to at last visit the Pegu Club at 77 W Houston St. in Manhattan.
I started this little blog as a way to spread the word on my favorite obscure old-time cocktail, the Pegu. That’s right, you find yourself at this very moment attending a evangelical revival! I have no idea how many people I’ve gotten to try a Pegu for the first time, but it has been many manys of manys, if my Sitemeter logs do not lie. All that said, I imagine that my efforts have been a drop in the bucket, compared with the number of people who’ve discovered this drink at the eponymously named Pegu Club. I heard about it for the first time shortly after I started writing this blog, and have wanted to get there ever since. Alas, any business in the New York area in the meantime has not left me with the time to go and explore. This trip I made sure I had the time!
As an added bonus, my excursion took me there on Halloween. The people watching was wonderful, though I could have done without the guy wearing nothing but the Borat sling standing next to me on the subway on the way back to the hotel. (Click this link if you don’t know what I mean. On second thought, don’t.)
During the day, I doubt you’d even know the club is there. It has no sign at all, and you enter through a single swinging glass door. At night, the door is illuminated internally, highlighting the crest and name engraved in the glass. You climb a set of stairs and enter a long room with dining tables surrounding a surprisingly small bar. The decor is restrained but hardly the Victorian or Southeast Asian look I imagine you might have found at the namesake club in colonial Burma. It was busy but not overly packed. I delayed just long enough checking my coat to lose out on a temporarily open seat at the bar and had to stand.
One of the four bartenders quickly spied me, stuck as I was behind better-looking customers, and I ordered a Pegu. It came directly in a an old-style cocktail glass (rounded bowl, properly small), with a carved lime wedge as a garnish. Theirs differs from the orthodox (i.e. my) recipe. They use both Orange and Angostura bitters, and Orange Curacao instead of Cointreau. In combination, you have a drink that is very good, but brighter, sweeter, and a little less bracing then my usual. I enjoyed it nonetheless as I watched the bartenders work. Unlike the majority of your standard bars, most people there were ordering the cocktails on the menu. (Also unlike the majority of bars, the drink on the menu looked really good….) It was really more akin to watching sushi chefs working than bartenders. Each drink had its own unique garnishes, and special glassware to be served in. Ratios seemed exacting, and the guys behind the bar took a respectable amount of time to make each drink. The ice cubes I saw were ocean liner-endangeringly big.
When I finished my Pegu Club, I asked a second bartender to make for me a One True Pegu, as I call it, the way Peter Dorelli taught me to make them at the American Bar at the Savoy. Damned if the one he made me wasn’t better than the ones I make myself. I didn’t know whether to be thrilled or grumpy about that. I think I’ll try upping the egg white next time to see.
All my cocktailgeeky instructions to the bartender led to an interesting conversation with a young couple beside me from North Carolina. They were in New York so that she could run the NYC Marathon. What she was doing out drinking cocktails two nights before a marathon, I’ll never know. Regardless, it was a good reminder that happily wrangling with the bartender about your drink is usually a great way to get into a conversation with your fellow patrons!
I can’t recommend the Pegu Club enough, even if they do use Orange Curacao instead of Cointreau and mispronounce their own name. It is fun, well-run, well-lit, not too loud, and surprisingly not-too-ruinous in price. Many of my readers who live near, or even work in, a fine craft cocktail lounge like this will not find it quite the alien experience this midwesterner did, but I’m sure you’d find it great regardless.