(See the end of this post for what is going on with this series)
While I have written about the Pegu Club before, no trip to New York would be complete without a visit and a post. For more reasons than just the name and the drink. Pegu Club is genuinely one of the nicest places to drink I have ever entered.
If Audrey Saunders is the Leonardo da Vinci of the modern cocktail lounge renaissance, then Pegu Club is her Mona Lisa.
When I first entered it a few years ago, I confess that I was a little disappointed. It was, to be honest, just a bar. There are no monkeys or parrots flitting though the rafters. The clientele tends more to the ordinary (like me) looking, rather than super-models. In short, the Vegas is notably lacking. In the interest of full disclosure, the first time I visited, my bartender was an undead zombie, but that was Halloween.
No, Pegu Club is just a bar, with the things that make bars nice. And Pegu Club does those nice things better than just about any place else I’ve been to date. (Note: the point of this trip is to see if New York’s other watering holes can top Pegu. Stay tuned.)
Maggie was surprised at how low-key the street entrance is, just a single glass door with security shutters. Like Cleveland’s Velvet Tango Room, I imagine that if you walked by Pegu during the day, you’d think you were looking at an abandoned address. In the best speakeasy tradition, you won’t find Pegu Club unless you are already looking for it.
There is ample seating away from the bar, with low chairs and tables ideal for a cozy date or a small party of friends. There is a delicious-looking menu of food, but I have always made sure I had a full stomach before visiting, so I cannot comment further on that.
The bar has wide, heavy wooden stools, and the bar top is made of a gigantic, three inch thick slab of natural wood with uneven edges. Behind the bar is a vast selection of liquors and liqueurs, on glass shelves and behind South Asianesque sliding wooden lattices. More impressive is the bewildering collection of house made syrups, tinctures, and bitters which populate the nooks and crannies behind and between the larger commercial bottles.
In the speed racks behind the bar are myriad other bottles, containing premixed components of the various drinks on the excellent cocktail menu. As with the tiki masters of yore, most are largely unlabeled. While the menu, which is not posted online, will tell you what is generally in your drink, you will not be able to duplicate it exactly just by watching it be made.
The menu is a simply fabulous perambulation through modern retro cocktailia. It begins (of course) with the Pegu Club, then touches on nearly every archetype of cocktail. As a Certified Cocktail Snob(TM), I usually feel obliged to sneer at at least half of the cocktails on even the best cocktail menu. But not this one….
The bartenders are fun to watch as they go about their craft. While nothing they do could remotely be equated to what people call “flair”, there is a subtle, marvelous showmanship in what they do. For hobby mixologists like me, there is a lot to steal here!
If you want to go off the menu, they have you covered. Ingredient-wise, they have it. No really, I bet you twenty bucks they got it. In they unlikely event you stump the bartender on what you want (I did, hah!), they have a custom house reference manual which will unstump them.
The one thing I find curious is this: If you want to modify a drink that is on the menu, you practically have to put the staff in a hammerlock to make it happen. Both times I’ve been there, I have asked for a Pegu with a gin other than what they use (Tanqueray). It is not easy to get this fulfilled.
The prices are remarkably, er, reasonable. I was fascinated by the simple fact that cocktails at the Pegu Club are a buck or three cheaper than drinks at our, admittedly nice, hotel lobby bar.
The bottom line is this: Pegu Club is simply a perfect neighborhood bar, forget it’s legendary status. The staff is uberknowledgable and friendly. The atmosphere is neither pretentious nor distracting. The decor is understated, yet beautiful. And the clientele is friendly. A great crossroads to visit, be you a local or a visitor from far away.
The Summer New York Adventure is the first truly kid-free vacation Maggi and I have taken since, well, we’ve had kids. By day, we’ll be exploring Manhattan’s Garment District, buying fabric for Maggi’s coture workings, and by night we shall explore the SoHo dining and drinking offerings, which should give me some of the best material to blog about in a good long while! Cheers!