The Real Pegu Club… and How to Pronounce It

UPDATE: Welcome, New York Times readers! I hope you look around while you are here.

Pegu-Club-Burma
Source: The Irrawaddy

That picture, my friends, is a sight to make me weep. That is the courtyard of the mighty Pegu Club itself in Rangoon, Burma. Nativity-place of the World’s Greatest Cocktail™. Once once of the great gentlemen’s clubs (the kind where the brass poles run horizontally along the foot of the bar) of the British Empire at its height, the club was last put to use as a military audit office and flop house for bureaucrats in the 1990s. Now, it rots as an abode for stray dogs. And the Burmese website that has this story (and many other beautiful, tragic pictures you should look at) describes its signature cocktail as “Gin and Rose’s lime juice”….

If you happened upon this post without knowing about the Pegu cocktail, it is not gin and Rose’s. That would be a Gimlet.

Pegu-Club-Burma-Exterior
Look at that magnificent exterior, which is likely already past preservation. The building has been designated as a “heritage building” by the government, so I guess that’s something. As opposed to such actions here in the US, the protection of the Pegu Club consists entirely of a hand-written piece of paper held down by a brick that has fallen out of the wall which asks visitors to please not wreck the place.

The pictures I’ve shown you so far are from, I think, an anti-government outlet, and are designed to show the Pegu Club’s decay. Since first posting this, I got a tip from Ginger Bar Magazine about another set of photographs by Jacques Maudy and Jimi Casaccia on commission for the Yangon Heritage Trust. (They are apparently a preservation NGO who are endeavoring to preserve glorious architecture like thins in the area. Sadly, their website is currently the dreaded “under construction”) These photos are designed to help evoke how beautiful building like this could be, and evoke their past glory. Below is a quite different view of the Pegu Club. You can find many more, higher resolution photos on their website, or even buy their soon-to-be released book, Yangon a City to Rescue.
Jacques Maudy and Jimi Casaccia
This sad story brings to mind something else I’ve been meaning to post about for a long time now. How the heck do you really pronounce “Pegu”?

Back when I discovered the Pegu in Paul Harrington’s Cocktail, a discovery that ignited my obsession with cocktails in general, I surmised that it was pronounced PEE-Goo. Then in 2000, we visited the American Bar at the Savoy in London, where my wife and I had a marvelous long conversation at our table with the legendary Peter Dorelli about the drink, which he thought was pronounced Pee-Zhou. I’ve always pronounced it thus since. But since Audrey Saunders opened her Pegu Club in Manhattan, most of the cocktail world has pronounced it PEG-oo, under the completely sound expectation that if Audrey says it, it very likely is so.

But I wondered.

So I picked up the phone and called the embassy of the Republic of Myanmar (what the communist junta renamed Burma to legitimize itself) in Washington, DC. I spoke to a marvelously helpful, if somewhat perplexed, young lady who had never heard the word Pegu or seen it written, at least not in English lettering. She agreed, however, to seek out someone at the embassy who was familiar with it, and call me back with the correct pronunciation. She did call back, (pro tip: say you are a “writer” working on a “story”, not a “blogger” writing a “post” if you want a call back) to tell me that a man in the embassy who lived nearby explained to her that the actual pronunciation is Puh-GOO.

So there you go. With that earth-shattering piece of investigative journalism out of the way, you can go back to calling the drink a PEG-oo, and I’ll keep right on calling it a Pee-Zhou, because I’m a creature of habit.

About the author

Doug

I am 48 years old, married with two young daughters. My interests are tennis, reading, computers, politics, and of course cocktails. I run a murder mystery party business that caters to both corporate and private events, Killing Time, murder consultants.

8 Comments

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  • Doug, you’re on Facebook so you should be able to see the following photo that the magazine I’m working for published in october. It was taken as part of a heritage campaign to save some of Burma’s most iconic building.

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=427067490697043&set=a.397711340299325.90168.397710300299429&type=1&theater

    I suppose there have been linguistic changes in Burma since the junta take power as the bus stop next to what remains of the Pegu Club is called something like Bago Club. Note that the wikipedia entry is wrong (it says the building has been destroyed during WWII)

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  • Damn! I was in Rangoon over Christmas, went looking for the Pegu Club, and apparently missed it. Though I had heard it burned down in WWII so was not expecting to find much.

    I found the bus stop, wandered around the area and through the lanes, but don’t recall seeing that building. I’ll have to check back over my photos.

    Even the older people did not seem to know ‘Pegu Club’ as anything other than the name of a bus stop and its surrounding area. So asking directions to the actual building (or spot where it used to be) was fruitless. I was guessing it had stood on what looked like a vacant lot near where the bus stop was.

    It was also almost impossible to find a good Pegu Club, making the whole enterprise much thirstier work than it needed to be.

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  • the pronunciation I was told in the 1970′s by a chap who had lived in the club was Pee Gu, the club was usually the place where new entrants to Burma were stationed until they could find a house and bring out families – We have a Pegu Chapter (Masonic unit)meeting now in London which started its life in Burma in 1910- the name of Pegu was changed to Bago just as Rangoon is now Yangon and Burma in now Myanma

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