Bar Review – PDT New York, NY
Standing inside Crif Dogs on St. Marks Street in the east village of New York, enjoying my deep-fried hot dog and quite possibly the best french fries I’ve ever had, I noticed something a truly alarming. Every so often, one of the Crif Dogs patrons would go into the vintage phone booth across from the Ms. Pacman machine and vanish into thin air. Disappear. I mean they were gone! Although I am prone to the occasional hallucination while on deep-fried pork products, this was not a case of a runaway imagination.
No, this is the front door of PDT, a quirky little speakeasy that serves some of the most sincere and truly artisan cocktails I have ever had. PDT (which stands for Please Don’t Tell) uses the gimic of the phone booth entryway as part of their pseudo-secret yet strangely well-publicized speakeasy ethos. Many people know it’s there, but the tiny size, rules of behavior, pricy cocktails and inability to place an advance reservation help give this place an air of mysterious exclusivity. Hidden beyond the speakeasy gimic is a truly great bar that balances substance with style and a cool and relaxed interior space.
The decor is somewhere between Raymond Chandler and James Bond. A low roof caps a room filled with mahogany, brass, black leather and plenty of taxidermy. The place is barely lit with two bow-tied and satin vested bartenders getting their only light from below the bar. It is a great setting for a cocktail and some fictional spy skullduggery.
Once pulled from the phone booth, I was directed toward my unusually oversized and comfortable bar stool and informed that no standing is allowed. I was also told that their are strict rules for male behavior and, if I had any questions, they are posted on the inside door of the men’s room. Of note, if you approach a women to share some of her time and she denies your request, don’t try again or you’ll be asked out.
PDT is definitely not a scene bar. Instead (and as a result of the prohibition on standing), PDT is about the cocktails. So sit, get to know your neighbors and enjoy your drinks. And they are good drinks, cocktails painstakingly made with care by bartenders who act as humble keepers of long hidden knowledge.
My bartender, Sean Hoard, a fresh faced kid in his mid-20′s, crafted drinks for me as if he’d been doing this well beyond his years. He was patient, thorough, exacting and clearly took pride in making drinks his patrons enjoy. He informed me that he had to spend a great deal of time as an apprentice bartender at PDT before being allowed to actually mix for guests. PDT is no first stop for a bartender school graduate.
The cocktails at PDT are as pricy as they are delicious. But, even at $12 and up, you get cocktails that are truly unique and innovative. According to Sean, the classic cocktails set the standard and have stood the test of time. Part of PDT’s mission is to try and create new classics that reflect two centuries of cocktail know-how. You certainly could order a classic cocktail at PDT. If you did, it would be made with only top shelf ingredients and will be one of the best examples of that cocktail you are likely to find. But why would you? PDT is hard enough to get into and their signature cocktails are so unique and tasty that you’d be missing out on a great opportunity if you didn’t try them.
My first cocktail was an eye opener. Called the Henry Hudson, it is made of Bols Genever, lemon juice, chardonnary, and simple syrup shaken and then poured into a rocks glass along with a 2-inch square ice cube and topped with freshly grated nutmeg. This is a very balanced, bright cocktail with a slight citrusy start and the slightest tinge of nutmeg on the finish. It is like nothing I have ever had before. The giant 2-inch square ice cube is a nice piece of cocktail theater too.
My second drink, called the Paddington, is a combination of light rum, Lillet Blanc, lemon and grapefruit juices and orange marmalade that is vigorously shaken and poured into an absinthe rinsed cocktail glass. Again, I have never had anything similar. The marmalade adds body to the mouthfeel and not just citrusy sweetness to this drink and is offset by the hint of darkness from the absinthe. Lillet Blanc is another great choice as it adds slight herbal and honey qualities to the finished cocktail.
My final drink was the PDT version of the Sazerac. My bartender Sean muddled Peychaud and Agnostura bitters with one cube of brown sugar and then added one ounce each of cognac and Rittenhouse 100 Rye whiskey, shook well and poured into a chilled and absinthe rinsed rocks glass. This was one of the best whiskey cocktails I have ever had. Sweet, smoke and smooth. Just flat out delicious.
I was also able to sample another PDT speciality; a classic Old Fashioned made with bourbon that had been infused with triple-filtered bacon fat. This sounded to me like another gimic, but the drink was phoenominal. The bacon fat imparts an extra smoky quality to the bourbon and adds a nice velvety mouthfeel as well.
In the midst of all of this great atmosphere and superior cocktails came a platter of assorted dogs and fries from next door. The gentlemen two stools down from me had ordered what they called the Stoner Special Hot Dog Assortment and was offering it around the bar. This was the exclamation on the end of the PDT sentence. A classic speakeasy of great style and atmosphere that serves exceptional cocktails aside bacon wrapped and deep fried goodness. In all, this is a place that is well aware of it’s own contradictions. PDT takes their cocktails seriously, but they are also tongue-in-cheek about their style.
And in the end, I’ve got to admit it, entering the place through the phone booth of a hot dog place is pretty damn cool.
PDT (Please Don’t Tell) is at 113 St. Marks St., just off Avenue A in the East Village of New York City. You can only make a reservation the day of your visit and only from 3pm on. You will want to have them. If you go alone, you stand a fair chance of getting a space at the bar.