Thursday, May 8, 2008

Barfly's Beat: PDT and The Mafia Table

It was Thursday night and I was in the mood for a real cocktail. I’m talking about one with gin. Maybe some lemon juice, bitters, an egg white in there too, but definitely gin. So I rolled into PDT on St. Marks as the establishment was opening for the night. Well “rolled in” is not quite accurate. It was more like I walked into East Village hot dog institution Crif Dogs, slipped into the vintage phone booth, dialed a white plastic phone, and looked up at the CCTV camera. Then the wall opened up. I was arriving sans reservation but I was not worried. I have often found that in order to enjoy hush-hush speak easies like PDT (short for “Please Don’t Tell”) one has to show up unfashionably early and score a bar seat. 

PDT is reservations only and they must be made after 3pm on the day of your visit. Like other high end cocktail lounges such as Death &Company and Milk & Honey, there is a no-standing policy. Either one has a seat at one of the comfortable bar stools or booths or you cannot enter. I made it through the door and asked the delightful hostess for a bar seat which are first come, first served. I was waiting for some friends to show up but they were coming early, too, so we would be OK.

Don Lee, one of the talented bartenders, sorted me out with a Donizetti (Tanqueray Gin, Amaro CioCaro, Rothman & Winter Apricot brandy, and Moet White Star Champagne), which took the edge off a hectic day at work in a few sips. The cocktail menu is designed by Jim Meehan of Pegu Club fame. The bartenders are seasoned mixologists who know their cocktail history, use the best ingredients and authentic technique to produce exceptional drinks. The menu has old classics like the Old Fashion but reinterpreted, PDT’s Benton Old Fashion has bacon infused George Dickel Tennessee whisky, maple syrup, and Angostura bitters. That’s right - bacon.

Cocktail in hand, I survey the room and soaked in the place. The bar area provides most of the natural light for the room. The lack of windows adds to the secret hideaway feel. There is taxidermy on the walls, low lighting, and the striking wood ceiling transports you to a bygone era. Then I saw it - the best seat in the house. I was at at the end of the bar near the WC. To my immediate left there was a circular booth with a round mahogany table illuminated by a single Edison light bulb. There was also a black velvet curtain that could enclose the table creating a private area. I asked Don about the table. He called it the “Mafia table” and it is reservation only.

My friends arrived and additional delicious cocktails were ordered. One of the perks of PDT is that you can order hot dogs and hamburgers off of Crif Dogs menu. The food is delivered through a rectangular slot in the wall. And let me tell you, their “New Yorker hotdog” actually goes well with an Aviation!

The Mafia table’s party of four reservation arrived but only stayed for one round of drinks and left. I asked the waitress if we could have the table until the next reservation arrived and she told us no problem. So we snagged the table and continued to enjoy the PDT experience. More cocktails followed and before I slipped out of the clandestine phone booth I grabbed one of their cards. Next time around, we’ll be sitting at the mafia table. 

More good news: The proliferation of Prohibition-era styled speakeasies has now crossed the East River. Since January, two classic cocktail lounges have opened in Brooklyn. Weather Up on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights and Hotel Delmano on Berry Street in Williamsburg. In April, the JakeWalk, part enotecca, part cocktail lounge opened its doors on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens. Next month, the eagerly awaited Clover Club, from the folks behind Manhattan’s Flatiron Lounge, is due to open on Smith Street, too. This spring, expect gin blossoms to be blooming for New York barflies.

- Fredo

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