Unless you’ve been under a rock—or up to your eyeballs in uninspired Cosmos—you know that New York cocktail consciousness has been on the rise. Bartenders (bar chefs, if you must) are nightlife’s new celebrities. And everything old (as in classic) is new again. Next week, when Audrey Saunders opens her long-awaited Pegu Club in its second-story perch above West Houston Street, connoisseurs will have even more cause to celebrate. Saunders, a protegé of Dale DeGroff and avid student of the art of mixology, worked her way up through the bartender ranks from Blackbird to Beacon to Bemelmans, where she honed its cocktail program into a work of potable art. At Pegu—a collaboration with the owners of Flatiron Lounge and Zinc Bar—she aims even higher. Named for an actual British officers’ club in Rangoon (and its tart and snappy house drink), Pegu has a vaguely Indochinese air, a surplus of hand-carved wood, and an Asian-inspired snack menu. It also has, according to Saunders, “the biggest ice cubes you’ll find in New York”—a critical distinction, since big ice is denser, stays colder longer, and reduces dilution, the bane of all cocktails. There’s a drinks database of original recipes from spirits savants like Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh and David Wondrich. Most intriguingly, there’s a line of dasher bottles behind the bar, each filled with a different tincture or extract meant to foster experimentation, an impulse that extends to customers as well: Saunders has filled dropper bottles with fresh juice, bitters, and simple syrup for tableside alterations. In time, innovations like these might become tools of the trade. For now, here are some of the defining artifacts of this moment in cocktail culture.
Vodka may be popular with the masses, but bartending’s upper echelon prefers gin.
David Embury’s Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, published in 1948, is Saunders’s official training manual—not to mention a highly entertaining read.
Out: overly diluted drinks served in giant Slurpee goblets. In: small, elegant glasses that hark back to the golden age of cocktails.
Bitters—boutique or homemade—can temper a drink’s sweetness, tie together various competing flavor components, and add complexity.
Squeezing fresh juice for cocktails seems like a no-brainer, but far too few bartenders go to the trouble. That’s their loss. (And ours.)
The right ice can make or break a cocktail. The Kold-Draft model that Saunders favors makes 99.9 percent pure cubes measuring 1 1/4 inches—the same size as this plastic model.
The Pegu Club
77 W. Houston St., nr. W. Broadway