I’m a newcomer to the cocktail revolution. The timing and temperament of my dining habits are such that I’m more likely to have a sit-down meal with wine than to have a liquid dinner at a bar. But the craft and care that goes into the better cocktail menus has started to get my attention, if belatedly.
Pegu Club, which turns 3 in August, is practically the senior citizen of the post-modern cocktail circuit. It “hides in plain sight,” like many places in the genre—in this case, behind a barely labeled red door on Houston Street. No one who casually walks by would realize it’s a bar. Even those who are looking for Pegu Club sometimes have trouble finding it.
The bar is named for a nineteenth-century British officers’ club in Burma, and one can just detect a bit of the fin-de-siècle elegance they were aiming for. It’s a large, comfortable, and beautifully decorated space, with plush table seating and comfortable bar stools.
Left: French Pearl; Right: Poquito Picante
Pegu Club takes its ingredients seriously, with house-made infusions, shots carefully measured, and sodas poured from fresh bottles. I tried three of them (all $12), starting with the Little Italy, a Manhattan variant made with an Italian bitter called Cynar (“CHEE-nar”). The bartender actually took a sideways glance at me as I took my first sip, to see if I’d like it as much as he predicted. I’d imagine he was pleased with the broad smile on my face. I also loved the French Pearl, made with gin, pernod, muddled mint, lime juice, and simple syrup.
I wasn’t as pleased with the Poquito Picante, which didn’t live up to the promise of “just a little bit of heat.” The jalapeño floating on top was merely decorative. The other ingredients, cilantro, cucumber, gin, cointreau and lemon juice, made a bland impression.
I wonder if Pegu Club is leaning too much on the menu it opened with, and if the restless inventiveness of the city’s better cocktail chefs is still present here. The same handful of ingredients recur in many of the drinks—for instance, five of them include mint; five have lemon juice. That’s a lot of repetition on a short menu. I didn’t run out of choices, but I don’t know if there’s enough variety to justify many repeat visits.
That said, there’s still plenty more that I’d like to come back and try.
There’s food here, too. There’s a beverage recommendation for each item on the brief food menu, but in a number of cases there was no such item on the cocktail menu. You’d think they could clear that up.
The smoked trout deviled eggs ($10) have been on the menu since the beginning (Frank Bruni raved about them). In a word: wow! The little flecks of trout have a smoky taste almost like bacon, which nicely complements the curry mayonaise on the eggs. I didn’t quite get the point of chopsticks as a serving utensil, as the eggs were far too slippery to pick up that way. I used my hands.
A vegetarian spring roll ($12) was much more bland, but it was a decent enough snack.
The service was excellent, but in fairness I came quite early in the evening—I was the first customer, in fact—so I can’t attest to what it’s like when they fill up.
I’m only just beginning my journey through the city’s great cocktail places, but I doubt that there are many as comfortable as Pegu Club, and many of the drinks here are already modern classics.
Pegu Club (77 W. Houston St. between West Broadway & Wooster St., SoHo)