“Back when Britain still had an Empire and the sun never set on it, the Pegu Club was a British Colonial Officers’club in Rangoon.”
So begins the menu at the Pegu Club, and a tip of the hat by famous mixologist Harry Craddock from his classic 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, the Pegu Club Cocktail “has traveled, and is asked for around the world.” Such is the lore of its legacy, and now it is manifest on Houston Street.
The stairway leading to the Pegu Club is mysterious and East Asian in feel. Soft beige hues outlined by racy black lines – a Rangoon cocktail lounge, perhaps at a resort or posh hotel, as you would imagine it, but upscale. The second floor is expansive and yields illusions of extra rooms, but this chicanery is the result of impeccable design. The ceiling is an undulating stark black wave of wooden bars acting as a makeshift roof shelter from oncoming monsoons in the dark. The bar is crafted from slabs of tree trunk, polished down to a shiny sheen and adorned with black stools, set sideways as a sign of drinks to come. Behind the bar rest unusual bottles, simple syrups and bitters.
The remainder of the room is laced with spotted areas of comfortable seating, an indication of verve and sexiness for the romantically inclined. The transportation is effective and almost immediate, later completed after a sip of the perfect cocktail.
The menu changes depending on the night, but some stalwart classics such as the house drink still remain to satisfy the yearning for the familiar and the fantastic. It is difficult to improve upon the menu’s self description of its libations, as the snippets are dead-on teasers for the luxurious liquid to come.
The Pegu Club Cocktail, for instance, is crisp, snappy and fairly potent. Fitty – Fitty is “just delish.” The Bensonhurst is a “drink that any tough guy would be happy with” and so on.
The bartenders at the Pegu Club appear distinctly trained, as is evidenced by their economy of motion, their deliberate pace and measurement, and the rapturous shaking prior to the pour. If there is any pretension in this bar, it comes from the bartender’s prudent efficacy, and thank the maker for it.
On my most recent visit, I sampled a Pineappel Pisco Sour, made with an egg white, ensuring a child-like delight over the creamy white foam created in the glass. The Whiskey Smash is the mint julep redux, with its homemade simple syrup one of the reasons this drink is a star. If more Italian restaurants would serve aperitivos like the Aperol, I would be ordering doubles before my first glass of vino.
The recipes containing bitters are most enticing because they are homemade. It is difficult to grasp what bitters do for a drink until you actually taste bitters here. It is enough o inspire experimentation on your own. Luckily, the house sells them to the public.
There are nibbles of you must, and proper champagne that would spur Mr. Churchill to chuckle, and wine and beer for the weary. But that’s simply not the point.
After two cocktails, the transformation is complete, a man becomes more civilized, and a woman more lady-like, completely rejuvenated for the night’s beckoning, happy and sad, if but for a moment.