Visiting the speakeasies of New York: Please Don’t Tell (PDT)
December 7, 2011 1 Comment
At first blush, Please Don’t Tell (or “PDT” as it is often called) takes the nouveau speakeasy concept of Milk & Honey — nondescript entrance leading to bar with limited seating manned by a mixologist — up a notch or two. Despite those similarities, a visit to the two venues feels completely different: where Milk & Honey is a hideaway where the focus is on the beverages, PDT seems like more of a gimmick destination that luckily happens to have some very good drinks.
The most famous thing (dare I say, the best thing) PDT has going for it is its kitschy entrance:
- You first have to go into Crif Dogs hot dogs, easily identifiable by the large hot dog shaped sign hanging over the sidewalk with “Eat Me” scrawled across it in faux mustard.
- Once inside, you will find an unmarked phone booth (BTW: have any twentysomethings ever used a real working phone booth before in their lives?).
- Once inside said phone booth, you pick up the phone, follow the instructions in front of you, and voila! — the “wall” of the phone booth opens to reveal a person who asks if you have a reservation.
- If you don’t . . . well, you’re screwed. There’s pretty much no chance that you’re getting in without a reservation, just like at Milk & Honey. The good news is that unlike M&H, PDT publicizes their number. The bad news is that unlike M&H, they only take same-day reservations, and if you don’t call immediately when their phone lines open at 3pm, you’ll be staring at 6pm or 1am seats — assuming they have anything available at all.
- If you do, the hostess (it’s always been a young lady when I’ve gone) lets you through with just a hint of attitude, and seats you. If you’re lucky, she puts you and your friend(s) at one of the nice booths; if you’re not, you are put at one of the side tables with uncomfortable chairs that seats even two rather awkwardly.
The shoebox-shaped room is well lit, and on the wall, are various examples of taxidermy, including a bullfrog, bear, and even a rare jackalope, among other trophy heads. The bar proper takes up about a quarter of the room and seats ten people or so. The staff isn’t particularly friendly or welcoming, but they aren’t uptight or rude either. If one were to enter the bathroom, you’d see PDT’s own set of rules. It seems similar in spirit to the ones from Milk & Honey, but without the charm; the rule about reserving the right to ask for their table back one hour after your last drink seems reasonable enough, but it is still a bit of a buzz kill to see it in print. One final thing about the room: the restrooms have sliding doors — seemingly no big deal, but you tend to forget that after a couple of drinks; after you’ve taken care of business and try to get out, more than one person has forgotten it and there is a a brief moment of panic as you think that you’re locked in the bathroom.
Despite those quirks, the experience is good once you’ve settled into your seat. The room is vibrant without being loud or crowded. If you’re hungry, they serve anything off of the Crif Dogs menu, plus a few items that are unique to PDT. Shockingly, I have not yet tried any of their hot dogs. Yes, I know, it’s quite unlike me . . . More importantly, you get handed a drink menu with detailed enough descriptions to allow you to make an educated decision.
The General Manager is Jim Meehan, former bartender at Gramercy Tavern (one of my favorite restaurants in NY or anywhere). If you’re lucky, you may still find him behind the bar. (This interview where he talks about PDT’s history and compares it to U2′s Zooropa is interesting and informative). Mr. Meehan has crafted a worthwhile drink program with all the hallmarks you’d want and expect: high end and/or rare alchohol, hand-crafted mixers, fresh ingredients. For whatever reason, I usually see the capable Don Lee behind the bar when I’ve been there.
The first time I went, I tried the “Bacon-Infused Old Fashioned” because, well, I have a history of enjoying bacon-laden things that aren’t typically associated with bacon. The detailed recipe is here:
Bacon-Infused Old Fashioned
FOR THE BOURBON- BACON INFUSION:
3 or 4 slices bacon, or enough to render 1 ounce of fat (PDT uses Benton’s, but any extra-smoky variety will do)
1 750-ml. bottle of bourbon such as Four Roses Yellow Label
FOR THE OLD FASHIONED:
2 ounces bacon-infused bourbon
1/4 ounce Grade B maple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Twist of orange
FOR THE BACON-INFUSED BOURBON: Cook bacon in pan and reserve rendered fat. (1) When bacon fat has cooled a bit, pour off one ounce from pan. (2) Pour bourbon into a non-porous container. (3) Strain the bacon fat into the container and infuse for 4 to 6 hours at room temperature. Place mixture in freezer until all the fat is solidified. With a slotted spoon, remove fat and strain mixture back into bottle.
FOR THE COCKTAIL: In mixing glass, stir 2 ounces bacon-infused bourbon, maple syrup, and bitters with ice. Strain into chilled rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with orange twist.
I don’t know about you, but this isn’t something I typically make at home, so I was perfectly willing to pay the $14 to give it a try. Of course, if you want to give it a shot, here’s a video of Mr. Lee mixing it up:
Since I’m also a sucker for scotch-based drinks, during one of my subsequent visits, I had to try this unfortunately-named concoction:
Twenty-One Butt Salute
- 2 oz. MacPhail’s Highland Park 8 Year Old
- .75 oz. Lustau Manzanilla Amontillado
- .5 oz. Belle de Brillet
- 2 Dashes of House Orange Bitters
1) Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe.
2) Garnish with a slice of pear.
Both of these drinks had rich flavors and were quite good, but for some reason, neither grabbed me and I don’t think I have to have either of them again. Go figure.
Ultimately, I’d be very willing to go to PDT again and try some new drinks (and hot dogs). The trick, of course, is securing the reservation — I usually have more pressing things to do with my time at exactly 3pm while in NY than to try to get into a bar, even one as good as this. If you’re willing or if you have a good hotel concierge, make the effort, and at a minimum, you’ll have a good story to tell.
Please Don’t Tell
113 St. Marks Place (Crif Dogs)
New York, NY 10009
- PDT phone booth entrance: www.eateryrow.com
- PDT Etiquette: CK Dexter Haven, http://www.allisyar.com