Wed Sep 17 2008
Photograph: Jeff Gurwin
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
The drinking climate has changed in the three years since Audrey Saunders (Bemelmans Bar) brought Pegu Club, the dead-serious mixology den, to Soho. Now there's competition in the form of equally dedicated cocktail havens such as Death & Company, PDT and Clover Club that just keep opening. Though Pegu may no longer be cutting-edge, it's still the gold standard for some of the city's finest, most thoughtful elixirs. With its imperial East Asian ornamentation, stylish-yet-warm modern furnishings and mannerly approach to tippling (leave your shot-and-a-beer tendencies at the door), it's where New Yorkers go to pretend they're in a Kipling story, but with better drinks. The name is an obscure reference to a late-19th-century British officers' club in Burma—snooty, sure, but prototypical of the colonial aesthetic that many of the city's post-Pegu comers have been trying to emulate. Here, the theme ultimately works because of Saunders's high-pedigree barkeeping skills. Nearly all the drinks are worthy of praise. The eponymous amber-tinted house cocktail—resurrected from the original club—goes down sweet, sour and smooth all at once, thanks to a balanced blend of gin, bitters, fresh lime juice and orange curaao. Other delicacies are the Old Cuban, a faintly sour sparkling mojito made with aged rum and champagne, and the Earl Grey MarTEAni, a tipsy take on afternoon tea, with Earl Grey--infused gin and lemon juice frothed with raw egg white. The drinks are costly, and certain touches—every table comes with droppers of simple syrup, bitters and lemon and lime juices, encouraging cocktail customization—appear to attempt to justify the expense. It's a worthy gimmick; for the sweet-disinclined, a few drops of citrus can take a drink from pleasant to perfect. And in keeping up with other top-shelf bars, last year Pegu brought on chef Phillip Kirschen-Clark (Jimmy's No. 43) to devise a short, seasonal small-plates menu. In a pinch, the basil-heavy summer rolls ($12) and bright peekytoe crab rolls ($16) do the trick, but they aren't worth the inflated price tag. Go with another drink instead...When in Raj!