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Jeff Bell at PDT
Photograph: Courtesy Roman Jehanno

PDT rises from the underground with its outdoor offshoot, Tropicale

The paradoxically famous secret bar is basking in the sunshine.

Amber Sutherland-Namako
Written by
Amber Sutherland-Namako

Please Don’t Tell, or, PDT, has been famed for its seclusion for the majority of its fourteen years in operation.

You know the routine: descend a few stairs to Crif Dogs on St Marks Place, slide into the phone booth, inquire about your party size and then prepare to wait for excellent cocktails—if you manage to get in at all. It’s a whole thing. And the irony of the conceit (that a place can be known for being unknown) grows thicker with PDT Tropicale, which opened last weekend outside the original. 

“It’s hidden in plain sight,” says Jeff Bell, who assumed ownership of PDT last summer after eleven of years racking up accolades behind its bar. 

It’s easy to walk by PDT Tropicale and not know the provenance of the tropical cocktails topping its tables. While working the patio last weekend, Bell observed a night-long parade of people aiming for a table inside at PDT, missing, and leaving before looking a little closer at its outdoor companion, which had plenty of space.

“There will be many, many people per hour who are like, ‘Hey I’ve got to show you this place down here, you go in through the phone booth, it’s really cool.' It’s really kind of fun to watch. It’s a great feeling; it’s been open for a long time and it’s still that thing that people are trying to explain to other people. So those people are still trying to discover things,” he says. 

“They didn’t really know what [PDT Tropicale] was because we hadn’t really advertised it much yet, but they clearly just wanted to go into the secret bar. I know that that’s what PDT is to some people, it’s just a secret bar, and I’m not going to get those people outside. And it’s ok, I only have five tables anyway. I think [PDT Tropicale is] gonna be more for the insiders, it’s gonna be for the cocktail aficionados, enthusiasts, the foodies that want something good and different.”

Fresh air and natural light certainly diverge from your standard speakeasy-theme. And if cosplaying secrets is a requirement for the genre, PDT Tropicale’s momentary obscurity actually allows it to out-speakeasy other so-called speakeasies. It doesn’t even exist most of the time, popping up at 5pm from Friday through Sunday and disappearing at midnight after each service like Cinderella. 

It is curious that one of the most famous speakeasy-categorized bars in the world would suddenly be so exposed. But force of necessity is a powerful driver, Bell says, explaining that many of PDT’s contemporaries were popularized around the 2008 financial crisis, when expense-account spending dwindled and many New Yorkers moved away from bad $16 clubstaurant vodka sodas and toward good $16 craft bar concoctions. 

“We came into being based on external circumstances that caused people’s drinking habits to change,” Bell says. 

“It kind of forced us, as in bartenders as a whole, to start this world of being very skilled craftspeople that are really focused on doing this thing really, really well. That kind influenced and helped propel this cocktail industry forward in that direction and helped with the popularity of bars like PDT.”

Necessity, of course, came back in force in 2020.

“The parallel is that we’re serving outside because we can’t serve everybody inside and we have only so much rent leniency, so we have to be kind of creative about it,” Bell says. But they couldn’t simply drag PDT’s menu, calibrated for a certain setting detached from, say, sunshine, out into the street.  

“I wanted it to be like the photo negative of what PDT was,” Bell says. 

“The common thread is the quality of the cocktails, but knowing that cocktails don’t have to be like this one style served indoors. They can be fun and vibrant and PDT can do more than just [be] this quiet little cocktail bar in the East Village that’s really hard to get into. We have a personality as well, we just don’t get to interact with everybody, so everybody might not know that. So I was just like, let’s do something completely different.”

The result, which can accommodate about twenty, also makes Bell’s craft a little more attainable for the throngs of PDT hopefuls willing to wait hours for cocktails. 

“I’d like to be able to reach more people,” Bell says. “I really love what we do and I really like serving people cocktails and creating nice experiences.” 

Tropicale’s menu includes warm-weather libations and one marvelous but unfairly maligned option seldom seen at NYC’s august drinking institutions: frozens. 

"I think that frozen drinks are outstanding,” Bell says. “I don’t think frozen drinks were received well ten years ago. I think everybody was still in this like, moral high ground, high horse of like, ‘oh that’s a trashy cocktail because it’s frozen.’”

Tropical’s slushy options are a piña colada and a gin and tonic, which Bell says were already popular among those who happened to find the annex last weekend. Neither are anything like you might expect inside at PDT proper. 

“PDT Tropicale is not PDT in the traditional sense, but it’s still the brains and the years of experience and the technology and the technique behind everything at PDT,” Bell says

On top of fashioning exclusivity, every aspiring speakeasy strives to grasp one key element that's actually impossible to attain when you’re in the business of doing business and not an eccentric millionaire with a side hobby: staying a secret. Few things are in New York, and the good ones that start out that way don’t stay unknown for long. But for one moment, PDT Tropicale didn’t just have the appearance of being unknown, it largely was. 

Of course, that was last weekend and now, just a few days later, PDT Tropicale is bracing for crowds. 

“We put it on Resy yesterday and it’s essentially fully booked for the weekend,” Bell says. 

PDT Tropicale is located outside of 113 St Marks Place and is open from 5pm-midnight Friday-Sunday. Some space is reserved for walk-ins. 

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