Thursday, March 15, 2007

Shootouts, Cocktails

The Action

I was just telling a friend about the shootout last night in Greenwich Village: basically, a guy wearing a fake beard goes into a pizza place on Houston and MacDougal Street and shoots a bartender in the back fifteen times. The shooter drops a bag full of about 100 rounds of ammo and runs out the door. He's seen by two volunteer cops, police auxiliary officers that have uniforms, but no guns. They follow the gunman and he turns around and shoots them near Sullivan and Bleecker. They both die. Armed cops cornered the bad guy and shot him dead shortly after that.

So what's my connection? Very little. But I realized as I was telling this story to my friend that I was inserting myself into it expertly. I talked about how I was in a bar down the street from the initial shooting, on Houston and West Broadway. How I wondered idly why so many police cars were going by as I looked out the windows. I'd love to say that I heard the gunshots, but I was in a noisy bar. I might have heard it and thought it was clatter in the kitchen.

But who knows. As I left the bar with a former colleague, we saw more police cars trying to get through the 10PM traffic jams on Houston. One was a crime scene investigation van (ooh, CSI!). Didn't figure it all out till I got home and watched the 11 o'clock news and saw Bloomberg on the scene.

So that's the action part of the story, and my "man in the bar" commentary on it. If I was interviewed by reporters, the subheading might read: "Area man in bar near shooting says it was a tragedy, damn shame."

The Drinking

But let me tell you about the bar. It's called Pegu Club, and it's named after a British Colonial Officers' club in 19th-century Burma. It's on the second floor of a non-descript cinder block rectangle, and its modest aluminum door has the only sign. I walked by it twice before I found the damn place.

Inside, it's much nicer. It's dark, and there's a slight East Asian feel to the decor, but it's mostly just dark and tasteful.

It's famous for classic cocktails, carefully crafted and well-served by expert old-style bartenders. Ours was a young bloke. We were certain, for a moment, that he was speaking gibberish (damn Brits with their phony accents). But he made a nice drink.

My first choice was a Sazerac, which wasn't on the official menu. It didn't faze our young barkeep. I'd never had a Sazerac at a bar before -- most don't stock all the essential ingredients, like Peychaud's Bitters, an old New Orleans concoction.

The Sazerac, some say, is the world's first cocktail. According to, the Sazerac has its roots in the 1830s with a New Orleans druggist named Antoine Peychaud who mixed some herbs together and added brandy as a cure-all for customers. Drinkboy says that in the 1850s, a friend of Peychaud's opened a bar called the Sazerac Coffee House, after a brandy, Sazerac de Forge et Fils brandy, of which he was an importer. He served Peychaud's cocktail there. The drink has changed a lot over the last hundred years, but it's basically Rye whiskey, bitters, sugar, and absinthe. That latter usually has to be substituted -- Pernod is a good stand-in. Peychuad's suggests Herbsaint.

Here's the Peychaud's recipe for a Sazerac:
The Original Sazerac Cocktail
Take two heavy-bottomed 3 1/2-oz. Bar glasses; fill one with cracked ice and allow it to chill while placing a lump of sugar with just enough water to moisten it. Crush the saturated lump of sugar with a bar spoon. Add a few drops of Peychaud's Bitters, a jigger of rye whisky and several lumps of ice and stir briskly. Empty the first glass of ice, dash in several drops of Herbsaint, twirl the glass rapidly and shake out the absinthe. Enough of it will cling to the glass to impart the desired flavor. Strain into this glass the rye whisky mixture prepared in the other glass. Twist a lemon peel over the glass, but do not put it in the drink.
I didn't notice what Pegu Club put into it, but I did notice the bartender's painstaking process and rattling flourish with the shaker. He looked more like a chemist as he added ingredients.

My next drink was the bartender's suggestion, the "19th Century": bourbon, Lillet Rouge, crème de cacao and lemon juice. It came in a stemmed glass with a shallow bowl. I've heard it called a "deep saucer champagne glass," and I've no doubt there's a historical reason Pegu serves many of its drinks that way. My sidecar (my next choice) came in one too, as did our neighbors' martinis. The "19th Centruy" was peculiar. My companion thought it almost tasted like tomato juice. I didn't love it, but it was good to try.

Finally, I ordered a Sidecar, another classic cocktail. Pegu had its signature version, but I opted for a more traditional rendition. It's usually cognac (Courvoisier here), Cointreau, and lemon juice.

Drinkboy relates a story, perhaps apocryphal, of the Sidecar's origins:
the Sidecar was developed during WWI, when a certain regular cusomer arrived at the Ritz [Hotel in Paris] on his motorcycle (replete with sidecar), and asked the bartender for a cocktail that would help take off the chill. The bartender was caught in a dilemma: a drink to remove a chill would appropriately be brandy, but brandy was traditionally an after dinner drink, and his patron was wanting something before dinner. So he combined cognac, cointreau, and lemon juice to mix a cocktail whose focus was on the warming qualities of both the brandy and the cointreau, while the lemon juice added enough of a tartness to make it appropriate as a pre-dinner cocktail.
Sounds nice. Not all these stories are true -- some, like my critical role in the shootout, for instance, may be exaggerated -- but they make great bar conversation.



Blogger MertMengelmier said...

You should check out Little Branch and the Red Bench Bar if you like Pegu. There both less commercial and pretty great, especially LB for the drinks. Oh my God.

4:04 PM  

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