This past Wednesday, Jess and I thought we'd attempt to try to get a ressie at Please Don't Tell (PDT), mixologist Jim Meehan's somewhat "hush-hush" speakeasy located as an annex to the East Village's beloved hangover hot dog stand, Crif Dogs. After about 48 times of calling on my end, and about 30 on Jess's, I somehow got through to the receptionist in less than fifteen minutes, all set with a table for two at 6 PM, when it opens.
The three-dimensional hot dog emblem that hangs above the entrance to Crif Dogs, where four steps lead down into the joint.
Thanks to the introduction to PDT's recently published cocktail book, The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender's Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy, I was able to learn a little more about how PDT came to be. Mr. Meehan began his early mixology years back as a college student in Madison, Wisconsin, where he worked bars at night to pay for school. Seven years later, he moved to New York City in 2002 "to further his studies as a bartender." Soon later, a visit to Sasah Petraske's famous speakeasy, Milk & Honey, he decided to "center his focus on cocktails," leading to working with Audrey Saunders on the "opening roster of her pioneering bar, the Pegu Club." Along with Ms. Saunders, Mr. Meehan has had the pleasure of working under Dal DeGroff as well as with St. John Frizell, Toby Maloney, Brian Miller, Sam Ross, Chad Solomon, and Phil Ward. He continued working in SoHo as well as behind the bar at Danny Meyer's Gramercy Tavern. Then in 2007, Brian Shebairo hired him to open a bar in the East Village, within his current venture, Crif Dogs. This venture would become PDT. Prior to joining forces, Mr. Shebairo had opened Crif Dogs six years earlier, as a Jersey-style hot dog stand.
Once he acquired the adjacent space next to Crif Dogs, he adjoined the two spaces together through (how cool is this?!) a vintage phone booth for patrons (who must pick up the receiver and dial to enter) . . .
A glimpse into PDT's banquette seating on the other side, past the bar.
What had begun as an eleven-drink "laminated card evolved into a leather-bound book filled with twice as many creative concoctions." The menu changes seasonally, based on what's in its prime during the current season. Additional to original PDT creations, the concoction lists features cocktails that were the result of the PDT's team collaborating with chefs and bartenders from other New York City restaurants. The menu typically consists of eighteen cocktails, four local beers, wines, and a selection of food from Crif Dogs (more on this shortly).
We began our evening with a cocktail each. Jess had the (1) Tomr's Collins -- Plymout gin, Moët Imperial Champagne, Tomr's tonic syrup, lemon juice, and grapefruit juice. The influence for this signature twist on the classic Tom Collins cocktail is from Tom Richter, the barman at The Beagle, whose handcrafted tonic syrup "created a gravitational pull for the bar staff at PDT." Jess really enjoyed this choice, as it had a little sparkling quality to it from the Champagne and a refreshing taste from the citrus focus. I went with the (2) Paddington -- a mixture of Banks 5 Island rum, Lillet Blanc, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, Bone Maman orange marmalade, and St. George absinthe. After working a few nights next to the bear (aptly nicknamed Paddington by the folks at PDT), "David Slape created a drink named in his honor prepared with Lillet Blanc and orange marmalade (his favorite) to balance the citrus." Another citrus driven cocktail, I liked this because the inherent sourness was well balanced with the orange marmalade.
A bonus to having PDT right inside and connected to Crif Dogs was quite clear: "East Village-friendly fast food provides a perfect foil to the handcrafted cocktails." Now in addition to more drink choices, "a handful of the neighborhood's top chefs began supplying condiments" for its hot dogs, chefs who also happen to be a few of PDT's loyal customers.
We decided on sharing two hot dogs. The first was the Chang dog -- Chef David Chang's bacon-wrapped, deep-fried Crif Dog slathered in Momofuku kimchi. For someone who hasn't had the best kimchi in the past, this certainly began to change my mind about these fermented veggies of Korean origin. It was a punchy version of the traditional condiment of sauerkraut (as they are both essentially cabbage fermented in different ways with different ingredients/spices). Plus, the hot dog is wrapped in bacon and then deep-fried -- what isn't there to like?! :P
The second was the Wylie dog -- Chef Wylie Dufresne's deep-fried Crif Dog topped with WD~50's hot dog bun battered deep-fried mayo, tomato molasses, shredded lettuce, and fried onions. The origin of this hot dog came from a deconstructed homage to childhood that Chef Dufresne had on his menu at WD~50 -- pickled beef tongue, fried mayonnaise, and onion streusel, reminiscent of the sandwich that his father used to serve at their Rhode Island sandwich shop. The core, most noteworthy part of this hot dog is its fried mayonnaise, one of his first inventions/creations that really got conversations started about all things related to modernist cuisine and molecular gastronomy. Anyway, one bite into this hot dog, and the bun itself melted away into warm, battered mayo and thick tomato molasses, only to be met with a deep-fried frank and crunchy shreds of lettuce. Another delicious creation here!
Last but not least were the Torres Tots -- Sueños chef Sue Torres's Mexican deep-fried tater tots topped with Chihuahua cheese, chorizo gravy, chile de árbol, chipotle crema, and scallions. Though I may have felt guilty for ordering these at first, after having a few tater tots, any lingering carb-ridden reservations washed right away. The golden brown skin of those taters drizzled with the chorizo gravy (pretty much like a meaty chili), chipotle cream, chiles, and chipotle cream created a time warp for me, to those nights out in college that took me into the wee hours of the morning, in search of the perfect hangover panacea -- greasy grub. Needless to say, these are great to share for the table, but be wary -- you may need to order another to make sure everyone is totally satisfied.
Our second round of cocktails included some interesting concoctions. For Jess, it was the (1) Tompkins Square -- Rittenhouse rye whiskey, Maurin Quina, Clear Creek Kirshwasser, Bénédictine, and St. Elizabeth allspice dram. This one was created by Michael Klein -- an allspice rinsed spin on the classic Vieux Carré, French for "Old Square," which substitutes Kirschwasser for cognac and Maurin, a historic quinquina infused with cherries, for sweet vermouth. Unfortunately, this was way too strong for Jess -- more on the classic Manhattan than anything else. So Jess got another drink -- the Sunburn, I believe it was called, which had a lighter finish with vodka and citrus highlights.
For me, I went an unusual route for myself (when in Rome, right?) with the (2) Mezcal Mule -- Del Maguey mezcal, lime juice, passion fruit purée, house ginger beer, cucumber, and chili (I requested the bar lighten up on this for me, worried it would be too much for my palate to handle). What PDT refers to as "a backyard barbecue in a glass," this spicy passion fruit and cucumber cocktail gets its smoky quality from mezcal distilled from agaves roasted in a handmade underground oven heated by wood-fired stones. The bar took my proclivity for mildly spiced things and created a slightly lighter version of the Mezcal Mule for me. It was quite redolent of a Bloody Mary cocktail's splash of Tabasco with respect to the specks of chili mixed throughout it. It was certainly one of those cocktails for sipping because the chili had a real kick to it, but surprisingly enough, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Findings: Our experience at Please Don't Tell was undoubtedly a unique one. PDT moves you out of your comfort zone with its intensely curated cocktail program, while bringing you back with its bar grub. Despite the food menu's limited options (about four different hot dogs, a burger, tater tots, cheese fries, and maybe one other thing), each choice is rather generous with its portions and doesn't leave you hungry one bit (though I can't guarantee that you won't want more of those tater tots)! I like how the cocktail menu is seasonally driven, so that any subsequent visit from your last can surely yield a completely different experience spirit-wise. And of course, the novelty of it being on the DL doesn't go unnoticed. I mean, c'mon -- how many places can you say you've been to that requires you to enter via "secret telephone booth," like something out of Get Smart or Harry Potter?
I gather getting reservations on a Tuesday/Wednesday night isn't as difficult as it used to be, so I would give your chances a shot. Just remember to begin calling at 3 PM for same day reservations, for parties no larger than six. Warning though -- visits to PDT may be addiction-forming.
Also, thanks to Jia for calling tips!
Price point: $15 for each cocktail, $6 for each hot dog, $7 for the Torres Tots.
--June 27, 2012
Please Don't Tell (PDT)
113 Saint Marks Place
New York, NY 10009
for same-day reservations, call (212) 614-0386 starting at 3 PM