PDT – Please Don’t Tell NYC
One of the most celebrated craft cocktail bars is fashioned in the style of an old speakeasy. Like the days of Prohibition, any place that served alcohol had to be kept a secret because production, sale or consumption of alcohol was illegal. So as the name suggests, Please Don’t Tell is a bar that should have been kept a secret. However, its the worst kept secret in the cocktail world. In fact, good luck even trying to make reservations because the phone line is only open for an hour and the line is always busy. So, the next best bet is to show up in person and get online like everyone else about 20 minutes before they open and hope they have room to let you in, because it only holds about 50 people, and there are only 2 bartenders to keep the crowds lubricated with libations.
It all starts on the Lower East Side of Manhattan known as the East Village. St. Mark’s Place is active, fun, colorful and obviously there won’t be a sign out front, but if you see a very large 20′ hot dog out front, that is all the obvious landmark you need to look for. You walk down one level to a hot dog shop. It is small and has about 5 tables. Two of them PacMan video game tables from the early 1980s.
You see this old fashioned telephone booth, and you can try to pick up the phone to whisper the password of the day, but you won’t have much luck. There is a hostess there who will ask you to form a line and ask if you have reservations. If you don’t, expect to wait at least 10 minutes or more. The reason is because the two bartenders (in this case, mixologists) can only mix up complex craft cocktails only so fast. At this point it might not be a bad idea to order a hot dog while you wait.
In this case, I wanted my snacks inside because it is always my luck that the food will come as soon as the hostess comes out to welcome you into the hidden room.
Once inside, the place is really nothing special outside of a few interesting stuffed animals, which I don’t even think are real. But no matter, I was there for the cocktails. However, me and my friend still had to wait, so we got a glass of water while looking at the menu.
The basket of tater tots is a must. It is huge and will easily keep 2-3 people happy if you are not a hot dog fan. These are crisp and delicious, not soggy, and the chopped jalepeño relish dumped all over them with the melted cheese is something to take your mind off anything else at that moment. However, you know you are going to need more because its a given you are going to have at least 2, maybe even 3 cocktails before you leave.
The Hummer is out of the question. Its a veggie dog. Not that I have anything against vegetables, vegans or vegetarians, but a hot dog without meat is just as far fetched as having a hot dog without the bun. It is the very definition of a hot dog. I go for the Chang Dog which is a David Chang creation. It is wrapped in bacon and deep fried, and topped with momofuku kimchi. I thought for sure I was going to regret it, but this kimchi was fresh, it did not taste so pickled and was not so atomic hot as expected. The hot dog on the other hand, was a bit disappointing, I like my hot dogs really well done, and on this one the bacon was not crisp at all, so I wonder if it was actually deep-fried.
But perhaps this is a good thing, because the first cocktail I got was the Benton’s Old Fashioned, which is infused with bacon. Call me crazy but I thought it was a good pairing. But even with the maple syrup and bacon infusion, it is certainly not subtle but definitely not overpowering. If there was no mention of bacon you probably wouldn’t have guessed its in there. The huge chunk of ice really does a nice job of keeping the cocktail cold long enough for your Crif dog to arrive. The bartender informs us that the grooved ice is not hand-carved there, but they simply buy it. Its kind of an “oh” moment. While you think these guys are in the back hand-carving beautiful pieces of ice before their shift, perhaps its better they save their energy and have someone else do this tough task so they can concentrate on attending to the crowd and being on their feet for many hours to serve up delicious cocktails.
So while slowly sipping that, the Chang Dog arrives, and its time for another cocktail. This time I went with the Cardinal which is Tanqueray 10 gin, Campari, grapefruit and lemon juices, and probably some other things I could not taste and/or remember. It was good, but what was coming next was amazing.
They call it the Smoking Aces, and rightfully so. It has Sombra Mezcal (a smokey version of tequila), Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, Pok Pok Pineapple Som (drinking vinegar used as a bitter in this case), fresh lime juice, Ancho Reyes Chili Liqueur, and the rim of the glass with mango salt. This was a delicious cocktail and one of the winners of the night.
However, the real winner was the unassuming Mezcal Mule. As most know, the Moscow Mule is a 1950s cold war classic with lime juice, ginger beer and vodka. In this case, smokey Mexican mezcal replaces the vodka, and the lime juice and there is a hint of cucumber, not just in the garnish, but the bartender tells us as one of the ingredients. Really really tasty, really really good.
I don’t doubt that any of these craft cocktails on the menu are good, but there is only so much money in the wallet at $15 per drink, and even if you have the cash, more than 3 drinks is pushing it for the average human liver. But after all this spicy food, and some of it not so healthy, we need something calming and the drink Red Velvet sounds perfect. Red Velvet, smooth, plush, comforting. What helps is that there is a floating top layer of Peychaud’s bitters that will certainly help with digestion. Plus you have to love anything served in a classic prohibition coup cocktail glass.
While I generally don’t review or address reviews of reviews, I have to say some things about what I read online. First off, yes, the drinks are expensive, I personally don’t think the price of a drink should be more than an appetizer. But this is a cocktail bar, and they need to pay the rent, staff and the electricity, so it makes perfect sense that the drinks are the price of entrees and the food is the price of an appetizer. You are in Manhattan, and you are going to spend at least $60 whether it be $12 for a burger and $9 for cocktails elsewhere, or $7 for a gourmet hot dog and $15 for a quality craft cocktail. Everything equals out at the end. So those complaining about money need to realize that they either want quality food, or quality drinks. If you want both, plan on paying double at an upscale restaurant you need reservations for a month in advance. There are other comments also the effect that they are so upset that for the price they are served food with disposable wooden forks and paper plates. Well, they are hot dogs and fries, and this is a speakeasy, were they really expecting fancy silverware and cloth napkins? If so, this could easily double the cost of the food and drink. And by the way, there are many unscrupulous places like this just a few miles outside of Manhattan who are serving a screwdriver and calling it a “Blood Orange Mojito” and charging the same price. I wrote about this here and it needs to stop immediately.
This place is a winner, and its a winner worth the hassle of the wait, the location and even the price. I won’t say its like stepping back in time like the Dead Rabbit, but it has its place. As much as I love the classic 1970s rock, I was not expecting to hear it in a bar like this. I didn’t mind it, but it threw me off. Thank GOD it was not 1980s music or I would have walked out after one drink. I am not sure what I was expecting to hear in a place like this, but 1930s would have been too cliche and most don’t know what 1920s music was all about. Perhaps it should have been 1950s exotica or 1960s Rat Pack soundtracks, but its all good.
The bartenders are polite, informative and even address the geekiest of mixology questions. They have very valid views and knowledge of spirits and this is a serious cocktail bar. Don’t come here looking for rare and expensive whiskey, everything they serve can be found relatively easily at retail locations at a reasonable price (assuming your idea of reasonable is less than $75). The menu is seasonal, so there is always a reason to come back every few months if you are in the area. The name is Please Don’t Tell, but since its been plastered all over the internet, yes, it is a place worthy of visiting in spite of the hype which I tend to stray away from.
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