Style Wins over Substance: Downtown Cocktails

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Last Thursday I joined a wine-and-cocktail-savvy crew (including my new friend Jordan Mackay, who is possibly the funniest wine writer I know) for a crawl through the East Village and the Lower East Side.

First stop was PDT (Please Don’t Tell), a speakeasy style, super-affected, reservations-only bar connected and related to Crif Dogs on St. Marks (Crif Dogs’ website doesn’t seem to be working but maybe they’ll get that together one of these days). You have to go through the hot dog joint to a faux phone both where you then call and they let you in.

The bartenders at PDT are very creative and the shelves are stocked with unusual bottlings, like the bitters collection above. Our bartender poured us a taste of Lucid, which is purported to be the first legal American-made absinthe.

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Frankly, the drinks weren’t that good (mostly sugary to my palate) and the chili dog tasted like a whatever NYC street vendor dog with bland tomato sauce on it.

Flash photography is not allowed and I got kicked out after I took the above photo of the weasel (?). Evidently, PDT’s decorator is really into taxidermy.

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Next stop was Death & Co. (above), which is also a super-stylized and affected place. I really liked the look and feel of this 1920s tavern and its quasi-Edward-Gorey feel. I genuinely enjoyed my cocktail, a Company Buck, which is made with dark rum and housemade ginger beer. Our waiter was glib and professional and really knew her stuff.

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The end of the night found us at Little Giant where I was very impressed by the wine list but underwhelmed by the yes-I-hate-to-say-it way too affected food (panzanella with steak in it? oy…).

I made the mistake of ordering a 2003 Sassella by Sandro Fay, which was too modern (for me and my dining companions). I had never tasted the wine and, hey, you win some and you lose some. But the 1989 white Rioja by Lopez de Heredia (above), which we ordered upon being seated, was stellar. I had only tasted the winery’s whites back to 1994 and this was, by far, the best I’d experienced.

After so many cocktails and bottles of wines, our crew had achieved a certain brio and the confluence of a lot of style and some substance seemed to have blurred the lines between aesthetic experience and downright, pure-and-simple fun.

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