When Pegu Club opened on Houston Street in 2005, New York's cocktail renaissance was in its prime. Milk & Honey and Flatiron Lounge had been slinging classic, perfectly crafted concoctions for a few years already, Little Branch opened that same year, and hot on Pegu's heels came Death & Company, followed by PDT.
Almost four years into its young life, Pegu has two personalities - sedate, sophisticated cocktail lounge, and obnxiously loud SoHo hotspot. The former is in effect on weeknights and early on the weekends, while the latter is on impenetrable display on Friday and Saturday evenings.
If you go on a weeknight, though, the emphasis is still on the cocktails, which are as good as ever.
Last Wednesday, after battling the rain and in the delightfully, intellectually bawdy company of Louisa and Deidre, I enjoyed a few of Pegu's creations - one was an old favorite, and two were new (to me, at least). First up, a Fleur de Paradis: gin, Champagne, St. Germain (an elderflower liquer) and lemon juice. To. Die. For. The gin and champagne nicely balanced out the sweet, floral St. Germain, and the lemon juice kept things nice and tart. Plus, it was garnished with pansies!
Next up was a delicious take on my go-to, the Manhattan. This version is called the Little Italy, and features the traditional rye and sweet vermouth, but adds a dash of Cynar, an artichoke-flavored liqueur (which lends some savory complexity). Served up with two delightfully boozy cherries, it's a Manhattan for people who find Manhattans a bit too sweet.
Finally, to finish things off, I went for a Zelda, named for Zelda Fitzgerald, and appropriately tart and tangy. Gin, muddled cherries (which lent an opaque, pink color) and lemon - heaven on earth, and a nice contrast to the rich bitterness of the Little Italy. Don't let the girly color fool you - this drink is all woman.