Night of the $12 Cocktail


“This is nice. I feel like I’m eating on Deep Space 9,” says Disgruntled Onetime Art Student, wolfing down a basket of New Age sesame wafers WD-50 likes to sub in for bread. The city’s craving for fried mayo and mustard ice cream must inexplicably diminish after a year or two, for WD-50 was near empty, save for DOAS sipping on a cocktail in her Sunday best.

USD orders up the Castillan Cooler, a rum and sherry drink, oddly garnished with apricot paper. Huh? “What’s apricot paper?” she asks the waiter, who replies that it’s actually, duh, paper made from real apricots. We’re probably talking about Wylie Dufresne ordering off his sous chef lackeys to hand-pummel fruit and dry out each precious four-star Fruit Rollup sheet one by one, but USD takes another sip of her sitting-on-the-veranda Cooler and envisions herself sitting with balloony-biceped men, crushing up apricots in each golden armpit.

“The lighting fixtures here are weird,” whines DOAS, munching on a sesame wafer.

“You always complain about the lighting fixtures.”

“It’s a sore spot, man. While you’re at it, jot down something about the blue wall.”

“You don’t like the blue wall?”

“Well, I’m all fine with primary colors,” DOAS sniffs. “But there’s a difference between the Pompidou and corny . . . ” she says, taking another sip of her Rye & Quince.

The Rye & Quince, WD-50’s most wintry drink, is a grow-hair-on-the-chest, 100-proof drink hiding behind a wussie quince-lemon syrup. It tastes like all rye to USD, wishing more for something like The Royal Blush, WD-50’s country-clubby concoction of vodka, champagne, and cherry puree. “Now that’s the perfect wedding drink,” she thinks to herself, when the bartender pours champagne over the Royal Blush (“a final touch” he says), causing the puree at the bottom of the glass to swirl up into pretty pink clouds.

The décor makes a little more sense to USD at mixologist Audrey Saunders’ new Soho spot Pegu, even though they’re trying to recapture the bygone spirit of a famous British Colonial Officers’ club in Rangoon. Ahh, the golden cocktail days of imperialism! This one comes sans little brown people slaving away in back, but USD notes it does take the liberty of staffing up with its own beefy doorman, coat check chick, and hostess, all a bit much for what amounts to a one-floor bar. The menu offers a laboriously long history of the original Pegu Club, something like “Back when Britain was still an empire . . . ,” complete with compulsory reference to Rudyard Kipling. USD flips over the page to find the cocktails, picking the Applejack Cobbler, a reddish drink spiked with Laird’s Applejack brandy blend and garnished with a purple blossom the bartender carefully flattens before settling gently on top of the drink. USD found the ethos behind it all, as printed on the bar’s website—”we consider ourselves gatekeepers of classic cocktail culture”—a little too self-aggrandizing to swallow. But if patrons choose to ignore that for a second, the manifestation of those principles (fresh squeezed juices; homemade infusions, flavored syrups, and ginger beer) is a great reward.