alcohol, bar, Brad Alan Dennison, cocktail lounge, Crif Dogs, dining, East Village, entertainment, hot dogs, life, Manhattan, new york, New York City, NYC, PDT, Please Don't Tell, Prohibition, restaurant, review, speakeasy, telephone booth, the Big Apple, travel, Yesterdog
I don’t have a favorite city, I don’t think. I’ve not been to more than a handful of cities big enough to blink at. But on the list of candidates, you’ll find New York City like you’ll find a contact lens in a swimming pool. As you may remember, I had a few choice words for the notorious Big Apple last time I visited. We’re on speaking terms now, as the East Village offered up an enticing new venue that fit my flavor, but, even still, we try to keep a safe distance.
The business card for my new hotspot is cut from a thick black cardstock. The only writing is in a metallic red, a wayward border on both sides. The logo on the back says PDT with a snake head. The other side, “Please Don’t Tell” with a phone number beneath.
I’ve read reviews that call it pretentious. Folks get mad that they have to call and call back to reserve their spot. We were in the subway when 3 o’clock came and went. Underground without a signal. At this point, PDT was still a surprise for me. It was Brad’s plan; I wasn’t privy to the details, just tugged on his sleeve at eleven minutes after three.
The unknowing was gnawing at my curiosity. We ran up at Columbus Circle to make the call. The reservation line had only been open for minutes and every spot was filled until 11 o’clock at night. Eleven was too late for us, but the only answer was yes.
Call back, claim the reso.
Maybe pretentious is not the word. I find it wise how this mystery place put itself in the business of weeding out those who aren’t persistent.
Just before eleven, we left the train and came around the corner of St. Marks.
Crif Dogs mustn’t be the surprise, I thought to myself, as we walked down a couple steps into the storefront. There were stainless steel countertops, paper hats on the employees, arcade games while you wait and a gaggle of people swarming a wooden accordion door in the corner. It seemed a little like Yesterdog. Popular, unassuming. Still, I wondered about the crowd in the corner. So we waited, I, anxiously.
Inside the accordion door was a phone booth. Room for barely two and a sign that read, Dial 1. A woman answered, tersely. I told her Dennison, at eleven. There were no other doors in the phone booth. The door I’d pushed open and three walls was all. Still, the woman from the phone appeared behind the wall opposite the folding door and invited us into a low-ceilinged room, exposed brick, lights down low.
This was PDT.
It’s an underground cocktail lounge, serving specialty hotdogs from the joint next door, whence we came. With a look from the Prohibition era and a feel that’s the same, we walked covertly through a wall, into 1923, part of the elite in this underground society, two among a small crowd, doers and dolls, talking presumably of business and banking and world affairs.
Everywhere I look, folks are calling PDT one of New York’s hottest speakeasies, surely referring to the borrowed style that we’ve taken from the Prohibition era into the 21st century.
When the ban on alcohol lasted over a decade, these sometimes literally-underground establishments appeared in rundown or sloppy buildings in order to detract attention from those opposed. Inside, illegal alcohol flowed liberally into the morning hours and men and women of the higher walks of society canoodled to their heart’s delight. The decoration was lavish and fancy, leather booths, ornate moldings, and marble counters and floors. Our speakeasies today tend to keep with the theme of secrecy, unassuming entrances and extravagant insides.
PDT, I reckon, fits the bill. They’re known for their cocktails. The waiter, in his sweater vest, slips us a leather-bound menu. Six pages of well-crafted paragraph-long descriptions of the going-ons behind the corner-bar. Everything is handmade back there. The concoctions are original and creative. I wish I’d committed to memory what we’d ordered. I didn’t, but we weren’t disappointed. One was fruity, with a pretty little clove floating around in it. One, a Witch’s Brew of some sort and tasted like cider. Another was chocolate-y and had a raw egg in it. That was the novelty, and Brad’s favorite.
The hot dogs, of course, were a surprise and the world’s greatest anomaly. Everything about this place was undercover, high society, elitist-seeming and fancy. Even the bathroom walls were covered in vain pieces of tiny mirrors. Yet we boldly, chuckling, ordered deep-fried hot dogs, fries and tater tots smothered in cheese and bacon. The food was served on plastic plates, in tin foil. It was so tasty that we switched dogs and ordered again.
Away with shadows and shades of high society, in with hot dogs together with fancy drinks. Away with obvious and open, flashy lights and newspaper ads, in with underground and word-of-mouth. Thank you for a gem in this city that I don’t love.