Cocktails with Camper


At the Macallan dinner (the name of the house is actually The Macallan, so perhaps that should be “the The Macallan” dinner, I was seated next to San Francisco’s most dogged cocktail blogger and freelance journalist, Camper English. After dinner, I had plans to make some rounds and convinced young English to come along. We caught a cab and flew down to St. Marks, and the unlikely cocktail bar, PDT.

Jim Meehan behind the bar

I say “unlikely” because this speakeasy-like establishment is the most cleverly hidden of all the New World speakeasies I’ve visited. The entrance is made through a hot dog restaurant called Crif Dogs. When you descend a few steps down into the somewhat forlorn looking hot dog shack and look to the left, you’ll see a phone booth. Enter the phone booth—which has a steel-plated back—and pick up the phone (there’s nothing to dial). Someone from inside will answer and either admit you or tell you to scram—not sure what the policy on exclusivity is there.

The phone booth

As you can see in the picture, there’s Mr. English waiting to be admitted. Inside is a cozy little tavern with a few big front booths and a shimmering bar to the left. I went expressly to see a bartender named Jim Meehan, whose name I’d known as the author of some of the most graceful, elegant, creative and delicious cocktails I’d had in New York (particularly at the Gramercy Tavern, where he recently stopped working).

At PDT, I drank Meehan’s Newark cocktail, an ingenious blend of Laird’s apple brandy, Vya sweet vermouth, Fernet Branca and Maraska. Each element was discernible in the drink, and Meehan’s hand elegantly coaxed them to work together.

(A note on the hot dogs: they can be ordered at PDT and are delivered through a tiny window behind the bar. My first time I ordered a plain dog with mustard and found it revolting; on this visit, though, I was able to try such delicacies as the bacon-wrapped BLT dog and the kim chi dog, both of which were scrumptious.)

Tomorrow: one last comparison....

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