Your insider’s guide to Hong Kong

Please Do Tell

PDT

The PDT team part the curtains to reveal what goes into running one of the world’s best bars

Words: Janice Leung Hayes
Photos: Nic Gaunt


 

Clockwise from top left: quirky design detail; PDT general manager Jeff Bell; the phone booth entrance; PDT founder Jim Meehan

“Running a bar is like hosting a party every night,” says Jim Meehan, founder of PDT (Please Don’t Tell), one of the world’s most storied cocktail bars.

The party has been brought from New York’s East Village to Hong Kong, with PDT opening its first permanent branch at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.

Globetrotting cocktail connoisseurs may already know PDT’s signature drinks, such as the Benton’s Old Fashioned – “a modern classic”, as Meehan puts it – which is on offer at PDT Hong Kong. However, the two bars are siblings, not twins. While they share much of the DNA, they have their own character.

Most notable of these differences is menu, in which both drinks and food will change seasonally. “The access to ingredients we have in Hong Kong compared to New York makes it easy to be excited about the change in seasons,” says Malaika Suarez, bar manager at PDT Hong Kong.

Jeff Bell, PDT’s general manager, adds, “We want to integrate as much as we can with the city and see what’s going on in the scene here. We want to interact with everybody here… and integrate ourselves into the fabric of the culture.”

PDT

Two cocktails created just for Hong Kong

Elements of Hong Kong have been brought into the bar in many ways, from a food menu designed by the hotel’s Culinary Director Richard Ekkebus featuring a hot dog with XO sauce, to cocktails that incorporate salted limes and local craft beer, and design details that reference Chinese watercolours.

The design, which fuses whimsy (the comical taxidermy will bring on a few giggles) with sultry timber herringbone classicism, is the work of local architect Nelson Chow. Tucked away in the discreet mezzanine of the MO Bar, entering PDT Hong Kong requires stepping into a vintage-style phone booth. While you won’t emerge with a cape and superpowers, a decadent experience awaits.

On any given night, Suarez or a member of her team will be there to ensure you’re well looked after. “Every person that walks into our bar is looking for an experience to be delivered or a memory to be stored away, whether they tell you or not,” says Suarez. “Checking someone’s coat or pulling out a bar stool requires no effort and almost always yields a response that is positive and appreciated.”

“She makes it look very easy,” says PDT Hong Kong’s head bartender Adam Schmidt, who also worked with Suarez in PDT New York for more than four years. “She is kind of just floating around, making sure everything happens. You don’t even know that she’s done a bunch of stuff but you look over and the table is perfect.”

Taking that initiative and anticipating a guest’s needs are core tenets to what the PDT team consider good service. “You observe to understand how people receive the drinks, the pace at which they drink. You observe so you can anticipate,” says Bell.


Clockwise from top left: tater tots; Culinary Director Richard Ekkebus oversees the snack menu; Nelson Chow designed the bar interiors

There’s no such thing as a typical night at PDT, and for service, Meehan says this means that “you have to embrace the unknown and the unexpected and you have to have faith that you are capable, based on your preparation, to handle it with aplomb.” It’s a business that requires the team to be prepared for different scenarios, to minimise the impact of unexpected surprises.

This means getting the whole team together for briefings before and after each service and going through the essentials – “restock the back bar, set up your tools, and go through the checklist of: ‘we need this many pomelos, we need this many pineapples, we need to cut this kind of garnish, we need to do this and that’” says Schmidt.

“It’s sort of set up like a cockpit on a plane,” Schmidt says of his back bar set-up. “You need your left-hand tools and your right-hand tools, and [you have to work out] how to really streamline that. The end goal is always what’s going to produce the best product and best experience for the guest,” which means doing things quicker, easier and more efficiently.

Suarez says, “counting the cash drawer, making sure the music player is charged and that we have enough linen to fold are just a few of the day to day tasks that are more like meditation and routine before the night’s performance.”

During service, things can often get busy, but Suarez and Schmidt both say that communication is key, and the floor and the bar staff must work together as one. Suarez adds: “everybody has a lot to do, but it’s important that we enjoy ourselves and each other; checking in and having transparent communication makes this possible.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about continuously striving to deliver a great night out. As Suarez says, “The ‘PDT way’ has expanded and evolved over the years,” but in essence, “it is being able to identify what is good, and having the belief and the creativity to know that it can be better.”

PDT is open daily from 5 pm, and is closed on Sundays. For reservations, please contact us on +852 2132 0110, or lmhkg-pdt@mohg.com

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