Hands down the hottest ticket in Melbourne this weekend is the ultra-exclusive PDT pop-up at Black Pearl. If you were nimble-fingered enough to secure a booking, here’s what you can expect from the legendary New York bartenders, Jim Meehan and Jeff Bell.
Melbourne’s bartending cognoscenti and a smattering of media peeps gathered together on Thursday afternoon for the launch of this seductive little speakeasy, hosted by Chris Hystead and Black Pearl bar masters Matthew Stirling and Nathan Beasley.
For anyone who’s been to PDT (Please Don’t Tell) in New York, you’ll know that one of the charms of the place is the way it plays hard to get. Simon and I visited a few years back and it still remains one of my greatest drinking experiences (read about it here in my New York travel guide). Entry is via Crif Dogs, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hotdog joint in the East Village.
Once inside, and provided you’ve made a booking at 3pm that day, you step into a vintage phone booth, dial up the host, and enter through the booth into a darkly sexy bar, decked out with a zoo’s worth of stuffed animals, vintage glassware, atomisers and hand-chipped ice.
That alluring atmosphere has been recreated in Black Pearl’s intimate first-floor Attic, right down to the phone booth on the landing and the taxidermy collection within. While Jim and Jeff were fielding interviews, Nathan and Matthew whipped up a pair of cocktails from the specially designed menu, a zesty Nichol Buck and the no-holds-barred Sweet Tea Smash.
First up for me was the Nichol Buck, a refined, precisely balanced blend of Tanqueray No. Ten Gin, manzanilla sherry, lemon, honey and ginger beer, garnished with a hunk of crystallised ginger. No one flavour dominated, with pep from the lemon, heat ex the ginger, a smooth richness coming through from the sherry and honey, and a gentle kick from the Tanq Ten. Ladylike is the word that springs to mind.
If the Nichol Buck is all about charming you with her feminine wiles, then the Sweet Tea Smash is designed to grab you by the balls. Nathan didn’t hold back on the Bulleit Whiskey, before adding a dash of herbal strega, a lick of iced tea, plus cane syrup, lemon and fresh mint to bring it all together. This is leather-club-chair-by-the-fire kinda drinking.
To complete the PDT experience, Chris Terlikar of Blueblonnet Barbecue came to the party with his brashly adorned dogs, including the bacon-wrapped Spicy Redneck; the fiery Bonnet Dog with a beef and jalapeno snag, sauerkraut, relish and horseradish aioli; and the rather lavish Bouchier with a smoked boudin blanc, foie gras parfait and truffle and chive aioli. Yep, I tried them all.
And I also came back for a second round of libations late last night, sampling the knockout Cardinal of Tanqueray No. Ten Gin, Aperol, vermouth, grapefruit, lemon and Fernet Branca; the smoky, husky, Little Squirt of mezcal, Don Julio Blanco Tequila, Chartreuse, red capsicum and grapefruit soda; and the refreshing, palate-cleansing Parkside Fizz. Having worked my way through two-thirds of the menu, it’s no surprise that I woke up fully clothed this morning (in bed, thank God, and minus my boots). Well played, team. Well played.
If you don’t have a ticket to one of this weekend’s sessions (the 600 spots were snapped up within hours), then be prepared to beg, borrow or steal.
Alternatively, get yourself along to Top Shelf this weekend, where Jeff and Jim will be hosting sessions on how to host a cocktail party at home, plus a session on batching and menu design for industry folk. Tickets are available at the door for $40 a pop. Visit topshelfshow.com.au.