The Hong Kong chapter of New York’s award-winning Please Don’t Tell (PDT) bar has finally landed. After an incredibly successful pop-up at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental a couple of years ago, two of the gentlemen behind the brand, Jeff Bell and Jim Meehan, have brought it back – only this time, it’s for keeps.
“About half way through the pop-up,” co-founder Jeff Bell says, when we meet the day after the first night’s trading, “we realised it was really popular, and the hotel agreed, so pretty much on the way out they said, ‘we should communicate soon about doing something more permanent’”. Fast forward two years and PDT has firmly landed back in the original Landmark Mandarin Oriental space within MO Bar, although this time there’s been a more heavy-hand taken to décor and it’s certainly not planning on going anywhere soon.
Aside from the shorter bar that hugs the back wall, specially commissioned taxidermy lines the walls, each with its own brilliant backstory. There’s no denying that space is tight, but it feels intimate and right. The difference between MO Bar downstairs and PDT up in the attic means both bars are vying for a different clientele.
Of course, what is most important to PDT isn’t just the space, but the service and drinks they’re offering their guests, too. Indeed, since the NYC opening 11 years ago, the team has taken home a string of awards. So, are ranking lists what matters most to a bar like PDT? Jim Meehan, mixologist and all-round Please Don’t Tell legend is resolute it’s not.
“With respects to the list,” Meehan tells us, “we were the beneficiaries for a long period of time, with a great deal of goodwill from the bartending community, journalists, all the judges, our guests. But we did not become well recognised by mercilessly playing a game that we wanted to win. We were trying to be the best us we could be and we were very fortunate to be recognised.
“Here in Hong Kong, would we like to be on all those lists? Yes. Would we like to be number one? Yes. Are we going to let that occupy any of our mental air space? Absolutely not.”
Bell agrees. “We’re not going to sacrifice the way we think we should operate the bar in order to win. Our goal is to create an amazing environment and atmosphere and experience for people. That’s our goal.”
Step through the phone booth to enter the bar and you’ll soon see what the gents mean. With a lower vaulted ceiling than its New York counterpart, cosy seating, bare brick walls and a neat un-fussy bar, it instantly puts guests at ease. A look through the drinks list proves there’s no typical fare to expect. When we grab a seat to watch expert hands mix up a storm, we end up trying the Umbrella, the Band Hunter, and the aptly named lethal NY-favourite, the Shark.
The best thing about indulging in a trio of drinks – aside from the fact that they all impress, with the Umbrella going down especially well – is that food is essential, and we use the excuse to dive into hot dogs and tater tots. Amber’s head chef, Richard Ekkebus, has given American comfort food a typically elegant Mandarin makeover, but trust us, this is still food that will satisfy. All in all, we like it.
Is there anything about the space that no-one else knows? “That family portrait,” Bell says, pointing to an old-school picture full of smiles up on the main wall, “we have no idea who they are, but they hang on a wall in PDT in New York so we sent Nelson [architect of PDT Hong Kong] a digital file of the portrait to have here too. It’s a picture we found in a thrift store. It’s a family from mid-century America.”
“It’s a real family but we have yet to meet those people. We may meet them,” interjects Meehan.
“It would be great if that happened,” Bell says, “if they knew they were on the wall of a bar!”
So, if nothing else, head over to PDT for a chance to identify the mystery portrait. We have to say though, while you’re there, you could do worse than settling in, speaking to the staff and getting clued-up on the diverse and expertly curated drinks list. It’s the sort of space that invites you to stay, to meet people and make friends, all while sipping on your new favourite drink.
Quick-fire questions with Jeff Bell and Jim Meehan of Please Don’t Tell
Quality of ingredients or quality of service?
JM: Service. Wait, is this for me or for PDT? If it’s for me personally, then ingredients. I, personally, could sit through a miserable experience. I am a glutton for punishment if the product is great. I’m secretly a massive nerd about all of this. It’s my tragic way.
Warming whisky or refreshing gin?
JB: Refreshing gin
Sitting at the bar or sitting in a booth?
JB: At the bar
Early aperitif or late-night lock-in?
JB: Aperitif. I have to get up early every day because I have a two-year-old so the early evening drink is much more appealing than a 2am whisky. Being tired is one thing, being tired and dealing with a little much alcohol is another thing.
JM: The old Jim was a late-night lock in guy, the new Jim is early aperitif
Dress it up or keep it casual?
JB: Dress it up
JM: Keep it casual