As owner of New York’s cavernous mixology den PDT, Jim Meehan spends a lot of time out of the sun. His window-less bar — which some have called moody and basement-like and, my favorite, clandestine — was named World’s Best Cocktail Bar at the 2009 Tales of the Cocktail. The prize, a doozey, was earned mostly on the merits of the cocktails. You go to PDT for winning drinks like a Benton’s Old Fashioned (yes, with the bacon) or a Mezcal Mule made with ginger beer gone loco with chili.
But there’s also this vibe of cozy isolation that Meehan has mastered. You’re wedged into a banquette, sipping your Bramble, away from the busy East Village streets outside. It’s dim, lit mostly with candles, and you feel like you’re being wrapped in a giant Kashmir blanket. It’s basically the exact opposite of the beach —that sunny, very-public sandbox we all love so dearly this time of year.
But Meehan, who grew up near Lake Michigan and very likely owns a pair a Bermuda shorts emblazoned with boat drinks, doesn’t think quality drinking should be left at home. We asked him to provide tips for packing the cooler, the ideal spirits to buy for vacation and what to keep in mind when mixing for a wide audience. As in, your in-laws who “only like Cosmos.”
Meehan is releasing The PDT Cocktail Book this fall, which you can pre-order now.
Give your five tips to packing a bar for a beach vacation
- Pack a couple coolers, one to fill with ice and another for mixers and garnish.
- Glassware is forbidden on most beaches, so go the extra mile to find cool plastic cups.
- Cup coolers, straws and stir sticks add fun visual cues.
- Don’t forget to bring an umbrella (the paper one you serve with drinks won’t keep them cool for long). Drinks melt and warm rapidly in direct sunlight.
- Citrus oil is a magnet for sunburn, so make sure to wash your hands and wrists after squeezing fresh citrus in direct sunlight.
You’re hitting the liquor store on the way out of town. What are bottles you should look to pickup?
White rum (like Banks 5 Island), blanco tequila (like Siete Leguas) and savory gin (like Plymouth) are my favorite base spirits. Low proof fortified wines such as Lillet Blanc are great for cocktails (or over ice with an orange). I’m also a huge fan of ice-cold Manzanilla Sherry such as Tio Pepe. Bitters such as Aperol or Campari, combined with soda or Prosecco, are fabulous summertime spirits.
What mixing tools should I pack — and think about investing in?
A drain scoop, which prevents extra water getting scooped into drinks. A measuring cup, for batching recipes before you go to the beach. A fine strainer, to prevent pulp and chunks of fruit from clogging your cocktails.
What should I keep in mind mixing drinks for a wide audience? As in, those who don’t like rum, gin or Campari?
Asking your guests what they prefer to drink (and don’t care for) is a good idea to help ensure they’re eager to try what you’ve prepared based on your desire to please them. If you’re planning on serving a drink with ingredients your guests have never heard of, be sure to be able to explain them in layman’s terms. Amd always prepare a drink you know everyone will like or have it ready as a backup plan — that drink can be used to buy your other drinks time for the critics to warm up to.
Anything else to remember?
Remember to bring plenty of water in addition to hot weather-friendly beverages that can be transformed into cocktails such as club soda, grapefruit soda and dry tonic water, such as Q Tonic.