Jim Meehan of PDT on original cocktails

Local tastes

We’re bringing PDT to the Park Hyatt Tokyo, but we’re trying to use ingredients that are traditionally Japanese.

Jim Meehan of New York’s PDT on why it’s important to make cocktails that reflect the bar you’re in, not to serve up exactly the same drink wherever you happen to be mixing.

I’m a firm believer that the cocktails we make at PDT are PDT cocktails, the cocktails I made at Gramercy Tavern were Gramercy Tavern cocktails, and the cocktails we make at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, I want to very much be Park Hyatt Tokyo cocktails. PDT bartenders Jeff Bell, John deBarry and I all went separately (to a Japanese food store in New York’s East Village) and found all this interesting stuff and brought it back. We’re using sake, we’re using shochu, barley tea, matcha tea, different sauces, and I’m doing a Midori-infused tequila drink. We’re bringing PDT to the Park Hyatt, but we’re trying to use ingredients that are traditionally Japanese.

Every single person I’ve ever worked with in the bar and restaurant business has something to teach me. I took a video today at a sushi restaurant, of the guy making the sushi, of him wiping his hands, grabbing the ball of rice, rolling it up, putting it down. It was fast, it was beautiful to watch, it was functional. Do I roll balls of rice at PDT? No. But I’m always watching how people move, appreciating it for how beautiful or utilitarian it is, but also thinking how I can take something like that movement and bring it to what I do. If your eyes aren’t looking for that, you don’t see it. You have to look for inspiration.

I’m a big believer that you can’t make great food without great ingredients; you can’t make great cocktails without great ingredients. I’ve gotten the opportunity to travel to distilleries all over the world. You see the shock when (Ron Zacapa master blender) Lorena (Vasquez) finds out you’re mixing Zacapa 23, or when the French find out you’re mixing their Champagne, or when people in Cognac find out you’re mixing something better than VS. I charge $15 for my drinks, so I can afford to mix with 12-year-old malts. You can create very sophisticated cocktails with very nuanced spirits.

I welcome customers telling me how they want a drink. Every guest has a different palate. If someone were to order a drink that’s bone dry and say they want a sweet drink, I’d try to get them to a different drink. But if someone orders a margarita and says they like it a little stiff or don’t want it to be too sweet, or “Can you make it with some tequila but it doesn’t taste like tequila?” that gives me an idea of how to make the drink, and instead of thinking about it as “Why don’t you want it the way I’m going to make it for you?” I’m like, “Well, thanks, ‘cos now the chance that you’re going to enjoy your drink is going to be higher.”