A-K Hada grew up in Atlanta and moved to New York to pursue a dancing career. When she left the dance world, she entered the hospitality industry. She’s the head bartender at New York speakeasy PDT (113 St. Marks Place, New York City, 212-614-0586). She’s attending Tales of the Cocktail this week, where she leads the Cocktail Apprentice Program. She also is a panelist on the seminar titled “How to Navigate New Spirits.”
Gambit: Why is PDT referred to as a “speakeasy”?
Hada: A “speakeasy” nowadays refers to a hidden bar, like with a hidden entrance. The bar that was to become PDT got denied a liquor license at the last minute. What they figured out was that they could cut a hole in the wall and operate on the liquor license of the hot dog shop next door. You enter the bar through the hot dog shop and through a phone booth. It’s a small bar and its seated-only, there’s no standing room. We can fill the place with 40 to 45 people. The menu is comprised of 18 drinks — four are PDT classic cocktails and the rest evolve. We try to be seasonal, but we don’t do whole seasonal menu changes.
G: What kinds of cocktails are on the menu?
H: The one we’re most famous for is the Benton’s Old Fashioned. It is a Benton’s bacon fat-washed Four Roses Bourbon. It’s a bourbon infused with bacon fat. Benton’s is a heritage farm in Tennessee known for its smoked meats. Fat-washing is a technique, so with bacon fat, there’s an extra step. We melt bacon fat to liquid form and freeze it for a slow infusion process — you solidify bacon so you can strain it off. (For the cocktail) we also use maple syrup we get from the Union Square Greenmarket and Angostura bitters.
We also have a white Negroni on the menu. It’s made with a barrel-aged gin from Vermont called Barr Hill (Reserve Tom Cat gin). There’s pommeau, which is apple brandy mixed with apple juice, sweet vermouth from California and Luxardo Bitter Bianco. All of those ingredients look unusual, but it’s a spirit-forward bitter gin cocktail with apple flavor and you get some baking spice notes from the barrel aging of the gin.
The spirits and bartender event takes place July 16 to 21 at the Royal Sonesta hotel and venues across New Orleans.
G: What will you present at the Tales of the Cocktail seminar?
H: Every month, hundreds of new spirits are released, whether they be base spirits, boutique spirits, small-batch spirits or liqueurs. At the seminar, we’ll talk about the process to decide which ones to pick up. At PDT, the majority of people coming in order off our cocktail menu, so what we put on the menu will be what we sell. Because of the nature of the bar, we’re able to talk to guests about our drinks.
(At the seminar) we’ll talk about liquid analysis — essentially is it a good product? We’ll talk about the financial side of [determining the price of a drink]. My section of the seminar is on the intangibles. Do you know the producers? Are they using sustainable methods? It’s the bigger picture.
Hall discusses and signs “Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration” at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 6, at Cafe Istanbul.