This year the James Beard Foundation debuted the Outstanding Bar Program Award, an honor sponsored by Campari that is given to a bar that “displays and encourages excellence in cocktail, spirit, and/or beer service through a well-presented drink list, knowledgeable staff, and efforts to educate customers about beverages.” The winner of the inaugural award was PDT. We chatted with the humble owner of PDT, Jim Meehan, after he won the prize.
How did it feel to win?
It’s a crazy feeling, but it feels spectacular. This is something that we have paid very close attention to for a long time. It’s amazing that bars are now a part of the awards. I kind of left last night wondering if they were going to ask for it back.
Campari had a big part in the creation of this category. Do you like the spirit?
Campari is one of the ingredients that ends up in many cocktails and we use it a lot. Last night one of the bartenders made a good Campari drink with Plymouth gin, spiced honey syrup, and champagne.
Why do you think you won?
For five years we have taken care of our industry. We have always been a bar that is a little something extra, and, when chefs stop by we always take care of them.
You run you bar very well. What is your inspiration?
I came from Gramercy Tavern and Pegu Club. Audrey [Saunders, owner of Pegu Club] came from a five-star hotel and she taught us all how to offer hotel service in a cocktail bar.There were a lot of Gramercy people awarded last night too, and at that place it’s like a finishing school for service.Our own form of hospitality, the way we run the bar, is the way a restaurant runs its dining room—meaning, there is no standing and there is enough staff to serve you. My team for five years now has bought into this concept of running a bar like this. It’s very gratifying to get this award from this industry’s most celebrated and respected chefs.
What other bars do you think should win this award?
All the bars nominated deserve this award. Pegu Club is where I learned so much. Bar Agricole has an amazing wine program and their cocktails are elegant and well presented. Plus, it’s a certified green restaurant and I am surprised it didn’t win. Also, for Grant Achatz to open up a bar [The Aviary in Chicago] is such a huge thing for the bar industry. Last but not least, Toby Maloney who was our head bartender at Pegu Club and the first to head out and open up the Violet Hour in Chicago. It was bittersweet to walk away with the award because I am close with all the nominees and they all deserved it.
Now that you won, what are your plans today?
My plan is to try and reply to all my text messages and emails from people all across the country that reached out to say congratulations. Then I have a meeting at a bar and tonight I am having dinner with my brother and our wives at wd-50 for the launch of their new menu. All in all I am kind of speechless and really happy, but, in my experience you got to try to live up to the award. It’s important not to let it go to your head, so, it’s back to work.
Photo by Kent Miller