Cocktails, food and atmospheric interiors created an authentic experience at this temporary speakeasy, giving new meaning to the pop-up concept. Tamsin Bradshaw finds out what it took to bring this New York space to Hong Kong.
If you stepped inside The Shell at MO Bar at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, last month, you would have been transported to New York, to the cosy, brick-walled confines of renowned speakeasy PDT (Please Don’t Tell). It was not only the inventive cocktails and the tasty hotdogs that made a night at PDT HK such an adventure. The real coup was the space itself, a remarkable transformation that gave the month-long pop-up bar its New York soul.
The pop-up was the result of months of work on the part of PDT’s Founder, Jim Meehan, its General Manager, Jeff Bell; Martin Newell, Hong Kong Brand Manager for luxury spirits brand Diageo RESERVE; and The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.
The idea was “to design and build a speakeasy pop-up bar inside the private room at MO Bar, using the popular Please Don’t Tell bar in New York as a model,” says Troy Daniel, CEO of Bespoke Asia, the creative event agency brought on board by The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.
“Amber had done an event in October to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Porsche in Hong Kong. We had been introduced to Troy then, as he was the one working on the set-up,” says Nicholas Leung, MO Bar Outlet Manager, Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. “Bespoke had done such a great job with that project that we told Diageo they were the production house we had to use.”
The turnaround time was tight. Bespoke got the brief in mid-November, and the bar needed to be ready to go by 5 January, in fit condition to receive dozens of guests five nights a week until the end of the month, when everything would be dismantled. Bespoke worked with four factories to produce the various elements that would ensure PDT HK was as faithful to the original as possible.
“We used mahogany and zebrano wood laminate for the bar area, paired with vinyl leather sofas that enhanced the ‘gentlemen’s club’ feel of the space,” says Daniel. “The mirrors at the back of the bar gave deepness to the room, while the soft and warm lighting created an intimate atmosphere. We sourced the taxidermy directly from a trustworthy supplier, to make sure it was harvested in a correct and humane manner.”
PDT HK would not have been complete without the phone booth at the entrance and the exposed red brick walls. These Daniel and his team faithfully re-created, complete with vintage-style phone that hid a sliding door into the bar.
“The telephone booth was made with a wood laminate and real brick walls for the interiors. The bricks, while heavy, created a thick division between the telephone booth and the sleek interiors of the bar once the hidden door opened. It made the whole set feel very real – to me at least,” says Daniel.
It was so real that Meehan’s brother, Peter Meehan of Lucky Peach, questioned what Jim was doing in New York when he saw a picture of him standing in the Hong Kong bar. “It was the closest approximation they could make within the spatial constraints – we had to deal with the space a bit differently,” says Jeff Bell, General Manager of PDT in New York, who was in Hong Kong with Meehan for the month making PDT HK’s 12 cocktails. “We wanted to make sure it was authentic. That’s why Jim said we had to have hotdogs, and we have to partner with Hong Kong chefs. And we had to play our own music. At the end of the day, it’s exactly what it needed to be to be PDT.”
For visitors to PDT HK, says Leung, part of the appeal lay in the attention to detail. “I think our guests loved the fact that nothing was left out in creating the feel and experience of PDT moving from New York to Hong Kong.”
And this may be what made the whole endeavour so successful that it was booked out every night – and certainly it has reset the benchmark when it comes to the pop-up concept.
“We’ve seen René Redzepi do NOMA in Tokyo and Sydney, and seeing the amount of effort they put into that, and NOMA calling them pop-ups… and then we see bartenders in our industry just show up behind a bar in Düsseldorf, start pouring shots and say they’re doing a pop-up – that’s totally junior varsity, minor league stuff. The NOMAs are the major leagues,” says Bell. “We aren’t NOMA, but we’re inspired by how much effort they put into their pop-ups. We’re trying to make our industry better. So if you want to call it a pop-up, make it a real pop-up.”
PDT HK images by Josh Tam.
PDT (Please Don’t Tell)
The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong