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May 23, 2007

Pegu shakedown

DJA is a classic cocktail fanatic. He collects vintage barware. He can skin a lemon with an icepick. He wants to ban vodka.

So, for his birthday I decided to take him to the legendary SoHo cocktail lounge, Pegu.   

We dressed up in our best clothes. That was probably a mistake in retrospect. We must have looked like kids playing dress up compared to the high-rolling hedge fund guys in their khakis and open-necked shirts. But so what? For us, it was a special occasion.

I calculated that we could afford exactly one round of drinks and one bar snack. I selected a Jack Rose, and DJA ordered something called The Saboteur.

We went early to grab a drink before the bar got crowded. It was quiet.

The service was obnoxiously slow. Food that was supposed to be served with the drinks didn't arrive until 15 minutes later and the staff seemed miffed that we didn't want another round to go with it.

The drinks were very tasty, on the whole, everything was going great until I tried to get the check.

Anyway, I asked for the check. As DJA stood up to go to the bathroom, the bartender asked him if he wanted another drink, which he declined. I'd already said "no thank you" a few minutes earlier.

The whole time he was gone, I was sitting at the bar with my hand in my purse, glancing expectantly at the folks behind the bar. I was becoming somewhat impatient. I felt like they ignoring me because they assumed that DJA was paying.

I finally got the head bartender's attention.

"Everything was great," I said. "Thank you."

He cleared away our placemat.

My hand was still in my purse, everything about my body language was indicating that I wanted to pay up and leave. There was no way the bartender misunderstood what I was saying.

To my horror he set up two fresh glasses on the bar and started pouring another round of drinks, which I hadn't ordered. Pegu drinks take a few minutes to put together, so he must have started assembling them earlier. I guess he jumped the gun and started mixing, assuming that we'd change our mind about the next round.

DJA didn't say anything because he assumed that I must have ordered a second round while he was in the bathroom. I held out hope that the bartender was comping the drinks. It seemed unlikely, but why else would he be pouring them?

When we finished the second round, the check appeared instantly. Of course the drinks weren't comped. I'd been set up.

Avoid Pegu. It's a racket.

Update: New York Magazine's Grub Street picks up on the Pegu shakedown. Citirag, too.


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well, jeez, ok, but how is this the borough's fault?

oh, lord, I get it. Ugh. I feel dirty.

All I want on my birthday is a day without hassle--in other words, the opposite of what Pegu gave you.

Maybe you should have asked, "Are these drinks complimentary?"

Eric, if the bartender blatantly ignored "no thanks," asking whether the drinks were complimentary wouldn't have mattered either. The bartender made up his mind and added it to the tab before he even talked to her.

FWIW, Lindsay, you're not the only one -- it happened to me.

I wouldn't have paid. You never ordered them. I would have left what I knew the cost of the food and drinks I ORDERED were....with no tip! Speaking of which, I hope you did NOT leave a tip!

Bars that become high-roller tourist traps are always the worst. Most of the pubs we visited in London were beyond colorful, delightful, flavorful and full of fun. But a packed place in a showpiece mall included a dimwitted and stressed-out bartender who served me over twice what I ordered (I assumed she was filled several orders at the same time). When I balked at accepting the mob of drinks she called in a manager who trashed English manners for all time by basically insisting that we pay or there'd be trouble.

Likewise, Harry's Bar in Venice was probably a classic waterfront dive when Hemingway boozed it up there 60 years ago. But now it's become so tony it's almost a parody of hi-class. Every patron in there when we stopped by (yes, more than one local told us it was worth visiting -- I guess so we could say we had) seemed like a just-off-tour-boat gawker or some sort of fraud. I will say the formal-dressed staff were the most unhappy-looking workers I saw in the whole city. And yes, a simple bellini cost a flippin' fortune.

That really stinks. Thanks for the cautionary tale.

Pegu's web site has a feedback form, and I'd sure they would want people to let them know if a prominent NYC blogger wrote about her negative experience there, so they could have a chance to make it right.

Just saying, is all.

J Train,

I already wrote them to complain about the incident. I'll let you guys know if they decide to make it right.

Sounds like a ripoff, but bmoney is wrong. If you drank them without knowing, you pay for them. Ask before drinking.

Speaking of, why not take your hand out of the purse with your money or credit card in hand. If that doesn't get the attention, why not say, "When you get a chance, I'd like the check please."

NY bars are different sure, and it does sound like a trap for tourists. I don't like urging drinks on people. But you seem outspoken Lindsey; is there some pretention from barstaff in NYC that prohibits more open communication? Like "these free?" "No thanks, just need the check as we're going." Of course, probably they prey on people who have been drinking, like potentially everywhere. Don't think I'd like NYC much with stories like these. Seems like you never get to relax and let the guard down.

The opposite happened to my husband and his friend, two respectable 40-somethings with lucrative careers...the bartender INSISTED that they pay for their drinks they might dine and dash...weirdness.

The bartender was mostly taking advantage of the fact that I didn't want to make a scene.

If I'd just been out with friends, I would have been a lot more assertive. But since I was taking DJA out on a date, I wanted everything to go as smoothly as possible. So, I just threw the exact change on the bar and walked out.

My suggestion was based on the NOT consuming the drinks that were NOT order. I would have said, "I did not order those" and left the requisite amount for the bill, with no tip. Personally, I would have inquired as to why I was getting more drinks when I never ordered them.

pegu is a clown show. decent drinks but the service was horrible. how long can it take for spring rolls? i can roll a j with one hand while driving on the cell phone faster.

Easy to say what we would have done, here, after the fact. I would probably done exactly what you did. As the old comedian Shelly Berman once said, "I'd rather die than make an ass of myself".

So, I just threw the exact change on the bar and walked out.

...Never to return. Classy. I like it.

Sounds like a nice birthday that you didn't let get ruined by others.

Apologies for misreading bmoney.

I don't think you misread, Thinking. I was not clear in what I meant, and your interpretation was very valid.

I too like the change on the bar tip. I think that is actually more insulting than leaving no tip at all.

You know, I kind of understand what you're saying, but as a bartender myself I can speak to a different side of the situation. Is the bartender going to make any more money if you have a second drink? Especially if you don't want it? Nope, definitely not. Bartenders work on tips, not on sales. At a busy place like Pegu, especially, I'm sure the quick turnover of getting you up and out of there would have made more money in his pocket than you, sitting there pissed off with your unwanted drink and inevitably minimal tip. What good is it going to do a bartender to screw you into buying more drinks? Not much. And seriously, if you say to a bartender "I don't want these, I didn't order them" he's not going to kick a fuss. He'll probably just shrug. and drink them for you.

I think he started mixing them and didn't want to just throw them out.

People keep those high-end bar jobs by demonstrating to management that they're moving drinks during their shifts. Every drink that gets thrown out is one off their stats for that shift.

I can understand why you may think that, but that simply isn't the case at any of the high end bars I've worked at in NYC or London for that matter. I mean, sure, I could be wrong, I haven't worked at every bar in the city. But at any bar, definitely the nicer ones, typically each bartender gets a few "throw away" drinks each night to give to special guests or to comp off. I've never been to a bar where this isn't the case. Bar managers are way more concerned with customer service (to the point where they'd rather you give away a drink than lose a possible return customer) than they are with pawning that extra drink off on you. I'm sure you feel cheated and that sucks (and it would make sense if it happened somewhere like Friday's) but I doubt it was on purpose.

At a busy place like Pegu, especially

We went in the early evening, and it wasn't busy at all. There were maybe 10 people in the room. And Lindsay distinctly said "I'd like the check please." There were multiple bartenders in the area, including one in training. They all heard her just fine. There's no chance it was some kind of innocent misunderstanding.

I've been to Pegu multiple times and have never had any issues. I threw my boyfriend's birthday party there and they accomodated us no problem.

Honestly, I think you should have spoken up. Granted you didn't want to look bad in front of your friend, but if you didn't order them, you should have said something. If I ever get a bill with extra drinks on it that I didn't receive, I say something. If I get a bill with no drinks on it but I drank, then I say something as well. Silence isn't golden in your case. I'm sure he would have taken back the drinks if you said you didn't order them. It may have been his mistake that he assumed you did which is why he charged you.

Listen, you dumb rag, he probably misheard you. Get a life.

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