Karen Fu works as a bartender at East Village speakeasy PDT (Please Don't Tell), but you can also find her at Prime Meats in Brooklyn. Over delicious cocktails at Williamsburg's The Shanty, we spoke to her about the cocktail culture at PDT, her favorite bars and spirits, and more.
How did you become interested in bartending?
KAREN FU: Initially, I started bartending as a way to keep writing, to support myself. I took the Columbia Bartending class but never actually sat for the final. I had a job interview that day at 1020 and was hired for the weekend. I really learned how to be a bartender there. Then I started as a server at PDT and fully transitioned into full-time bartending.
What makes PDT different from other bars?
KF: Jim Meehan, the boss, has a very smart pulse on who to hire. He hires people from different backgrounds and is willing to train a person rather than hiring a veteran bartender. [PDT] also has both highbrow and lowbrow appeal, with the gourmet hot dogs.
At PDT, are you given free reign to create new cocktails?
KF: Yes, absolutely. I learned to like coffee at PDT, I didn't like it before, but learning different tastes is essential to learning how to mix cocktails. It's really all about small measurements that make a big difference with taste.
So is there a “Karen” cocktail on the menu at PDT?
KF: Not exactly. We rotate cocktails every three weeks. There was one I developed that actually just left the menu—the Jade Fizz. It was an experiment made of matcha, yellow chartreuse, lemon and lime juice, cucumber cachaça, and egg whites. It was a reinterpretation of a Pisco Sour, basically.
What are your favorite spirits to work with?
KF: Rye is my favorite spirit. Rittenhouse Rye. I bet a lot of bartenders vouch for it. It's spicy and really works in cocktails. You want to taste every ingredient in cocktails and it's very versatile.
What are your favorite bars?
KF: In Manhattan, I love Bùa, a dive bar, Ten Bells for oysters and wine, Mayahuel for tequila and mezcal, Proletariat for craft beer, and Booker and Dax, part of Ssäm Bar. In Brooklyn, I love Maison Premiere for absinthe and oysters, Prime Meats, where I also work, Clover Club, and Franklin Park for outdoor drinking.
What's a good drink for this time of year?
KF: This one was developed by my colleague, Victor Lopez. It's on the menu right now at PDT and is perfect for summer.
2 ounces El Buho Mezcal
3/4 ounce Lillet Rouge
3/4 ounce lemon juice
1 barspoon pine tree syrup (or simple syrup)
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Add all ingredients into a shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled coupe or glass. Garnish with three blueberries on a pick.