The Frisco Club cocktail is a Thomas Waugh drink, developed at Death & Co. as a “riff on the classic Pegu Club cocktail, with Fernet-Branca and grapefruit juice in place of the usual bitters and orange curacao.” There are some interesting references going on in this drink, and naturally any drink with Fernet-Branca in it tends to reference San Francisco. It’s a tendency for all cocktail bars but practically a tradition at Death & Co. The name itself is a bit funny, as the San Franciscans I know don’t think too highly of people who call their city ‘Frisco’ but given Waugh hails from the Bay Area it’s either fine or some kind of ironic hipster joke.
The Pegu Club
The apparent inspiration for this drink was originally served at a British military club of the same name built at the turn of the 19th century in Asia. The British called it Burma at the time, but is now known as Myanmar. The British fought a number of wars against Burma in the 19th century, and eventually colonized the entire country where they built clubs like the Pegu as an hangout for officers left on the ground to keep order. The club’s signature drink was famous enough to earn a spot in Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book in the 1920s but is probably best known as the namesake for arguably the most important surviving bar of the mixology movement.
In 2005 Audrey Saunders opened the Pegu Club in NYC at the north edge of Soho with focus on fresh ingredients, consistent technique, and bartending as a craft. Two of the original Death & Co. bartenders – Phil Ward and Brian Miller – first worked at Pegu Club and it remains popular today. I make it there myself usually once a year or so and it’s always packed, even on weeknights. What’s fun about the Pegu Club is that it’s not directly on the street, but rather on the 2nd floor of a fairly non-descript building on Houston Street. Unlike Milk & Honey, it’s not hidden and designed to evade you, but you’d also not likely stumble in either, so it feels like a bit of a secret.
The original Pegu Club cocktail itself is quite simple and designed as a tropical weather drink. It’s three parts gin to one part orange curacao, with a spoon of lime juice and dash of orange bitters.
Waugh has a bit of a storied history himself; having since left Death & Co., Waugh stayed in New York and is now the Beverage Director for Major Food Group. Major Food owns much loved restaurants like Carbone, Parm, Dirty French and the tremendously inventive, postage stamp sized ZZ’s Clam Bar. Waugh in particular is a fixture at ZZ’s where he’s known to wear a white tuxedo coat and bright yellow bow tie with short shorts, and serve his blend of cocktails in fantastical glassware with over-the-top presentation. It’s probably the closest you’ll get in New York to a drink the vein of London’s Artesian or Nightjar.
Photo: Ryan Sutton / Bloomberg
The Frisco Club Cocktail Review
Sigh. As much as I love the story and people behind this drink, it’s no Pegu Club. Rather, it’s a solid, tasty drink and what I do like about it is that it’s got a bit more acidity than the Pegu Club, which can taste a bit flat in my opinion. Still, I’m not sure I’m convinced on the combination of Fernet and grapefruit and I tend to think Fernet just takes over everything it touches. Tracking down the Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur wasn’t difficult but it is a strange ingredient and I can’t say I think the quality is that great. It basically tastes like liquid orange tic-tac. I’m looking forward to Waugh’s other drinks in this book, but not sure I’ll revisit this one in the near future.
Rating: 3 / 5
Frisco Club Cocktail (adapted from Death & Co.)
- 2 oz. Gin (Plymouth)
- 1/2 oz. Blood Orange Liqueur (Solerno)
- 1/4 oz Fernet-Branca
- 3/4 oz. Grapefruit Juice
- 1/4 oz. Lime Juice
- 1/2 oz Simple Syrup
- 1 Grapefruit Twist
With the exception of the grapefruit twist, shake everything with ice, then strain into a coupe and serve up. Squeeze the grapefruit twist over the cocktail to release and express the oils into the drink and then discard. No garnish.