In the heydays of British colonialism, officers and gentlemen dotted the Southeast Asian colonies with social clubs where they would plan the fate of the empire over bracing rounds of cocktails. Gin became a perfect base for such colonial concoctions as the gin and tonic and the Singapore Sling. At the Pegu Club, a prestigious social club built in the 1880s in what was then Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar), the signature drink was the Pegu Club cocktail. After an afternoon constitutional on the club’s landscaped lawns, officers of the British Army would make their way through the Victorian- and Georgian-style clubhouse to the teak-beamed bar for a restorative aperitif. The club’s famous guests included the writers George Orwell and Rudyard Kipling. Both wrote about the banality of discussing the strategies of colonialism, overheard in the chatter on the club grounds, while British gentlemen nursed their highballs and called for ice.
Despite the burden of colonial history, the club’s iconic cocktail is light and restorative. It’s made with two ounces dry gin, three-fourths ounces each of lime juice and orange curaçao, and a dash each of Angostura and orange bitters. It is typically garnished with a twist of lime and served in a chilled cocktail glass. It gained fame in 1930, after it earned an entry in The Savoy Cocktail Book, a mixologist’s guide to the beverage offerings of the Savoy Hotel in London, written by its most notable bartender, Harry Craddock.
The drink has since weaved its way through the British Empire, and now graces the menu at chic cocktail bars all over the world. Of these, perhaps the most apropos is Pegu Club, a bar named in homage to the original, located in New York’s Soho neighborhood. As for the first Pegu Club, the Japanese used it as a brothel when they captured Rangoon from the British during the Second World War. After Burmese independence in 1948, the country’s military abandoned the building as a relic of a fraught colonial era. After decades of sitting in disrepair, the club reopened in 2018, restored to full original splendor (which, today, is fashionably haute and genuinely gorgeous). The Pegu Club’s tasty tipple is back where it belongs, as the highlight of a historic club brought back to life in modern times. From Myanmar to Manhattan, the legend of the Pegu Club cocktail endures.
Where to Try It
The birthplace of the Pegu Club cocktail.
A New York City homage.