In the early 2000s, cosmopolitans were the cocktails du jour, vodka bottles dominated the back bar and most bartenders were male. When Saunders opened Pegu Club with Julie Reiner in 2005, she ushered in a cocktail culture that is still going strong today.
To launch the revolutionary bar program, she filled the shelves with 27 gins and only four brands of vodka, adding bottles of rye whiskey to the mix. She also resurrected forgotten ingredients such as chartreuse, benedictine, amari, aquavit, artisanal vermouth and eau de vie, teaching bartenders how to craft them into cocktails.
Many of Saunders’ cocktails can be found on menus around the world, including the Gin-Gin Mule, Old Cuban and Earl Grey MarTEAni. And it can be argued that her attention to fresh ingredients, premium mixers and craftsmanship contributed to today’s upgraded cocktail programs.
Pegu Club and Saunders have been honored with industry awards, but it is her role as a mentor that makes her most proud—and cements her legacy. Many of her staff, she says, have gained worldwide recognition in their own right. And it’s also common for today’s female bar stars to cite Saunders as their role model.