In the age of Instagram, the defining feature of a bar is often determined not by reviews, tastes or intent, but by smart phone. While some spaces are designed with this express purpose in mind, there are certain objects that become inadvertent icons through their unwitting “Instagram-ability.” In this series, PUNCH shares the stories behind the bar world’s most viral landmarks.
As the backdrop to nearly every selfie in the dimly lit Lower East Side bar—and the namesake of one of its most popular cocktails, Paddington—the taxidermy bear that watches over the point station has become the unofficial mascot of PDT.
A key player in New York’s cocktail revival, PDT was an early pioneer of the neo-speakeasy aesthetic, characterized by a hidden entrance and low-lighting; within this dense, dark atmosphere, the spotlight illuminating Paddington attracts phone-wielding patrons like moths to a flame, transforming the bear into an Instagram ambassador for the enduring speakeasy.
While he possesses the air of a long-time regular, Paddington is not the original occupant. When PDT first opened, in 2007, a stag belonging to the general manager of the adjoining Crif Dogs held court over that end of the bar. When she re-claimed it, PDT partner Brian Shebairo replaced it with what owner Jim Meehan describes as a “super satanic goat.” “I worked the night we put the black goat up,” remembers Meehan, “and I literally threw up almost three times because it smelled so bad.” Needless to say, the goat’s tenure was short-lived.
Taking its place was Paddington, a stuffed black bear typically festooned in a felt hat and various other seasonal accessories—from scarves to coats—left unclaimed by intoxicated patrons. Asked about his unwavering popularity (other pieces of taxidermy, like the jackalope and raccoon, are less-frequently photographed), Meehan insists that in addition to its choice spotlighting—and despite its bared teeth and claws—Paddington simply offers “a perfect bear hug.” Though he cautions against getting too close: “To this day, the bear is not hung very well on the wall.”