The Cost of a Drink

My idea of a nightmare bar is one where all the drinks are fruity, served in top-heavy 10 ounce martini glasses, and cost more than $12 a piece. I nearly lived that nightmare in Minneapolis last winter at the beautiful W Hotel in the historic Foshay Tower. The Prohibition Bar on the 27th floor charges $14 for cocktails that seem to be designed for young women who don’t like alcohol, and the bartenders had never heard of a Sazerac.

Now before you say, ‘what do you expect at a hotel that charges more than $400 a night for room,’ think about this: first, since when is it realistic to charge New York prices in Minneapolis? Second, if a bar is going to model itself after a Prohibition-era speakeasy, shouldn’t it have a firm grasp on classic cocktails? And finally, if it is going to charge a lot for each drink, shouldn’t they be fantastic?

This is the downside of the cocktail renaissance. Unscrupulous bars now have full license to charge exorbitant prices for bad drinks. An expensive drink doesn’t have to be huge, but it better be thoughtfully conceived and carefully prepared with good liquors.

Zagat, company behind the restaurant guides, has been surveying New York City nightlife for ten years now. This year’s survey, conducted by about 5,700 volunteers, shows that New Yorkers go out a little less in 2010 than we did ten years ago: 1.8 times a week compared to 2.3 times. And drinks, which started at an average of $7.20 in 2000 are now about $10.78.

In my experience, the typical bar charges $9 for a cocktail in New York. Manhattan will be about $1 per drink more expensive than Brooklyn. Wine bars and restaurant bars will charge about $10-$11 a drink. Airport bars are always a rip-off. Hotel bars will charge a few bucks more than others, and bars known for cocktails can charge anywhere between $13 and $15. More than that and you might be paying for something that isn’t on the menu—a desirable scene, a view of the city, etc.

With the high prices, I’m finding fewer happy hours, even in empty bars at 6pm. What can I say? It’s just another reason to entertain at home and ensure that every drink is perfect.

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