Thanks to Julie from Bourbon and Branch for recommending this vid to me.
Michael Bauers article on the rise of the $13 cocktail reminded me that not every bar is entitled to raise the price of a cocktail just because everybody around them is doing it. If a bar is known for having $5 cocktails because it uses cheap shit for ingredients don’t go out of the way and be a d-bag with your guests and raise the price to $13 just because the competition around you are actually putting the effort, knowledge and sweat equity in building a respectable cocktail program. It’s not uncommon to see bar owners do a cocktail price research of their competitors and upgrade their cocktail prices to match the competition without stopping for a minute and thinking why are their prices higher then mine? Is it because they make their own Orgeat? barrel aged cocktails?, own infusions?, fresh juices?, premium boutique spirits? or great service provided by experts in the craft ? Cocktail prices have to be based on their added value and not on market price. Jeffrey Morgenthaler wrote a powerful post on his blog about cocktail pricing and how to balance a drink menu that features high and low cost cocktails in order to make it profitable, check it out here.
This is Michael Bauers article for the Inside Scoop SF
I’ve noticed that inflation has hit the cocktail scene. Signature cocktails that used to be $9 have now inched into the two-digits. I’m slowly getting adjusted to the $10 cocktail.
However I was taken aback when I went to RN74 earlier this week and noticed that the cocktails are now $13.
Are they worth the price?
That’s the salient point. You don’t know until you actually take a sip and you’ve spent the money. When it’s under $10 I will often take a chance, but once the price rises above that I’m reluctant to give it a try, especially when I don’t know who’s behind the bar.
I recently went to Southern Pacific Smokehouse in Novato, which I’ll review in the Food&Wine section on Sunday. Many of the cocktails range from $7 for a Moscow Mule, $8 for a mint julep and $10 for a Corpse Reviver II. However, the menu features a whole section of Manhattans where the price tag is $13. One time it was arguably worth the price because the artistry was there in the mixing; another time it wasn’t worth the cost of the least expensive drink on the menu. So what do you do?
At RN74, I decided to skip the cocktail and order wine. Maybe the drink was worth it, but I didn’t want to spend $13 to find out, which is the point I’m trying to make. You have to have supreme confidence in the restaurant and the bar program to spend that kind of money.
While prices are inching up –perhaps because during a recession spirit consumption soars — most are still around $10. At Chambers Eat+Drink, which I reviewed last weekend, house cocktails are in that range.
For comparison I decided to check out a few other places known for their drinks and see what was up.
Spoonbar: Scott Beatie, one of the pioneers of artisan cocktails in the Bay Area, oversees the bar program here. Margaritas are $11; Dark n’ Stormy is $8; Mai Tai is $9 and a Dacquiri is $7.50. I also can attest to the quality. On all my visits the cocktails have been well made and perfectly balanced.
Comstock: Noted barkeepers Jeff Hollinger and Jonny Raglin are in charge of the bar program here, and I haven’t met a cocktail I didn’t like. Here a John Collins (Genever, lemon, sugar and seltzer) is $8, a Manhattan is $9, and if you let the bartender decide to make you something special it’s $10. The most expensive drink is the Martinez at $12 with Old Tom Gin, vermouth, maraschino liqueurs and bitters.
Bar Agricole: This restaurant and bar is owned by a triad of exceptional barkeepers in a stylish space that won the James Beard Award this year for Best Restaurant Design. When the restaurant opened, many of the cocktails were $8 – a bargain considering the care that went into the effort, including keeping five kinds of ice on hand. Prices have gone up to $10, but this is still one of the top stops for cocktails, whether it’s the Bourbon Old Fashioned with two bitters or the Bellamy Scotch Sour with whiskey, lemon, orange, honey and a froth of egg white.
Heaven’s Dog: Charles Phan was one of the first to create a hand-crafted cocktail program at an Asian restaurant. He implemented the Slanted Door philosophy when he opened Heaven’s Dog less than two years ago, and the cocktails remain first-rate. They are $10, including a “Freedom of Choice” offering where you can tell the bartender what you like and he’ll create the drink. If you want something not on the printed menu there’s The Fourth Regiment with rye, Italian vermouth, Curacao, orange, Angostura and celery bitters.