Nightclubs and craft cocktail bars have rarely, if ever, had much in common. In fact, the two types of bars are diametrically opposed in many ways; the intersections between atmospheres, menus and guest experience are few and far between.
Yet now, as cocktail dens aim to erase the stuffy attitude they’ve been pegged with, a handful are embracing an unlikely aspect of nightclub culture to liven things up a little: bottle service.
Cocktail bars in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and beyond are putting their own spin on the notorious VIP drinking ritual to make the experience more irreverent and democratic. Through shedding exorbitant price tags and, thus, largely erasing exclusivity from the scenario, “bottle service” is evolving into a more playful, engaging experience for drinkers.
Specifics differ by bar, but generally speaking, craft cocktail “bottle service” looks something like this: a house recipe is batched, bottled and served for anywhere from two to eight guests. Financially speaking, in most cases large-format drinks (as they’re often called) range from $40 to $150. A steal, compared to the $300-400 one might pay at a nightclub for a bottle of Grey Goose or Patron.
“We want people to feel like they’re getting a value,” Dave Fernie, general manager of LA’s quirky cocktail dance bar Honeycut says. Six “Disco Drafts” hold regular real estate on the menu, priced at $45 for six people with added options priced by the person. “We don’t want to engender a wide range gap in our clientele. We want it to feel extraordinarily democratic.”
This adapted “bottle service” eliminates the financial barrier to entry and the sting of a high bar tab, but more importantly, it’s about creating a shared, fun event for guests of all sorts — not just VIPs. This is the driving mentality behind the “Cocktail Explosions” list at the NoMad Bar in New York City. “I love the idea of bottle service, but hate the execution,” bar director Leo Robitschek says. “Going out should be a social experience. It should be festive and fun.”
This notion of creating a communal experience around drink isn’t new. It’s an oft-repeated mantra as many places embrace punch service, the storied practice with roots that trace back hundreds of years. But this new adaptation takes a more tongue-in-cheek approach; there’s no lavish crystal punch bowl, no cumbersome ladle, no aura of sacrosanct vintage pomp and circumstance.
“The punch bowl is awkward,” Clint Rogers, beverage director of Chicago’s The Dawson says. To work around that problem, large format drinks are served in vessels like canteens in the summer and thermoses in the winter. Similarly cheeky presentations are du jour at other bars as well: large-scale vases “explode” with elaborate garnishes at NoMad, and at Honeycut, drinks like the Thug Passion are served in durable Champagne bottles, complete with a set of neon straws for easy access. Eliminating the stuffy ceremony in the presentation helps keep things light-hearted and engaging.
“There’s been this prevailing wind of cocktail bars being like churches, where people felt like they had to behave like adults and you can’t be too loud,” Fernie says. “People were coming to Honeycut to party. So we provide something that’s delicious and flippant.”
Craft cocktail bottle service promises a final perk that old-school bottle service doesn’t: delicious, creative drinks. Customers are getting custom cocktails that reflect a taste of the house’s attitudes and intentions instead of a boring bottle of vodka or gin. The aforementioned Thug Passion at Honeycut is a reverse-engineered take on Hpnotiq, Fernie says, that features blue curaçao, Chardonnay, pear brandy, grapefruit, lime and pineapple gum syrup. It’s a cheeky nod to club-style service that reveals the bar’s sense of humor in a nutshell. Chances are you won’t find these drinks anywhere else but in that specific bar, making the liquid adventure more memorable. “We want to make sure they’re getting the real Honeycut experience,” he says.
819 South Flower Street, Los Angeles, CA 90017
The NoMad Bar
10 West 28th Street, New York, NY 10001
730 West Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL 60654
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