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The Rise of the Four-Figure Cocktail. Is It Worth It?

on 22/12/14 at 1:28 pm

Booze News

indexBartenders are charging hundreds and even thousands of dollars per drink. It’s as indefensible as it sounds.

Not long ago, I met a notoriously penny-pinching friend for a drink at the Algonquin Hotel’s Blue Bar. This used to be a New York grande dame of a bar, but it’s lost some luster over the years. Nowadays, guests perch on bar stools with their faces bathed in nightclublike neon blue light, sipping $17 Grey Goose vodka martinis.

“Seventeen bucks for a drink?” my friend howled when he saw the menu. “That’s highway robbery!” With an evil little grin, I gleefully informed him about the Algonquin’s off-menu Martini on the Rock: a gin martini garnished with a diamond. Price tag: $10,000. He nearly spat out his gin rickey.

If you think $14 cocktails at high-end speakeasies and $20 drinks at hotel bars are already too rich, hold on to your bar stool: Lately, bars and nightclubs have battled to see who can make the world’s most expensive cocktail. That diamond-studded Algonquin martini is in the stratosphere, but even it doesn’t get to take the top title.

While I’m completely unthrilled by cocktail price inflation—having seen typical prices ascend from $7 to around the $14 mark over the past several years—I can stomach it. The economist in me realizes there are good reasons why a cocktail costs what it does, from real estate to labor to raw materials. That fancy lemon-peel spiral didn’t cut itself, and after a rough day, I’m sometimes willing to pay for that attractive flourish along with my cup of cheer. But the $25-and-over cocktail, no matter how well-crafted, seems unjustifiable. And above $100, these drinks are a sucker’s game unless there’s something truly extraordinary about them—and even then, I’m not convinced.

At Boston’s Wink & Nod, $100 buys you the Billionaire’s Bijou, a cocktail containing three rare spirits spiked with saffron. Meanwhile, at the opulent Cavalli Miami Restaurant & Lounge, the $450 High Roller is “inspired by the designer [Roberto Cavalli]’s lavish lifestyle” and made with “the most expensive alcohols available,” including Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Champagne and Louis XIII de Rémy Martin cognac. If $680 (plus airfare) is burning a hole in your pocket, head to Ciragan Palace Kempinski in Istanbul for the Luxury Sahlep (premium cognac mixed with ground orchid, Tahitian vanilla, and Turkish honey, garnished with gold leaf).