Spirits: Taste: Sipping Savant: Liquid Assets

While we’re tightening belts, restaurants are rolling out ever more expensive booze. What gives?

At some point in the very near past, somewhere around the time unemployment reached record highs and the Dow record lows, I received an e-mail from Union Trust touting a $1,600 shot—that’s just two ounces!—of an 80-proof elixir called Louis XIII Black Pearl. That it’s made from 40-to-100-year-aged brandies and that fewer than 800 bottles exist make it more expensive than weapons-grade plutonium. But in the end, we all know it’s just a publicity stunt. And no, no one’s taking the bait.

But people are buying the $28 European beers that bartender Phoebe Esmon recently unveiled at Chick’s Café in Bella Vista. They’re not flying off the shelves, but they are moving. “We’re the only place you can get these beers,” Esmon explains.    

While restaurants are pushing meal deals all over town, booze isn’t dropping in price. Newcomer Village Whiskey is anything but cheap. I’m still waiting to try that $28-an-ounce scotch and it’s definitely not suffering from a lack of business. Even Chris’ Jazz Café on Sansom gets away with selling a $12 “Mojito Parisien.” You can run up a huge tab at new drinkeries like the Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., where pretty much any drink even a whiskey sour is $12. At the popular Oyster House happy hour, a beer might be $3, but a gin martini is still full price. These prices aren’t exactly astronomical, but in the current wait-and-see economy, they’re not a bargain, either. And yet no one seems to mind.

“Business has been steady and good,” says Franklin managing partner Mike Welsh, who notes that a recent menu change actually added a few drinks that are over the former $12 limit. “People are just willing to pay for a better product. I see people coming in to enjoy two cocktails rather than going to the neighborhood bar and downing eight rum-and-cokes.”

So while we may be vacationing in Naples, Florida, instead of Naples, Italy, and shopping for designer duds at T.J. Maxx, we aren’t willing to give up a good drink. Hey, they don’t call them “cordials” for nothing. We’re willing to sacrifice a lot, but not cocktails with friends.