Living Well

Beware the Next Nefarious Up-Charge: Whiskey, Neat


Beware the Next Nefarious Up-Charge: Whiskey, Neat

Photograph by Chris Stein

The other night, I was out in New York. It had been a long day and I needed a drink. To be specific, I needed a bourbon.

Like a lot of guys, I started out drinking beer. In my late thirties, I developed a taste for Irish whiskey. Then I moved on to Kentucky bourbon. I’ve been faithful ever since. At home, I drink Evan Williams. When I’m out, I treat myself to something fancier such as Booker’s, Knob Creek, Blanton’s, or Woodford Reserve. I enjoy a Manhattan. Old Fashioneds are nice, too. There’s one thing I don’t like with my bourbon: ice.

I sought to quench my thirst at a burger joint in Greenwich Village, part of a reputable chain of similarly themed restaurants like BLT Steak, BLT Prime, and BLT Fish. I sat down and asked my waitress about the bourbon selection. Just as I had hoped, she listed some of my favorites. “I’ll take a Woodford, straight up,” I said.

“Do you want it neat, or do you want it chilled?” she asked politely.

“I don’t really care,” I said. “I just don’t want any ice.”

The Woodford arrived. It wasn’t much of a pour. I finished it quickly and ate a burger.

I asked for the check. My drink was $13. A little steep, but isn’t everything in Manhattan? There was also a $2 charge for “neat.”

In all my years of bourbon drinking, this was something new: I was being charged extra for drinking my Woodford straight. Or perhaps I was being penalized for not imbibing it on the rocks?

I asked my waitress to clarify. She summoned the manager, a friendly young guy. He told me with a smile that I got extra Woodford without ice. He said this explained the extra charge. What’s more, he told me that this was common practice in the city.

“Well, this is the first time I’ve ever seen it,” I responded, adding that my bourbon wasn’t exactly jumbo-sized.

“Oh, no, sir,” he assured me. “Everybody does it.” They offered me another one free, just to make up.

I’ve since been doing some informal polling. My friends say they’ve never been to an eatery with a policy of charging extra for neatness. I called the Bartender Boot Camp, a bartender instruction center in New York, to get an expert opinion. Jordan Goldman, the center’s manager, asked two of his instructors about the additional fee for not ordering ice. “One of them said he’d never heard of the practice,” Goldman reports. “The other one said the only time she’d done it was when she worked in a restaurant in a catering hall. They would charge two dollars. She got complaints all the time.”

In other words, BLT Burger is breaking new ground, which is just what I’d suspected.

On the bright side, I wasn’t through drinking that night. I met a friend at the Village Vanguard, the famous jazz club. It was past the dinner hour, so it was time for an after-dinner drink. I ordered a $13 brandy. Straight-up, of course.

After my experience at BLT Burger, I was delighted when it arrived. “Now, that’s a nice pour,” my friend agreed. Not ordering ice didn’t cost me a thing.

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Leonard is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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