In the era when restaurants customarily doubled the price of wine, I felt more or less free to order any wine on the list that I could afford. As prices slowly crept up to three times retail, I began to feel restricted, and if I could not find a (relative) bargain, somewhat confined to less interesting wines than I would usually drink. As prices routinely increased over a three-fold markup (and remember that this is really probably closer to four-fold since restaurants pay trade rather than retail prices), I reached the point of gritting my teeth and saying to the sommelier, bring me the cheapest bottle of red on the list. Now I have decided that ordering off the list is a mug’s game and I have been looking for restaurants that allow corkage.
Even in New York City, there is a surprising number. By and large, at any quality level there are some restaurants that allow corkage and some (more?) that do not, and it’s only a rare exception when a restaurant offers something so unique that I feel it is worth patronizing in spite of the absence of the corkage. The most common range is $35-$45, going up higher at some grander restaurants. The case I always make to restaurants that do not have corkage is: why don’t you charge the price of your cheapest bottle, or the average profit on a bottle, for corkage: then it will be revenue-neutral and everyone wins. Some restaurants accept it, some don’t.
I will at a pinch accept the argument that a restaurant is putting thought into providing a wine list that suits its food and that they want diners to focus attention on it. But I really find in infuriating when the list is simply put together by a distributor, it has no particular interest, and it’s just another profit center. Sometimes the wines are simply so inappropriate (and expensive) that I feel, absent corkage, I must vote with my feet. In the course of research into corkage, I have had some interesting exchanges with sommeliers or wine directors. The Atlantic Grill informed me that they do not allow corkage but have an appropriate list with well trained staff to help diners. When I replied that I did not actually like their white Burgundy selection and found the New World whites overbearing, but I thought there might be a place for Riesling in a fish restaurant, the response came with a distinct sense of “gotcha” that there were many German Rieslings on the list, perfect for someone with my taste. Sadly, the accompanying copy of the list showed that not a single one of those Rieslings was dry. I don’t know who is going to drink off-dry or sweet Riesling with their fish, but it ain’t me.
I have started compiling a list of restaurants that do or do not allow corkage, attached at the end here: additions and corrections are welcome. In the meantime, that brings me to water. I happen to like sparkling water with meals, but everything seems to have changed with the introduction of equipment that allows restaurants to introduce their own bubbles into tap water. This may be good for the environment because the bottling is done at source, as it were, but the stuff has a lethal taste: it is not like mineral water, it tastes like chlorinated water with bubbles. I think it is absolutely the ruination of a good meal: it gives no refreshing uplift to counterpoise the food. Now some restaurants that have the equipment also have real mineral water for those who ask for it, but some have switched over completely and there is no alternative. My question to them is: can I bring my own Pellegrino and will you charge me corkage (screwage?) on it?
Restaurants with corkage in Manhattan:
Casa Lever $65
David Burke $45
Eleven Madison $75
Jean Georges $85
La Mangeoire $30
The Mark $75
The Modern $45
Sette Mezzo $35
Union Square Cafe $20
Restaurants that do not allow corkage: