Hungry Hinch

The Curse of Corkage

I call it the expensive, rip-off curse of corkage. I should call it the curse of the non-drinker.

I actually have no complaint if you take a rare bottle of wine to a restaurant and they slug you $25 for the privilege of consuming it on their premises.

By taking your own, you are depriving the establishment of unloading a $100- $200 bottle from their own costly cellar.

Even for a cheaper bottle, a $10 fee seems fair because they provide the glass and the waiter or waitress pours the wine.

But I resent the outrageous penalties I am forced to pay, as a non-drinker, if I want to drink a non-alcoholic wine with my meal.

And, it is even more galling because so few restaurants in Australia – and even more so in America –bother to carry even one non-alcoholic wine on their list.

(It’s great to see that Riva at St. Kilda Marina now has some Edenvale on the list for pregnant women, and designated drivers, and other diners on alcohol bans for health reasons).

I tell restaurateurs: Put a $9 alcohol-free red or white or champers on the list and I’ll pay you $20 for it. So would a lot of other diners.

I’m on this old hobby horse again because of my location. This despatch is coming from New York and this is the most intransigent restaurant town I’ve ever struck.

In many places BYO is banned – or the corkage so prohibitive that you get discouraged.  That’s the plan. And, because they’ve never heard of alcohol-removed wine, they make no allowance.

Now, this is the town where a year ago I had my most expensive non-drinker’s wallet-shrinking experience.

I was celebrating the first year anniversary of my liver transplant and went to dinner at the Hotel Carlyle – where Bobby Short plays piano, Woody Allen plays clarinet once a month and where John Kennedy used to hide his mistresses.

The blurb says: ‘Elegance of a kind that is almost gone from NY suffuses this East Side Hotel dining room with superb French-Continental Cuisine’.

The small print didn’t say that if I took along bottle of Edenvale they’d charge me $75 corkage!

I paid it, under protest, then tweeted my outrage and got a letter from the hotel manager offering not only a refund but a re-think of restaurant policy.

It said:

Dear Mr. Hinch,

Please accept our sincere apologies for the inconveniences you experienced during your recent meal at The Carlyle Restaurant. I understand you were celebrating a special milestone in your health and I'm sorry if we affected your celebration in any way. We will, of course, credit the corkage fee of $75 to your account. Furthermore, we are already looking into our corkage fee policy for non-alcoholic beverages with our Director of Food & Beverage, to make sure similar incidents will not reoccur.
Please let us know if we may be of further assistance to you in any way.
Kind regards,
Giovanni Beretta | Managing Director
The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel

Most Manhattan nosh houses aren’t that obliging. At the Affinia Shelburne Hotel on Lexington at 37th, where I was staying on assignment for Sunday Night, their policy -- even for an in-house guest – was the equivalent of their cheapest wine on the list. Cough up $34. Don’t thank your mother for the rabbits.

Told I’d be there for about a week and dining there a lot, they waived it.

On a previous visit, I stayed at the Grand Central Westin and surreptitiously sipped from my private stash in the corner while colleagues ordered beers.

This time, I decided to be upfront and offered to pay corkage to drink at the LCL window bar on 42nd Street. The damage? $32. The equivalent of their cheapest bottle.

At Angelo’s, on Second Avenue at 55th, they have the best, the crispiest, and best value pizzas on Manhattan. Their policy for non-drinkers was a tad better. Corkage $18 – the price of their cheapest half-bottle.

In Hollywood, the reaction was mixed. On one visit to the famous Polo Lounge in the Beverley Hills Hotel on one visit they wanted corkage of $50. But they had a bottle of Ariel, a good American non-alcoholic wine on their list for $45. I ordered that and too my bottle home.

At the swanky, star-studded Chateau Marmont and at Sunset Tower, high in the Hollywood Hills, they didn’t ask for a dime but I suspect that was not because of a generous, enlightened, policy. More likely because of my dining companion: dual Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver.

I’m starting to feel discriminated against. It’s almost like: You don’t drink? You aint welcome here.

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