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Raising the Bar (Bill)

The U.S. economy may be sputtering, but the current trend on the club scene features markups worthy of the dot-com boom.

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It’s a scary fact: Chicago loves the liquid diet. The average Illinoisan spends $891 on alcohol annually, and there are 3,171 thriving bars and liquor-serving restaurants in Chicago. These days, though, going out to drink gets you less buzz for your buck, especially with clubs building a business around selling whole bottles of liquor rather than just individual drinks.

A bottle of Grey Goose vodka, for example, costs about $28 in the stores. A corner bar might sell the 17 shots in the bottle for about $6 apiece, for a total of $102. Clubs such as The Underground and Manor sell a single bottle for $280 or $300, and at most high-end clubs, having a table means you’re committing to buy two or three bottles of alcohol at that price, which doesn’t include tax or tip. “An average table at a club on the weekend will run you about $700 to $800,” says Ryan Preuett, who used to be with Reserve, a trendsetter in Chicago’s bottle-service business. “Some nights are even higher,” he adds, referring to special events such as celebrity DJ appearances. (Preuett is now director of marketing for Gibsons Restaurant Group.)

The priciest of the pricey bottles are in another league entirely. At several top clubs, a rare Champagne is the most expensive bottle available, reflecting Illinois’s taste for the bubbly—the state is second (to California) in sparkling wine consumption, despite being sixth in total number of drinkers. At The Underground, a Marc Newson Limited Edition Dom Pérignon sets the mark at $2,500. At Stone Lotus, a Dom Pérignon Oenothèque is $3,500. At Manor, a Dom Pérignon White Gold jeroboam is $35,000—the most expensive bottle in Chicago. These prices have led to some eye-popping bills. The Underground’s self-reported highest-ever tab was $7,000; at Stone Lotus, $11,000; at Manor, $29,000.

The heady bottle-service prices include a leggy server who might shine your shoes, and sides like Red Bull and cranberry juice. Even with the extras, it’s still a hefty price tag for a weekly night out—and you don’t even want to think about what it comes to if you multiply by 52.

 

Photograph: Chris Guillen

 

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