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Nightclub Confidential

Bottle Service Under Scrutiny

July 12, 2012 By: Steve Lewis


Bottle service began in earnest in the mid 90's. It was a fixture in Korean clubs where having a high end bottle at your table or in a highly visible locker at after parties was a status symbol.  The clubs that catered to European clients also sold bottles and promoted bottle service. However, the trend didn’t become a wave until 1995-1997 at clubs like Spy Bar, Chaos and Life.  A bottle at a table was a way to sell more liquor to clients faster than ever before.

Before bottle service took the club world by the horns, bartenders making drinks for a cocktail waitress to serve was a slow way to sell alcohol and make money; the main reason operators are there in the first place. Bottle service made a bartender out of a patron at a table. Instead, of a staff of four to ten pouring liquor into glasses, successful credit card flashing customers became working staff, pouring the booze into their own readily available glasses to get their table mates stiff.

Photo from Nightclub & Bar Top 100 Party at Marquee Las Vegas


Bottle service changed the game. Dance floors shrunk to make room for more and more tables. Waitresses were now called bottle servers. Doormen became salesmen of high priced swill. Clubs no longer were the domain of the artistic or creative owners, as more and more the business required business types. VIP changed it went from the hairdresser or stylist to the suit with the black card. For this bottle service took a bad rap. Some see it as the ruination of the creative clubs, the places where music and fashion and social interactions were created and defined. The black card crowd sought the familiar and the music, fashion and lifestyle in evidence became more and more main stream.

Recently, a well-publicized brawl at a basement club left a trail of broken glass and an ensuing paper trail of lawsuits and possible changes in the rules governing nightlife and bottle service. High profile celebrities were reported to be at the center of the predicament that left the club looking like a war zone.  It has been a media circus with rumors, innuendos and accusations flying as furiously as the bottles of booze thrown during the melee. A firestorm of bad vibrations has NY club land reeling and trying to figure out how to deal with, predict and prevent this sort of thing from happening again.

Those that say nay to the benefits of bottle service don't understand the revenue needs of clubs to just survive. In the last 10 to 15 years the actual price of a drink hasn't gone up much. People were paying $12 to $15 for a high end cocktail at high end saloons in the late '90's. Now it sometimes soars to $20 but with much resistance. Since that time rents, insurance rates and taxes have skyrocketed. The cost of garbage pickup, legal fees from day to day operating litigation and increased licensing demands let alone the costs if something bad actually happens have risen sharply. Staff wages and DJ fees have gone up exponentially. The cost of doing business is relieved by the selling of 30 bottles for $500. Without bottle sales clubs won't survive.

New York City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, was quoted in the New York Post that she has asked for an emergency meeting between her office, the NYPD and the Nightlife Association after the recent brawl. “I am deeply concerned by reports of the bottle throwing melee that injured more than five people in SoHo this week," Quinn said. She also stated she wanted "to send a clear message to all nightclub patrons that bottles cannot be used as weapons and to determine if the guidelines surrounding bottle service need to be updated or reworked.” Operators around town are fearful of possible regulations on the sale of bottles which are, for most, the lifeblood or primary revenue stream of their businesses.

There is talk of eliminating the patron from touching the bottle. This thinking implies that the bottle is a dangerous weapon in the hands of a drunk and unruly patron. It certainly is but so too would be a glass, champagne bucket, chair, stanchion or table. Where does this stop? There are plenty of laws protecting the public and penalizing the guilty from picking something up and using it in an unintended way.

There are rumors of alcohol being delivered in plastic containers and poured by an employee. Will the public stand for this? Will they ever really know if it's the high end alcohol in the carafe or a cheap replacement if the bottle isn't opened in front of them? The confusion in the aftermath of the incident has sent shutters through the club community which has worked hard to build a business around bottle sales. Bottles at tables are a worldwide norm. The club business community waits to see if the bubble will burst.


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