The Bottle-Service Club Culture
Bottle service changed nightlife forever. Some see it as a savior bringing much-needed revenue streams to pay for burgeoning club budgets, while others see it as a sure sign of the death of club culture. The exponential increases in rents, insurance costs, DJ fees, legal fees and regulation all have contributed to the need for bottle bucks.
Although the origins of the "modern" bottle-service club economy are disputed, some say Jeffrey Jah and I started it at Life, a lounge on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, around 1997, while David Sarner claims he started it at Manhattan lounge Chaos at the same time. Most likely, bottle service had been around for years in some form or another and neither side can claim its discovery. Columbus didn't discover the Americas. The Vikings, perhaps the Phoenicians and certainly the Native Americans came before him. Columbus popularized the continents and introduced them to the whole wide world.
A decade previous, places like New York City’s Au Bar and Club A catered to the Euro set and Korean bars and restaurants were serving up bottles. Spy Bar, the prototype of New York City’s modern bottle lounge, had an unsophisticated version of it in the mid ’90s. In my mind and recollection, it really took off at Marquee NY where the science of bottle service was honed and quickly spread to the four corners of the world. Las Vegas, of course, took it to a new level; Vegas takes everything to a new level.
The idea of bottle service is actually rooted in simple bar basics. It started as a means to get alcohol out of the bottle and into a patron faster than was previously possible. In days of yore, a venue might have had 10 bartenders mixing drinks as customers lined up five-deep at the bar. Although that still occurs, table service has turned the patron into the bartender. The waitron delivers the goods, and the customer does all of the work. Now, 50 people are pouring booze and paying exorbitant prices for the privilege.
Bottle prices have gone up and up, and the wholesale cost of the alcohol has become irrelevant. Patrons in reality are paying for the real estate, not the buzz. Bottle minimums have allowed clubs to charge thousands of dollars for the benefit of being near the action or even gaining entry. High-end clubs stock enormous amounts of premium liquors and Champagne in increasingly larger bottles in the hopes that a whale — a huge spender — might stop in and pop ridiculous amounts of bottles. Stories of guys spending $50,000, $100,000 and even a quarter of $1 million in an evening are less rare. High-end joints gear up for these occasions.
With so much money exchanging hands, patrons expect more than just a couple of bottles at their tables — they want comfortable seating, space and an experience to remember. With that in mind, I asked some of the prime time players in nightlife to talk about the table, the seating and what works for them:
Noah Tepperberg, co-owner of Avenue, Marquee NY/Las Vegas/Sydney, Lavo NY/Las Vegas, Tao Las Vegas, Artichoke Pizza, Dream Downtown F&B and Tao Strategic Group:
“What makes a good table service/seating design is the ‘dimensions vs. ratio formula.’ Everything from the depth of the seat back, to the seat itself, to the space between the seat and the table, to the height of the seat, to the height of the table, to the distance between the table and the flow lane/dance floor or next table is the key to making this function (which is one of many) work in a nightclub. The second most important element to a good design is functionality — having the right materials and correctly sized components is key.”
Scott Sartiano, co-owner of the Butter Group (Butter restaurants in New York City and Charlotte, N.C.), 1OAK NY/Las Vegas and The Darby New York:
“(Most important to great table service is) comfort, feeling like you have your own space, curved tables so you're facing your friends, tables that can accommodate everything so it’s not a mess and backs of booths that are comfortable to sit on.”
Derek Koch, co-owner of Day & Night NYC/St. Tropez and partner in Dual Groupe:
“My vision behind a great table/seating booth or banquette is a high back to it, slightly tilted. Having springs inside the seat is also a great aspect to have. The fabric is also a very important feature to have as well. I like mohair, personally. For visual purposes, I prefer a tufted back. The seating in any establishment is certainly in my book the single most important factor in any hospitality business.”
Eugene Remm, partner in New York City’s EMM Group, Abe & Arthur’s, SL, SL East, Catch, Lexington Brass, Tenjune, The Chandelier Room, The Estate and Four Hundred:
“The table should be big enough to hold all the mixers and glasses, yet small enough to not be in the way as space is valuable. It should always have a bottom shelf that is used for storage of extra glasses, straws, napkins and mixers. This allows bussers to restock without having to go to the service station.”
Nur Khan, proprietor and an owner of New York City’s Electric Room at Dream Downtown:
“Electric Room is an extremely small space, so every inch mattered in that room to conserve space. There was no room for customers’ feet, given the boundaries we had with the sofas. We needed as small a table as possible to service customers properly and function with a comfortable distance for people’s feet to slide under a lower shelf below the table, which saved room for comfort on each side, giving us a foot or more room horizontally to place our sofas in the room. A shelf below the small tabletop gave us extra space to place extra glasses, mixer/carafes, etc., so the tabletop itself had more room than originally designed. With the booth seating, comfort is utmost important, as is fabric choice for both comfort and durability. Booths should make some sort of nucleus to keep an energy going amongst groups of friends nearby, rather than a parlor-type seating which isn't conducive to energy or long-term spending.”
Alex Cordova, vice president of marketing for Angel Management Group in Las Vegas:
“The tables must provide easy visibility to the focal point of the room and/or be a part of the focal point, i.e., see the action or show off and become part of the overall experience. The table locations must be in close proximity to amenities, such as the restrooms, dance floors, etc. And for service reasons, it must be easily accessible to the staff and wells so that all high-level service standards are met. Finally, it must be able to accommodate a group's size or have access to the flow of the room to attract patrons to join their individual party.”
“As for the actual table design, we make sure it is visually appealing and functional to accommodate guest's personal belongings so that they don't have to worry about where to place these items. We incorporate hidden drawers for handbags, jackets, etc., in our design. We also include hidden storage so that glasses, napkins are readily available and won't interfere or delay the service for our guests.”