Are Craft Cocktails Too Expensive?

If you think $12 (or even $10) is too much to pay for a drink, try this experiment.

June 30, 2010

The specialty cocktails at Zig Zag pack a considerable punch.
Photo: Lindsay Borden

I don’t think every new bar needs to be a highend cocktail lounge. I like a simple bar where I can order a beer for $3 and call it an evening. What I don’t like is when such a bar calls itself a cocktail lounge and charges cocktail-lounge prices for hastily/amateurishly crafted cocktails. And the reason I don’t like this is that it furthers the notion that any drink with a price tag of $10 or up is overpriced.

Because at a good cocktail lounge, a two-digit drink price reflects the cost of the ingredients that go into that drink, ingredients that include fresh-squeezed juices and aged spirits and top-shelf liqueurs and homemade bitters, cachaca, and falernum and sometimes even a Kold-Draft ice machine. In short, many things that are expensive to buy, maintain, and create. Customers may not be aware that at such an establishment, the bartender likely came in hours before his or her shift to prep ingredients and make sure every little detail is in place so that their imbibing experience will be an optimal one.

Value added: these cocktails tend to pack a serious punch. Drink more than two and Lawd help you. Also, they’ll keep tasting good even if you nurse them because they are made with ice that’s designed to melt slowly over time. I’d also say this: if you do get a crappy drink at a cocktail lounge, you should always, always tell the bartender that you’re not a fan. You’re paying premium for that beverage and you should use it as an opportunity to learn more about what you like, don’t like, and why.

If you’re still not convinced these drinks are worth the price, do this: Attend happy hour at Vessel or ZigZag or Mistralkitchen and try the drinks at their lowered prices. (Vessel’s $6 HH cocktail applies only to two drinks—a revolving duo of options off the menu. At Mistral, house cocktails are $3 off (so $9) and classic cocktails are $6. And last time I checked, Zig Zag’s specialty cocktails were $4.75 during HH.)

I encourage you to talk to the bartenders about what’s in your drink, why it’s made that way, etc. If you do this and find that you wouldn’t be willing to pay twice as much for your cocktail experience, come tell me about it.

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