Is a $13 cocktail really so expensive?

Costly cocktails are the new normal, it seems. But is that so bad?

March 15, 2016

By Neal McLennan / Photo: Tono Balaguer

“Nothing good ever happens after midnight” was my parents’ cautionary refrain throughout my youth, and it was on my mind last week after dropping into one of the city’s storied watering holes for one last belt. I skipped the menu and went straight to an old standby: the Oaxaca Old Fashioned. It was dynamite, and I was so pleased with it that I actually stopped at just one. I found my server on the way out and gave her a $20 bill, so great was my experience (and so expansive my generosity). But in the cab ride home one of my cohorts admonished me for leaving a lousy tip, and no wonder: It turns out my bill came to $18.25. All class, McLennan.

But the more I thought about this, the more it bothered me. There was no pricey single malt in the mix—just Mezcal, bitters, sugar, and an orange peel. And it’s not just this spot—we’re awash in gin joints with Cognac prices. A $13 drink seems to be normal these days, and that’s nuts. Not every restaurant charges Hawksworth prices because not every restaurant delivers Hawksworth’s food and service, and that’s how I like it: Sometimes I want a $9 bowl of ramen and sometimes I want a jigger of whisky with a splash of bitters and a sugar cube and I don’t want to spend $13 for it. But if you want a decent drink these days, everything’s a Hawksworth.

I called up Shaun Layton at the newly opened Juniper because he’s both a near perfect bartender (and accustomed to listening to blowhards) in order to find out. “Cocktails are cheap in Vancouver,” he said. “Compared to cities like Toronto, NYC, Sydney, London, Barcelona, and Paris, cocktails are half the price sometimes. Considering how much we pay for booze and rent, this is one of the best value drinking cities in the world.” Nuts to that, I thought. I very clearly remembered recently staggering around Portland, where amazing drinks were basically free. Then again, my recollection is somewhat undercut by a Google search that showed my barrel-aged Negroni at Clyde Common was $12, a solid $17.42 CDN before tax and tips. And that’s in a city where you can buy a nice house for one-fourth of what it would cost here. Then there’s the perfect Martini at the Connaught Bar in London that came around on its own trolley … for only £21 (or $43.25 CDN). I started to think maybe $13 was not such a bad deal. Even $14. And I suppose if you take the tax off $18.25 you’re getting closer to $16, so this may all be because I spent a toonie more than I wanted to for a drink that was amazing. I think I owe someone a bigger tip.

 

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