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On The House: The Johnnie Walker Blue Index

Next up in our month-long New Feature Roll-Out Extravaganza is On the House, a regular column written by the owners and operators of the great food and beverage establishments of New York. At this time, we're extremely pleased to welcome Freemans own William Tigertt to the dance floor. He'll be your resident proprietor and ours until further notice.

2006_08_jwbi.jpgWith NYC cocktail culture booming and bottle service flowing, bar tabs across the city have been expanding faster than our national debt. Being in the business, I constantly track how much people are charging for booze. Alcohol markups in restaurants and bars vary widely. The basics are easy: if you want cheap booze head to the outer boroughs or dive/college bars. This strategy, of course, leaves a gaping hole in your nightlife repertoire at the high end. Which leads me to the question, how do you tell who is charging “normal” stratospheric prices and who is out and out gouging? This is where the Johnie Walker Blue Index (JWBI) comes in.

If you’ll follow me through some quick math, I’ll show you how to determine any establishments profit margin on the high-end booze, which although is not precise, is an excellent indication of just how expensive the place is in general.

Johnie Walker Blue Label is an expensive, well-crafted blended scotch at the top of Johnnie Walker’s product line. As a price benchmark it is remarkably consistent and smooth, just like blend of 16 whiskys that make up this pricey tipple. Unlike, say, Tete du Cuvee champagne it has no vintage variation. It is consistently portioned, especially because no one mixes it in cocktails. (Also thanks to Spitzer’s recent crackdown there are no bulk discounts on it—all venues pay the same published price.) In the mercurial world NYC nightlife the playing field for Blue Label is remarkably level.

So here’s the math: Blue Label wholesales for $176.92 a bottle New York City (as of 7/26/06). A standard 750ml bottle yields a little more than twelve 2 oz. servings (if the bar is pouring less than 2 oz. serving it will be kicked off the index for general stinginess). So a tumbler of JWB costs $14.74 wholesale. Divide that by how much it costs on the menu to get the index: $65 a drink at the SoHo Grand gives it a whopping JWBI 4.41–-meaning their mark-up is roughly 441% percent.

Though the math can, and will, be applied to any establishment, we'll start with some of the higher-end downtown hotels.

Downtown Hotels Average JWBI: 2.75

Soho Grand $65 (cost) // 4.41 (JWBI)
Tribeca Grand $65 // 4.41
Soho House $48 // 3.26
Gansevoort $42 // 2.85
Ritz Carlton (Battery Park City) $35 // 2.37
Matsuri/Maritime Hotel $30 // 2.04
W Union Square $30 // 2.04
60 Thompson - (Kittichai)* $25 // 1.70
Rivington Hotel - (Thor) $25 // 1.70
The Mercer [Mr. Balazs doesn't rock Blue Label]

Tomorrow, find out how Balthazar fares; and which venue boasts an index of 5.08, making it the biggest rip-off in NY.


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