UPDATE: COS cocktails: shaken, not fleeced

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I mention the Wobbly Olive at the bottom of the below posting as one of the places that I generally feel I get a great cocktail at a fair price. 

After reading the post, Wobbly Olive owner Sean Fitzgerald reached out with a response, not necessarily in defense of the Blue Star's pricing, but to provide a look behind the pricing curtain from the perspective as a both a bartender and bar owner. He's allowed me to share his response here, with the caveat that this is some rough math off-the-cuff. And for industry folk, he recommends the website SevenFifty for easy price comparisons and helpful metrics.

In breaking down the assumed cost of the spirits and general restaurant expenses, I can see why they are charging so much for these cocktails.

I don’t know their exact recipes so I went on the high side. I created a table assuming very high expenses across the board (I doubt that the rent is 20% of sales).

The Crushed Violette
Grey Goose (Pear) 2oz - $38.83 per bottle, $1.15 per oz
Crème de Violette (I used Rothman) .5oz- $21 per bottle, $.83 per oz
Lemon Juice .5oz- $.50 per oz
Voveti Pro 2oz- $13 per bottle, $.51 per oz

Total Cost- $3.98 / Should be charging $14.50
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Colorado Mint Cooler

291 Whitedog 2oz - $45 per bottle, $1.80 per oz
St. Germaine .5oz - $33.00 per bottle, $1.30 per oz
Mint Simple .75oz - $1.00 per oz
Lime Juice .75oz- $.50 per oz

Total Cost - $5.37 / Should be charging $16.00
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What this really shows (if even close to accurate) is that they are using ingredients that force them to charge more than the cocktail is worth. It would be better for them to buy a mid-shelf vodka like Snova and create their own house made Pear Infused Vodka where the ounce cost would decrease to around $.40 compared to $1.15. If they did that, they would be able to earn the same amount and charge $10 to $12 for the cocktail. The guest would be getting something of balance (cost vs. value).

We ran into similar problem at Wobbly Olive. We were making our Manhattan with Woody Creek 100% Rye. I’m a huge supporter of Woody Creek and their Rye made a delicious Manhattan. When we ran our cost analysis we discovered that we would need to charge $14 for the Manhattan. My pride said that it was worth that much but my heart contradicted. We switched to Redemption Rye and are making more money and charging the customer less ($10).

Another example, we were buying St. George’s Green Chile Vodka for $36.50 per bottle. Our Dragon Martini was priced at $10 but should have been $12 based on our expenses and the bottle cost. It is a fun martini but not even close to a $12 one. We decided to infuse our own vodka with local Green Chiles and was able to get our total bottle cost to $13 compared to $36.50. After running our numbers based on $13 per bottle we were able to lower the cost of the martini from $10 down to $9. It is worth $10 but we charge $9. When creating a menu and pricing items you have to balance the guest’s best interests and the business’ survival.

I think the solution for them is to get the creative juices flowing. If they want to have a $14 whiskey “mojito” on the menu, they need to make it special, do something out of this world, house made elderflower liquor, etc. If they think mint simple syrup is special they are headed down the wrong path. If you give more for less you create loyalty and your guests will never feel taken advantage of. It’s funny how this works; the more loyal you are to your guests the more loyal they become to you not the other way around.
 

—— ORIGINAL POST: 10:04 A.M., FRIDAY, JUNE 24 ——

Last fall, I raised an eyebrow or two around town with my rebuke of the cocktail prices at the newly revamped Stagecoach Inn. I essentially made the argument that if you are not at the skill level of a Williams & Graham bartender, or someone with the skill of Brooklyn's on Boulder's Nate Windham, you shouldn't be charging $12 for cocktails.

To be fair, the Stagecoach isn't the only offender around trying to run with the big dogs prematurely, and to be even more fair I haven't been back in since last fall to see if improvements have been made.

At many outings in recent memory my colleagues or friends and I have paid a little more than we'd have wanted for much less than we expected. The last of which happened to occur at The Blue Star, which we hold to a higher standard in part because of its many years as an Indy Best Of Winner, including for the Overall Restaurant category.
 
The delightful Spring Flowers cocktail: an absinthe rinse, St. Germaine, Hendrick's Gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and a pour of Bristol Brewing's Compass IPA. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • The delightful Spring Flowers cocktail: an absinthe rinse, St. Germaine, Hendrick's Gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and a pour of Bristol Brewing's Compass IPA.
Sorry for singling them out, but perhaps if we keep criticism strong with the industry leaders, they'll listen and others will follow suit with more reasonable pricing outside of just happy hours. 

The short story is this: We tried three drinks on the current seasonal cocktail list. None were poorly made or conceived, and we got great service at the bar, but two felt wildly overpriced. The one we'd have probably not thought twice about is the excellent Spring Flowers cocktail for: an absinthe rinse, St. Germaine, Hendrick's Gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and a pour of Bristol Brewing's Compass IPA. It was $12 and tasted worth it. 

Then we got into $14 territory, which tops even cocktail prices at the nearby Summit restaurant at The Broadmoor, which has always executed great drinks. 

The Crushed Violette — pear Grey Goose, Crème de violette, lemon juice and Voveti Prosecco (not a pricey bottle that we're aware) — again tasted good, especially if you're a fan of sparkling wines, but off the cuff I wouldn't price it more than $10. 

More egregious, though I love Distillery 291 whiskies like I love my own dog, was the 291 Colorado Mint Cooler. It's made with 291's White Dog, St. Germaine, mint simple syrup and lime juice. Once again, a good drink — light, refreshing, not far from the realm of a great mojito. But $14? No. I'd go $8 on this one, or at least match the cost of a great cocktail made next door at 291 — $10 last time we dropped by

I won't continue this post much farther as a belabored dissertation, but I'll say many spots in town do seem to have fair prices dialed in. And a handful of others consistently hit enough high points to justify premium prices when they appear: Brooklyn's, The Warehouse, The Wobbly Olive, The Famous, Enoteca Rustica and 503W have impressed us recently. 

Feel free to post comments to share spots you think are doing it right, or others you think have too many dollar signs in their eyes. 

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