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So you want to dine out — and bring your own bottle of wine. Sounds simple enough, right?
Yet, in order to BYOB at some of the best restaurants in the country, and particularly in cities like New York, you had better be prepared to tack on a sizeable sum to your bill in the form of a corkage fee. At celebrated and pricey eateries like Per Se and Masa, for example, BYOB service will cost you nearly $100 — per bottle.
At prices like that, one has to wonder whether it doesn't just make more sense to order off the restaurant's undoubtedly well-curated wine list. After all, most establishments discourage or flat-out prohibit customers from bringing in bottles that currently appear on their wine list, so there's no bargain to be had there.
And while it's easy to understand why restaurants of such caliber would want diners to choose from the wine lists they have worked so hard to put together, this is a service industry and there can be, also, special circumstances where BYOB is particularly appropriate.
At New York City’s swanky A Voce restaurants, for instance, wine and beverage director Olivier Flosse says, "When we accept that guests can bring wines, we do not charge any corkage. Of course when we accept, it's only for a very special occasion." The guests absolutely must call in advance to inquire whether or not their occasion merits bending of the BYOB rules. "One of our guests called me and asked if he could bring some old vintage Bordeaux from his daughter’s birthday year and asked [about] the corkage fee," says Flosse. "At this time, I told the guests that we are very pleased to break the rule, but the guests had also already ordered a few top bottles from the wine list. We are all here to please guests, but we are a business as well."
From the moderately pricey to the quite expensive, here are nine restaurants across the country where it'll cost you to BYOB.
French Laundry, Yountville, Calif.: $75
At Thomas Keller’s famous French Laundry, located in Napa Valley, Calif., each meal is a culinary experience, sometimes taking three to four hours to complete a single service. Here, corkage fees will run you $75 for each bottle of wine — a fact that may be hard to swallow in the heart of California wine country, where lax BYOB opportunities abound. Still insistent on bringing in your own bottles? Call ahead and make sure your wine does not appear on the existing wine list. Duplicates are not allowed in, just like at sister restaurant Per Se in New York.
Adour Alain Ducasse at The St. Regis New York, New York City: $85
Sometimes, exorbitant corkage fees come with posh perks. With the rental of a private wine vault at Adour Alain Ducasse, you’ll pay $85 in corkage fees for each bottle opened. Yearlong memberships to the wine vault program run diners a whopping $2,000, but if you’re a regular at Adour, it may be well worth it: As a wine vault member, diners are afforded tailored tasting experiences crafted by chef Julien Jouhannaud himself. And the vaults are located in the Private Vault Room, an exclusive space that can seat 14. Anyone can purchase a vault membership to store their personal wine collection, and each vault can hold up to 12 bottles in a temperature-controlled environment — perhaps a plus for those in cramped Manhattan apartments. Of the vault users, approximately two customers per week access their own bottles. Interestingly, Adour at The St. Regis in Washington, D.C., does not allow customers to bring in their own bottles.
Per Se, New York City: $90
Perhaps Thomas Keller’s top-rated, ultra-luxe Per Se (well-known for its extravagant nine-course tastings) took notes from its neighbor, Masa, located on the same floor of the Time Warner Center in New York City. The restaurant charges $90 in corkage fees for each 750 milliliter bottle of wine brought in from the outside (the most you can bring in is three). This fee is, of course, in addition to the cost of your multi-course meal, which starts at around $295 per person. Since the award-winning restaurant is well-known for its strong wine cellar and wide range of half-bottle selections, calling ahead and checking to make sure the same bottle does not appear on their lengthy list is a must. At least gratuity is included.
Masa, New York City: $95
Masa is known for its super pricey dinners (be prepared to shell out more than $400 at the sushi bar), a monthlong wait time for reservations, and microscopic (but undeniably delicious) portions of sushi made by sushi guru Masayoshi Takayama, and so shelling out nearly $100 in corkage fees seems to fit in with the larger-than-life experience at Masa. But don’t even think about bringing in a bottle without clearing it with the restaurant first — you’ll want to make sure the bottle isn’t currently on the evolving list.
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