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Taking the Fifth

Can clubland survive without bottle service?

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Next week, City Council member Melinda Katz’s resolution to rid the city of the practice in which an exorbitant sum is charged for a bottle of liquor (plus mixers!) begins its long journey toward being a law. The nightlife kingpins plan to put a cork in it. Longtime club owner Mike Diamond estimates that bottle service accounted for 70 percent of his bottom line in previous ventures, and he’s counting on the same for his new place, Retox. Pink Elephant owner David Sarner says that right now a bottle of Grey Goose that he buys for $29 is sold for $350—a 1,000 percent markup, though Sarner says an equivalent number of drinks bought at the bar would bring in roughly the same revenue. He’s credited with inventing bottle service in 1995 at his clubs Spy Bar and Chaos, and says, “Back then, it wasn’t about how much liquor we could pour down people’s throats—it was about creating a barrier to entry.” But that’s gone by the wayside. Now, Diamond says, “there’s no discretion at the door, and that’s the problem.” The resolution, which is sponsored by a dozen council members, says that bottle service “drastically increases patrons’ incentive to drink intemperately and promotes dangerous levels of drunkenness” and facilitates “service to minors.” But David Rabin, co-owner of Lotus and president of the New York Nightlife Association, says it won’t affect the real problem: fake I.D.’s off the Internet. But if the ban does happen, Sarner says he’ll adapt: “I’ll just charge $500 for a table, and they can order whatever they want. It’s not going to affect my bottom line.”

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