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eje

Cost of Cocktails

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We've talked about a bar's Pour Costs before, however, much has been made recently of the current high cost of cocktails in larger cities around the globe.

I was wondering if anyone has ever undertaken research as to what cocktails would have cost in the past, adjusted for inflation and cost of living.

It doesn't really make sense to me that cocktails should cost relatively more now, as almost all of the typical ingredients are easier to get, cheaper, and more consistently available.

I remember my grandparents talking about the one time they received a gift of a box of oranges during the depression. They referred to it like they had been given a box of gold.

It also seems unlikely that things like fresh lemons, oranges, and limes would even have been available year 'round until relatively recently. I don't believe conveniences like frozen concentrated juices were even invented until the 1940s.

edit - add link to previous 'pour cost' topic.


Edited by eje (log)

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I was wondering if anyone has ever undertaken research as to what cocktails would have cost in the past, adjusted for inflation and cost of living.

It doesn't really make sense to me that cocktails should cost relatively more now, as almost all of the typical ingredients are easier to get, cheaper, and more consistently available.

Strange that you bring this up as I was talking about gas and pizza prices under the same general conditions. Both a slice of pizza and gallon of gas remain in stride with 1972 prices with an increase of only a few points to inflation. Booze has not been so lucky as a half gallon (now a 1.75 L) of cheap booze could be had for around $7.00 and a bar drink was around $1.00-$2.00 depending on bar and location.

Now a 1.75L bottle of cheep stuff is around $12.00 but a drink has gone up to over $8.00 for bar level booze and named brands are through the roof $15. So all other things being equal and taking in to account that the minimum wage is woefully behind the times. No I think it is still out of kilter with the costs involved even when adjusted for inflation.

The bartender would have to be earning around $17.00 before tips and I would have to work out the rest of it but on face value margin of profit has increased over labor and cost of goods. As you pointed out the cost of fruit and juices have fallen as well as the syrups for soda and tonic.


Living hard will take its toll...

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1. real estate. urban real estate to be exact. drink prices haven't changed much in lower cost areas. heck, I had a $4 tanqueray and tonic (everyday price) at a hotel bar in Youngstown recently. I'll pay $10 for that in NY due to real estate and liquor license costs

2. except for cognac and the like, "premium" brands didn't really exist before.

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Interesting question. I Googled around for vintage cocktail menus, and found lots of gorgeous Tiki bar menus from the 1960s. At $1.65, a Mai Tai from 1965 would cost $10.37 in 2006 dollars, if I'm using this inflation calculator correctly. I only found one other vintage cocktail menu*, from a Denver bar in the 1940s, and at 35 cents, a Martini or a Manhattan would cost $3.88 today. The most expensive drink on that menu is a Daiquiri, at 45 cents ($4.98).

*Vintage Cocktail Menu Link

edit - moderator removed image and replaced with link to image.


Edited by eje (log)

"Martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously one on top of the other." - W. Somerset Maugham

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Interesting question.  I Googled around for vintage cocktail menus, and found lots of gorgeous Tiki bar menus from the 1960s.  At $1.65, a Mai Tai from 1965 would cost $10.37 in 2006 dollars, if I'm using this inflation calculator correctly.  I only found one other vintage cocktail menu*, from a Denver bar in the 1940s, and at 35 cents, a Martini or a Manhattan would cost $3.88 today.  The most expensive drink on that menu is a Daiquiri, at 45 cents ($4.98).

*Vintage Cocktail Menu Link

edit - moderator removed image and replaced with link to image.

my 1939 locke-ober cocktail menu has most drinks at .50 but locke ober was an expensive place even back then.....

there is some crazy stuff on that menu....even 20 year old new england rum.... chateau y'quem was 5 or 6 dollars a bottle.....

edit - moderator removed copyrighted image.


Edited by eje (log)

abstract expressionist beverage compounder

creator of acquired tastes

bostonapothecary.com

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Some things that aren't apparent but might skew a simple price to price comparison: The rising costs of insurance, particularly "Dram Shop" provisions, and the ever growing chunk that state and federal taxes represent in the price of a bottle of booze.

Where yesteryear's bar could be in profit by running, let's say, 60% cost of sales, today's gin mill would be covered in ply-wood following the same model.

myers

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We should also consider the fact that cocktails 50+ years ago were very much smaller than they are today.


--

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I think there's too much focus here on the cost side of the equation. There are two components to determining prices and demand is probably the bigger factor here. The amount of disposable income that people are willing to dedicate towards cocktails in a place like New York or LA is much higher than in the past. As wages have risen quickly across the top-end of the spectrum there are far more people willing to pay top dollar for a night out. As long as those people are out there, club and lounge owners have no reason to drop their prices.

The best analogy that I can think of is sports fans who think that ticket prices are high because athletes get paid a lot. The surprise comes when a salary cap is imposed and there's little to no effect on ticket prices. It's the fact that people are willing to pay $50 for a 'cheap seat' that causes it to be priced that way. Same goes for $15 martinis.

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When I started working in the industry (back in the late 70's) we offered "well" drinks at $0.90, "call" drinks were $1.25, and "super call" drinks were $1.50-$2.00 depending on what they were. I remember people getting absolutely up in arms when prices went to $1.25/1.50/2.00. We also offered "2-for-1" most of the day.

That was in d/t Atl and not South Podunk. Of course we had 3 vodkas (the "well" brand, Smirnoff, and another off brand that a regular requested), 3 gins (Tanq, Beefeater, and the "well"), &c. Scotch and bourbons were the best represented.

As for prices in general I sold parties at a major restaurant in town up until just a few years ago and the number of times people were horrified that cocktails at functions would be $5.00 (& these were brand name cocktails--not well "junk") and would want to negotiate pricing or figure out a way to save money on their bar yet they would then go across the street to a popular jazz bar and pay $12.00+ for the same drink w/o batting an eye. Of course the difference was that they were paying for guests' cocktails in one case and their own in another probably was the sticking point.


in loving memory of Mr. Squirt (1998-2004)--

the best cat ever.

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That's all interesting stuff!

I think the germ of this question was planted last holiday season when I visited the Harvey House exhibit at the Grand Canyon, and noticed the cocktail prices on some of the sample menus there. The menu was from the 30s or 40s and most cocktails were on par with those jmfangio's menu, mostly ranging in the 25-50 cent range.

While googling, I did find this more recent Harvey House menu. According to the referring website this is from the 1950s, and cocktails on it range from 65 cents for a Martini to 80 cents for a "Manhattan with Branded Whiskey".

It seems to me, though, the economics of a restaurant or hotel with cocktails, and a stand alone bar, would be quite different. Is that the case?

For the record, most bars and restaurants in SF that feature cocktails and decent spirits, are currently charging in the neighborhood of $9-12 US. In London, the cocktail bars whose menus I checked, were charging 9-12 Pounds (or, with the exchange rate, roughly, $18-24 US). Though, as a reminder, you aren't expected to tip at bars in England.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Factoring in New York City sales tax (8.875%) and 20% tip, and UK service charge of 12.5%, and current foreign exchange rates (1.69), US menu prices should be 1.45x UK prices. For example, a cocktail listed on the menu as £9 in London is equivalent to $13.09 in New York. These prices are considered the baseline minimum at a proper cocktail bar in both cities. The highest price I've paid in London is £16.50 at Artesian and £17 at Dukes Bar. The latter would translate into a US price of $24.73, which would be unheard of in New York. The most I have paid there (NoMad) is $16, equivalent to £11.

 

Artesian is in a fancy hotel (Langham) and has a well-regarded program (#1 on the World's 50 Best Bars), though I found the drinks overwrought with silly presentation and not half as good as, Death & Co, PDT, or Dead Rabbit. Dukes Bar has just really simple martini variations but it's in a historic hotel and is where Ian Fleming invented the Vesper. Other good cocktails bars in London that aren't in hotels (Milk & Honey, 69 Colebrooke Row, Happiness Forgets) are more reasonably priced at £9-11.

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Factoring in New York City sales tax (8.875%) and 20% tip, and UK service charge of 12.5%...

 

Service charge is a lot more common in hotel and restaurant bars than others; it's not the rule. Milk & Honey adds 10%, 69 Colebrooke Row has none, Happiness Forgets has none (I think).

 

Does it make a difference that people seemed to drink a lot more spirits in the early C20th (based on my exhaustive survey of Bogart films)?

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