Cocktail Prices, Beaker and Flask Closure

Vintage Glassware

Photo: Beaker & Flask

In case you missed my tweet last week, according to The OregonianBeaker & Flask, Kevin Ludwig’s popular bar/restaurant in SW Portland has closed “for at least two months.”  “Things haven’t been working for a little while, but this happened suddenly,” Ludwig told The Oregonian by phone Wednesday. “We’re going to be closed, I’m going to redo the kitchen and hopefully reopen sometime in July.”  The math doesn’t quite work out here, but maybe I’m just slow.

This doesn’t surprise me, but I sure hope he reopens; makes me nervous.

Speaking of alcohol, I don’t drink nearly as much as I used to, but when I do I tend to imbibe at home. Why? Because it has gotten so damn expensive to buy cocktails. I was in the bay area not long ago and paid $18 for a Gin & Tonic (which wasn’t particularly good), and have spent similar amounts in Los Angeles and Vancouver BC. In Portland they aren’t nearly that high, but many of the times I do go out for a couple of drinks with a friend I cringe over the tab – four cocktails and the tip are a quick trip North of $50.

Washington City Paper asks “How Much is Too Much?”

José Andrés’ new “cocktail lab” Barmini offers a drink for $25, which was bumped up from $17 two months ago when more premium ingredients were added. The “Big in Japan” consists of Japanese whiskey, muscat, Amaro, and a yamamomo berry, a marble-sized red fruit known as a “mountain peach” that grows only in Japan.

Bourbon Steak tops that with its $39 Centenaire Smash with Grand Marnier Cuvee de Centenaire, lemon juice, and mint served over crushed ice. And the new Penn Quarter seafood joint Azur briefly offered a $40 cognac-based drink. Meanwhile, craft cocktails at most upscale bars and restaurants in D.C. now average between $14 and $16. It’s no longer unusual to find cocktails that cost more than entrées. Which may have diners wondering: Just how much is too much to spend on a single drink?

When PX owner Todd Thrasher joined Café Atlántico in 1996, the restaurant became one of the pioneers of the local craft cocktail movement. His concoctions, including a margarita with a salt-foam rim, went for $7.50. Today, that drink is $14 at Barmini. If inflation was the only factor driving cocktail prices up, it would cost a little more than $11.

When is enough enough? I’m not faulting bars here, I’d charge whatever I could get away with too, and I understand that with demand for more and more exotic ingredients drink prices have to climb. Still, I can’t help but wonder, have the increasing prices of cocktails curbed your drinking?

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Drew says

    I moved here from Austin TX a year ago and I can say the I was shocked at the lack of deals offered for drinking and dining. It was very easy to go out in Austin for a nice meal and a couple of cocktails for under twenty bucks on weeknights. My favorite bar on Rainey Street does free chicken and waffles on Sundays with $3 mimosas and live music. Needless to say I rarely missed a Sunday.

    I walk through the pearl on most weeknights and see most of the bars and restaurants empty. Happy hours ending at 6 pm don’t count. I have yet to find a great deal or a bar I want to go to every week.

    • says

      1. Servers and bar tenders get paid $2.13 per hour in Texas. They get paid $8.95 per hour in Oregon.
      2. Restaurants and bars in Oregon receive a 5% discount off retail liquor prices. There are no discounts for volume purchases.
      3. Restaurants and bars in Oregon are not allowed to receive any meaningful freebies from distributors or brands, neither liquor products nor swag. In Texas, bars and restaurants receive many freebies.
      4. Austin is much more dominated by a college than Portland. This is even more the case of Rainey vs Pearl. College students or recent college students are going to be much more price sensitive than tourists and yuppies. Bars along lower Division, Alberta, Mississippi, or East Burnside would be much better apples to apples comparisons.
      5. Deal seekers are rarely worth courting and restaurants and bars that do court them often find themselves building an unsustainable clientele.

  2. Ross Pullen says

    I totally concur, Food Dude. I find myself only scheduling times to enjoy cocktails at various Happy Hours in PDX. Thank goodness we have so many to choose from.
    A good bottle of Sapphire for an old time, very dry, up martini or a reliable friend-a Tanqueray&tonic at home is very enjoyable, I must say. I also get to cut my own FRESH lime…a major plus in anyone’s book. As a long time food service guy, I see an opportunity here. I am sure an enterprising owner could “buck the system” and haul in some “Very Happy Hour” biz….even with Oregon high labor and booze prices. There is always a way to pull if off.

  3. man-o-steele says

    It is interesting to compare some of these prices state side to Tokyo–a place known for expensive drinks. It is common to pay $20+ for a cocktail at bars, but most of these bars are on top of high rises with stunning views, so you know you are paying for the view as well as the drinks. There is a tiny, back alley bar close to my apartment that has a set menu: any 2 drinks and a small snack of sweet cheese, jam and cracker for $20. I must add that this back alley bar has some of the best, classic drinks I have had.

    • Drew says

      Actually I was just in Tokyo last month. On a friday evening I went out with a Japanese coworker and we ended up in an underground sushi/sake den in Ginza where we stayed for six hours, eating and drinking the entire time. The bill for the evening came to $100. My friend explained that most Ginza bars are super competitive as they try to land the commuter business. In Tokyo most workers commute by train and the train stops at midnight. When they go out on Friday they typically stay out all night until the first train in the morning. So bars compete fiercely for these overnight customers.

  4. Produce Rocks says

    I absolutly love the way craft cocktails have begun to follow seasonality trends, much like cooking but I flat out cannot afford the prices you describe…unless of course there is something on the other side of that bar tab ….!

    Now I’m not saying with higher operational costs some of the higher prices aren’t justified. Is the industry pushing it’s boundries? Of course, but it will adjust, after all if money can be made, it’ll get figured out!

    Great observation Dude.

    • says

      I love the way cocktails are following the seasonality trends too, but much of the time I want an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Gin & Tonic. Prices for these should not be driven by the increased cost of ingredients for other drinks (though a good, house made tonic mix ups the ante. (though on the other hand, I can make a damn good tonic water at home without much trouble!

  5. Jill-O says

    I love cocktails, and I do order them out…but not as many and not as often as I used to, for sure. If you are OK with drinking well drinks, you can get by more cheaply, and especially so at happy hours around town. And yes, we have a VERY well-stocked liquor cabinet at home with lots of top shelf choices…it is always cheaper to drink at home, and as many folks are learning, it’s fun and not that hard to make your own cocktails.

    SIgn up with the OLCC and they will even send you a link every month to the specials price list, and you’ll know when your favorites are on sale…because they reduce the prices of many things every month for a month. For example, every few months (this month, being one of them) you can save $5 on a bottle of Bulleit Rye…that is not insignificant. You can also just go to the list, it is here:

    My GF and I often order bottles of wine or sake, figuring that if we each drink 2 coctails at $10 or more each, that bottle is often a better deal. Heck, even most wines by the glass (which we also order) are a better deal than cocktails most of the time.

    Even with the high prices of booze in this state, most restaurants still make a lot of their profits from alcohol sales…and if folks are willing to pay, they will charge what they will. I don’t blame folks for charging what they can, but my salary isn’t really increasing and my necessary choice is to stay home more and order less when out. Another by-product of all of this for me: if my (especially classic) cocktail isn’t made right, I will not hesitate to send it back. If you want to charge me $12 for a sidecar, I’ll pay it and tip you well too, but it better be perfect or you will be remaking it until it is perfect.

    And if I was still living in NYC, I would probably rarely go out drinking…I just would not be able to afford it on a nonprofit salary.

    • jimster says

      We make my girlfriend’s parents pick us up a couple of cases of Bulleit 1.75s when they go to a Costco in California 1x/year. They run $37/1.75 there. They are $52 here in Oregon. We easily go through that in 12 months. That’s $180 extra saved oh in home drinking not to mention not having to go to the liquor store nearly as often.

      • Jill-O says

        Me too!

        And hey, if they are that good, it’s just as well we’re not driving anywhere, right? ;o)

  6. kobekar says

    Then, in Tokyo one does not have to tip. It is a different game in Japan. All in all, it is sad to know Beaker & Flask going…..

    • Jill-O says

      I hope B&F rises from it’s own ashes, I really liked it. But if you haven’t tried the bar they own around the other side of that building, Rum Club, you should. Their Rum Club Daiquiri ($9, since it is on topic ;o) is delicious, and the food I have tried there is very tasty.

  7. DinahD says

    Yes, imbibing away from home is getting increasingly spendy. Since I have perfected a number of key cocktails ( I would put my Vodka Martini up against anything out there) I find myself drinking at home most weeks.

  8. Bob Petow says

    Part of the reason (big part) why I’ve gone the “420 route”…hellava lot less expensive and no hangover.

  9. tdown says

    I liked BnF a lot, I hope they come back. I love a good cocktail, and after coming here from NY in 2011 I don’t find the drinks here terribly expensive, although the prices vary wildly. For a truly good quality cocktail it’s ok to charge more, and I’ll pay up on occasion, but I think $15 should be be an upper limit for a good cocktail, with some exceptions. I will normally prefer to pay in the $8-12 range. I once paid probably about $35 (I’m not really sure as there were no prices listed)a drink at the Hemingway Bar (sadly now closed) at the Ritz in Paris. Possibly the best drink I’ve ever had, a Rob Roy, and my wife’s drink actually had an orchid in it. A cool experience but I don’t feel the need to do it again.

    Yes, the Rum Club has excellent cocktails and is very reasonable.

  10. psp2pdx says

    Dining in Seattle this week @ Tilth -bypassed their ‘specialty’ cocktails @ $13
    Thinking I was smart I ordered an (no call) Old Fashion and was surprised to get billed $13. I fortunately only ordered one. Cocktails are great but at almost half the cost of an entree, ordering a bottle of wine with dinner is the wining ticket these days.

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