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Jul 4, 2007 03:43 PM

Polo Lounge: the non-plus-ultra of corkage idiocy.

From today's L.A.Times article:

"Corkage fee $50 if the bottle you bring is not on their wine list; if it is, you pay the same price it would cost to buy the bottle to drink your own wine."

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  1. Bringing a bottle of wine that is on a restaurant's wine list is very bad form. I bring my own wine for many, if not most (90%+) of my meals, and take great pains never to open a bottle that is on the resto's list.

    $50 is also on the very high end of corkage fees. Not great, but not the worst I've seen.

    BTW, when I say "same bottle", I mean identical... producer, cuvee AND vintage.

    9 Replies
    1. re: woojink

      Why is bringing a bottle on the list bad form? What am I supposed to do...research the restaurant's wine list every time I dine out? The restaurant gets their corkage either way, no?


      1. re: manku

        There are a couple of posts regarding why this is so below. And yes, I do research the wine list of any restaurant that I plan on bringing wine to, or bring mulitple bottles to make sure. I bring lots of wine to lots of places all the time, and still do this.

        1. re: manku

          First of all, many restaurants have their list online, so "researching" isn't that difficult.

          Secondly, when bringing my own wine to a restaurant, I *always* bring wine from my cellar -- not from the store. In other words, I am bringing (for example) a bottle of 1985 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, NOT a bottle of 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape; or a bottle of 1994 Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon, not the 2005 vintage of the same wine. The ODDS that the restaurant has those bottles is considerably less when I bring in a mature, ready-to-drink vintage than if I brougt the vintage that is curently available in the marketplace. (As woojink rightly points out above, the corkage policy appries to the IDENTICAL bottle. Bringing in the 1997 vintage of Joseph Phelps "Insignia" Napa Valley Red Table Wine is NOT the same as bringin in the 2004 vintage of the Joseph Phelps "Insignia" Napa Valley Red Table Wine.)

          Finally, whenever I bring wine to a restaurant, the first thing I do is ask for the wine list -- for several reasons, but one is to make sure what I brought is not on their list; if it is, I don't open it. It's that simple. Indeed, I often (though admittedly not always) bring two different bottles with me -- the second botttle is there a) in case the first bottle is already on the list, and b) in case the first bottle is corked.


          1. re: zin1953

            Not all lists are online. Most actually aren't. Some places don't even have websites.

            Isn't wine from your cellar from the store anyhow? how else did you buy it to put in your cellar? I guess it could have come from the winery itself, in which case, the bottle costs even less, usually.

            Good Idea to scan the list first, though.

            But seriously, if I have a bottle of La Tour in my Cellar, and they have the same bottle, I would still want to bring mine. Why pay more than I paid originally? Also, as the flavors and nuances can differ from bottle to bottle, I would want mine.

            1. re: Diana

              Diana, you're an excellent contrarian.

              1. re: Diana


                1) At least in the U.S., the most expensive places to buy wines is generally at the winery.

                2) The difference between bringing a bottle "from the store" versus "from [one's personal] cellar" is availability. Many restaurants offer only the current vintage of "Château Cache Phloe," and do not have older vintages available -- and yet "Château Cache Phloe" needs 10-15 years (generally, in a good vintage) to reach its maturity. So why drink the 2005 vintage, if I have the 1994 in my cellar?

                3) If you have a bottle of Château Latour in your cellar and it's a mature bottle that you've cellared for some time, AND if the restaurant not only has Château Latour BUT the very same vintage -- then, and only then, is it the very same wine. And -- depending upon your cellar conditions -- the restaurabt *may* have better storage conditions than you do. ;^)

                1. re: zin1953

                  So, Jason, how did you like the 1994 Cache Phloe ?

                  1. re: RicRios

                    Serious answer: the last bottle of Cache Phloe -- yes, it's a REAL label -- I ever had was the 1981 Chardonnay.

                    Cache Phloe was the private label for a retail wine store in Marin County, California -- Mill Valley, IIRC. The artwork featured gold coins in the formation of a grape cluster, with dollar bills acting as the grape leaves. The store is long defunct, I "added" the word "Château" for the nice way it sounded all together, and I've long used that in these sorts of discussions when I don't want to name a specific producer.

                    The other is "Domaine Jean Deaux," a take off on a great producer of Burgundies, the late Jean Gros.


                    1. re: zin1953


                      this humble wino REALLY enjoys your expertise.


        2. If you can afford to eat at the Polo Lounge, you can afford the $50 corkage.

          1. i guess what they are saying is:
            "we really don't want you to bring your own bottle, but we will try to temper that with a touch of flexibity."

            13 Replies
            1. re: westsidegal

              Well said. It's easy to forget that many, if not most restaurants outside of LA and SF (e.g. NYC) do not allow ANY corkage. Bringing wine isn't a right, and it is something that is up to the discretion of the restaurant... I wish it were more prevalent everywhere, but just because it's not, doesn't always mean I won't go someplace.

              I think the real issue is that many places have seen large numbers of customers take unfair advantage of corkage policies and that tends to spoil a good thing for the rest of us.

              BTW... My FAVORITE part of this review is the fact that the restaurant LOST IRENE'S RESERVATION!!!! How amazing is that? Talk about an "oh S**T" moment... IF they knew who she was.... ROTFLMAO!

              1. re: woojink

                "I think the real issue is that many places have seen large numbers of customers take unfair advantage of corkage policies and that tends to spoil a good thing for the rest of us." Please be so kind as to elaborate on this because I cannot imagine how it is possible to "take unfair advantage of corkage policies." Seems to me it's nothing more than a routine service with a standard fee.

                Obviously, The Polo Lounge can charge whatever it wants for its services. If the management was so inclined, it could also charge $150 to valet your car, whether it be a Bentley or a Kia. But who wouldn't be outraged by that?

                My point is that there are norms and tolerated limits. If a restaurant doesn't want to provide this simple service and allow for outside wines to be brought in, that is perfectly its right. But that's not the case here. And as someone who has dined there several times, I feel that absolutely nothing about the overall Polo Lounge experience warrants such an offensively disproportionate surcharge above the norm.

                1. re: Arthur

                  Many restaurants offer fairly low corkage fees in order to allow people to bring a "special bottle", maybe one they've been saving up -- the corkage fee in this case is really just a recovery of the cost to provide the wine service (glasses, service, decanting if necessary).

                  The "taking advantage" part comes in when you realise what a profit centre wine sales are for a restaurant. Think of how much it costs to buy a bottle of, say, Veuve Clicquot at a restaurant against how much it costs at a liquor store -- most of that huge difference is profit. If you bring in wine that the restaurant sells, you are denying them the opportunity to make that profit. Now, many people wouldn't give a damn, but if you do, then that constitutes "taking advantage".

                  I don't know too many restaurants that WOULD do corkage on a bottle they themselves sell, since the restaurants' view is that corkage is wine service for bottles they don't sell.

                  I was amused the night I was at La Luna Negra and a huge party had a couple of cases of wine, but had a huge argument when it came time to settle up, because they thought corkage was per "kind" of wine, not per bottle... ah, it's fun and painful to watch the clueless dine.

                  1. re: Arthur

                    Das Ubergeek and 2chezmike are both correct. "Taking advantage" comes in several forms, as they both mentioned.

                    Historically, before corkage was fairly widespread (primarily in the west), it was fairly unheard of. It was pretty much only available at restaurants where someone had a personal relationship... usually the patron being someone that was heavily "in to" wine as a collector or some such. A wine collector might make a special arrangement to bring in a bottle or two of really great "special" wine that the restaurant didn't carry and that was very special and high end. The restaurant would make an accomodation to the customer in this case as this customer was someone who would order well, perhaps buy a bottle or two from the house and follow the other rules of wine/corkage etiquette.

                    Since it's become widespread, the spirit of this original arrangement has changed drastically... more and more people are bringing in wine that is very low end, not special in any way, just to save a buck... additionally they are bringing in wines that the restaurant carries. This behavior falls into the category of "taking advantage" in the minds of most restauranteurs. I can see why.

                    The flip side of the coin is that wine has gotten considerably more expensive. Mark ups are an issue in some places, but again, that is the restaurants right to charge what they wish... our right as customers is to vote with our wallets. Also when you think about it, wine markups (from a percentage point of view) aren't nearly as bad as what restaurants charge for single drinks for hard liquor, beer or other spirits.

                    $50 is on the high end of corkage, and I think it is high. But there are others that are higher. Also, a wine that I would normally bring to (or drink in) a restaurant would usually cost me $300 to $1000 at a restaurant, so if you look at it from that perspective, $50 isn't so bad.

                    Just got back from SF and brought wine to both big dinners I had there... GREAT bottles... I also bought some VERY nice bottles from each place.

                    1. re: woojink

                      And let's not forget the bit of etiquette that says that if you bring fancy wine, it's considered polite to offer the sommelier a taste of the wine -- this goes back to the idea that corkage is for a "special bottle".

                      It cuts both ways, though -- a restaurant with corkage fees that has too high of a markup will see people bringing their own run-of-the-mill wine. The restaurant can either realise their wine markups are too high and lower the prices, or increase prices for (or eliminate) the corkage program. Both have their risks.

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        I agree with the offering a sip to the sommalier. It's just good manners!

                        Still, nowadays, even thought the policy was for a "special bottle" you can call many places and find they will have no problem with whatever you want.

                        "Special" could be expensive wine. "Special" can be a hard to find bottle. "SPecial" can be a bottle that has been laid down for years. "Special" can mean grammy maime's favorite white zin to have on hir 90th birthday. "Special" can mean "it's my birthday and I like this winne, dammit."

                        "Special" depends upon the individual.

                        It would, of course, be easier to figure out what's on a wine list if EVERY place posted their wine lists online or in public. Otherwise, it would be silly bringing a duplicate (of course, I feel like a chump paying $30 for a bottle I could buy myself for $15- $20.)

                        The trick? Whatever you spend, whatever you bring, make it special to you, and try to find something unique or interesting.

                        A true Sommalier appreciates a bottle with a story behind it, no matter what it is.

                        1. re: Diana

                          My habit is to always offer a taste to the Sommelier or chef or whomever appropriate. I also always bring a very serious wine (usually means high end or very rare... generally NOT inexpensive, almost always at least 3 digits), I also almost always buy a nice bottle of white or Champagne from the house. That coupled with never bringing something already on the list nets a very favorable welcome towards bringing wine in the future.

                          To avoid the potential problem of bringing something that is already on the list, I usually bring several options... also let's us select the best pairing for what we decide on eating. On many occasions, my insulated 'wine bag' is full to its complement of 6 bottles. Rarely have I found a wine list that has more than one (max two - VERY RARE) of the bottles that I bring on it. If I'm travelling or it is not practical to bring several bottles, I speak to the Sommelier ahead of time and talk about what I can/should/will bring.

                          1. re: woojink

                            Forgive me for being a complete rube, but what are the mechanics of offering a taste? After the sommelier opens do you just say, would you care for a taste, or after he pours to everyone else, or before he opens, or what? We don't take our own wine to restaurants, but recently we've gotten some really nice bottles on our trips to the wine country and have been thinking about it. Thanks!

                            1. re: writergirl

                              When I bring a great bottle of wine or champagne to a restaurant, I always ask the captain, waiter, sommalier, or whoever's opening, to bring an extra glass for themself.

                              1. re: 2chez mike

                                What 2chez mike said. I always tell the sommelier to bring a glass for him/herself. I remember a wine dinner where 9 of us each brought a bottle of wine. The sommelier (who we had contacted earlier in the week to set up the dinner) said that it looks like we will need 81 glasses. Everyone chimed in, "Nope, 90." BTW, it was a great dinner and the restaurant waived half the corkage fees. Nothing like steaks and older California Cabs.

                                I can think of several restaurants here in DC where the owner is "into" wine in a big way and they encourage us to bring wine because they know they will get to taste some wines that they don't have.

                                On the other hand, most sommeliers don't want more than a small amount since it they drank a half a glass for every bottle offered, they would be flying.

                              2. re: writergirl

                                They'll ask how many glasses you require. Tell them, and say, "Please bring one for yourself if you'd like, we would welcome your opinion."

                                1. re: writergirl

                                  At some point, I simply tell the sommelier (or the waiter) to bring an extra glass for themselves.

                                2. re: woojink

                                  "If I'm travelling or it is not practical to bring several bottles, I speak to the Sommelier ahead of time and talk about what I can/should/will bring."

                                  You know, I do the same makes sense, really.

                    2. Maybe they just don't want anyone taking advantage of the system by coming in and sharing a seventeen dollar appetizer and bringing in their own bottle of Two Buck Chuck. ;)

                      1. the good news Ric is that the Polo Lounge will never be one of your dining options, so you really do not have to worry about their idiotic policies. Truly meant for the crowd they attract, not anyone else. It could be $100, and that crowd still would not be overlyl concerned. They probably would not even know what wine to bring, nor to even bring a good wine at all.
                        Time to move on!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: carter

                          Amen. Long live to His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah.

                          1. re: RicRios

                            It's great that some of you can afford $100+ retail bottles of wine. There are those of us out here that want wine with dinner but don't want to pay $45 for a $15 bottle of wine that doesn't even taste good or then pay $75 for a $30 bottle that is at the current intersection of my taste vs. budget graphs. So we'll either pay a corkage or skip the wine altogether. A high corkage fee means that the restaurant will not make money from a corkage fee or their own wine.