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Jul 13, 2013 05:32 AM

Bern's Steakhouse (Tampa): Where do they list their largest collection of wine in the world?

I was rereading Jeffrey Steingarten's excellent "It Must've Been Something I Ate" (Knopf, New York, 2002) and ran across this passage: "I had flown to Tampa for the beef. Incidentally, the wine list is the largest in the world, offering more than 7,000 choices backed up by a half-million bottles. There are 385 dessert wines alone and, to my delight, 160 wines by the glass. 'Wine Spectator' loves Bern's."

So, my question is, where is this list of 7,000 choices? The wine list that they have on the table is modest in size and contains far fewer than 7,000 choices.

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  1. Are you sure you were looking at the full list? I know that in the lounge (and I believe also in the dining room sometimes) they give you a list that contains all of their by-the-glass offerings and many bottles, and actually looks like a list you find in a normal restaurant. That is not the full list.

    While I've never counted them, the actual list (book/catalog) certainly contains thousands of selections. When added to the dessert wine book/catalog (a separate beast), I wouldn't be surprised if it topped seven thousand.

    I don't know if this is part of what you're asking, but I have been told that it is not posted online because it would be a gargantuan effort to keep up with all the inventory changes, since it is a very dynamic list, with all sorts of new wines ordered and discontinued continuously.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Noice


      Thanks for commenting. No, I don't think I was looking at the full list. That's my point. Although Bern's used to have a pretty massive book at each table with a list of wines, I seriously doubt that it reached 7,000 wines, but it was pretty big. Then Bern's eliminated this and replaced it with a much thinner, less wide version (which fits on the table better but is much less impressive) which lists wines by the glass for a page or two and then proceeds on to bottles of wine. I don't think that either of these lists approached the 7,000 wines mentioned by Steingarten.

      So my question is this: why would you proudly claim 7,000 wines and then hide your light under a bushel? I don't think Bern's is lying, but I think that if they have 7,000 different wines, they should have a list that contains 7,000 wines readily available to the general public.

      Don't get me wrong. Bern's is one of my favorite restaurants ever. They really care about what they do and they go to impressive lengths to achieve their top notch food. It's just that the wine thing puzzles me.

      1. re: gfr1111

        Perhaps you should volunteer to catalog the entire collection and maintain the list AND make sure it's reprinted daily to reflect all of the changes.

        I think you're asking for the impossible...does it really affect the quality of the wine or of the restaurant if the list is "only" 5500 selections?

        Local lore (from folks in the wine business who've worked there) has the count at considerably higher than that, because they have so much wine they don't actually know what they have.

        1. re: sunshine842


          Well, if they listed 5,500 selections I would be suitably impressed, but they do not do that either. As far as cataloging the entire collection, apparently they have done so. Otherwise, how can they boast about how many wines they've got? As for maintaining the list, in the old days it might have been hard to do, but now they have that wonderful new invention--the computer (the bain of my existence--I am not a computer person). Computers are only good for two things: keeping massive amounts of information organized and retrieving particular bits of information. At least, keeping track of what wines they have should be child's play with a computer.

          1. re: gfr1111

            have you actually counted the number of listings in the book?

            I think you're obsessing way too much about the actual number, and losing focus on the fact that it's still the largest wine cellar east of the MIssissippi's still a restaurant well-deserving of its high praise and popularity.

            The number of bottles doesn't really have anything to do with the calibre of the wine list, nor of the food or service (or the fact that two people can still have dinner there without taking out a bank loan)

            I've never seen Bern's as a company publish the number of's entirely possible that Steingarten pulled the number out of his <orifice of choice> without any nod at all from Bern's.

        2. re: gfr1111

          As l recall, they have a great many bottles not listed as they feel they are not ready to drink as many superior lists do. l do know they have many vintages of the top Bordeaux and Burgundy not yet listed.
          l never counted the number of listings but consider it the finest list l have ever seen and go there 5-6 times a year with friends who fly in for the experience.

      2. Did you take the tour of the wine cellar?

        1 Reply
        1. re: Little T.

          Little T.,
          Yes, I did and it's very impressive. Of course, you can't see too much, but what I did see was impressive.

        2. Am I the only person unimpressed by a restaurant boasting 7,000 different bottles of wine ?
          To me it's rather like having a food menu that has dozens and dozens of items on it.
          I much prefer restaurants with a small and changeable food menu that reflects whatever is in season at the time and cooked well not hauled out of a freezer and zapped in a microwave.
          The same with wine - I prefer a reasonable selection that has been hand-picked by someone with a bit of knowledge.
          I doubt the Bern's sommelier has tasted all 7,000 varieties of wine and I wonder how many of the half-million bottles are long past their shelf life.

          5 Replies
          1. re: CuthbertRizla

            Some certainly are past their prime and you are forewarned or at worst replaced. The advantage to the wine lover is they have hundreds of wines only you think you know about from very old vintages at very good prices. l know my bin numbers by heart and really go there to drink the wine, the steaks, great as they are, are a bonus.
            Bern Laxer did hand pick all the originals and picked them well. l used the place as a liquor store in the 80's when they sold them as a store and they had wines no one else in the country had.
            They currently have l believe 7 sommeliers and all the waitstaff, being there for decades are very well trained in wine and wine service.

            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

              I couldn't agree more. It's only been in the last few years that I figured out that Bern's is a wine experience much more so than a steak experience. We are privileged to have something like this in Tampa.

            2. re: CuthbertRizla

              Not even remotely the same type of parallel.

              Not often publicized outside the local area, but this is a cellar of enough magnitude that Chateau Lafitte sends one of their masters over every few years to recork the older vintages.

              This morning's Tampa Tribune mentions them, in Jeff Houck's well-written "The Stew" column --

              the Daily Meal website lists it (just a few weeks ago) as the No. 2 steak house in the country, and mentions 20 kinds of caviar, two foie gras variations, a couple of steaks tartare (including one with truffles), and does actually repeat the 7000 wine number.

              " ' Bern's is about wonderful excess," editorial director Coleman Andrews wrote. 'Come hungry.' "

              Wine Enthusiast has named it as one of the top 100 wine restaurants in the US just a few days later.

              These are not the kind of accolades that come to a restaurant featuring a New Jersey Greek diner foldout menu with stale wines that no one comprehends.

              Bern's also has its own cattle ranch (grass-fed, mind), its own organic garden, and its own fishing fleet. You'll get seasonal food that's been thoughtfully produced and carefully prepared.

              C'mon down and give it a try -- then maybe you'll understand what it's about.

              1. re: sunshine842

                eta: Bern's was, by the way, doing all these farm-to-table things decades before the term ever appeared in any hipster magazine.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  Ah, yes, Bern's famous farm-to-table organic ethos.


                  I'm not saying Bern's isn't a good restaurant - just that 7,000 different wines and half a million bottles doesn't impress me as much as say a small wine list featuring independent vineyards producing really interesting wines.