Questionable Practices

Why Pay Normal Price for Bourbon When You Can Pay Extra to Have It Neat?

Order it with ice, then take it out.
Order it with ice, then take it out. Photo: New York Magazine

Businessweek writer Devin Leonard, who loves bourbon, ordered a Woodford Reserve neat at BLT Burger in the Village the other night and nearly lost his ticker tape when he found out his $13 tab included a $2 surcharge for ordering a drink without ice. And so it would seem that the sour-mashed, ugly, up-charging monster that plagues bar tabs every few years or so is now back with a vengeance.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about this practice, and previous dispatches from the city’s cocktail bars over the last few years extend also to reports of $2.50 ice surcharges. Leonard, however, writes he was treated like an alien when he asked the manager about the $2 add-on. “Oh, no, sir,” he was told. “Everybody does it.”

But in researching the practice, Leonard found almost no one, including an instructor at a local bartending school, had ever heard of the practice of charging extra for drinks served neat. “In other words,” he writes, “BLT Burger is breaking new ground, which is just what I’d suspected.”

The practice is widespread, however. It’s likely that most customers don’t scrutinize the bill as much as they should after they’ve had a few drinks.

Because ice cubes displace a relatively small amount of liquor to make a glass appear fuller, it makes nominal sense that a drink with no ice calls for a slightly larger pour, which should cost more money.

On the other hand, it’s also been argued that serving a relatively small pour of whiskey or bourbon served on ice also requires a slightly larger amount of liquor, because the standard pour of one or two ounces otherwise sits at the bottom of the glass and looks stupid.

Both things could conceivably be true, given a standard-size rocks glass and a “threshold” pour that is neither large enough to fill up a glass poured neat, nor suitable to look attractive enough as a puddle at the bottom of a glass with some big ice cubes.

But here’s the conundrum: If that’s the case — a regular pour of bourbon will never look good until more liquor is added to the ice-filled and the ice-free glass — shouldn’t there be no up-charging at all, ever?

Beware the Next Nefarious Up-Charge: Whiskey, Neat
Earlier: City’s Most Expensive Ice?

Why Pay Normal Price for Bourbon When You Can Pay Extra to Have It Neat?