Going To Town About Wine

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - July 27, 2005
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There are a number of restaurants in town that charge a corkage fee. It’s the policy at Town, though, that’s had me confused.

A corkage fee is a charge levied by a restaurant when a customer wishes to bring in his or her own wine. There are many reasons a restaurant will apply this charge. The most obvious is to stop patrons trying to undermine their wine list by bringing in the same bottles the restaurant offers — at about half the price.

But there are many other things that also contribute to a corkage fee. Costs associated with offering a decent wine list include the hard cost of running a wine program, training staff, buying and rotating wines, maintaining a wine cellar, cost of glasses and perhaps even paying a sommelier.

That’s why I’ve been having a really hard time with Town.

They charge patrons $3.50 a glass to bring in their own wines — but they don’t have a wine list. They don’t have a liquor license and, judging by the number of staff members I’ve spoken to, they don’t have a clue what a corkage fee is.

On my first trip there I asked the waitress why the “glass charge.” “Oh, it’s just like a corkage fee,” she pleasantly replied.

No, it’s not. So I called back a few days later and talked with one of the managers, explaining to him that the practice is quite uncommon. “Not really,” he insisted, “and our customers really like it.” Well, they might if they’re comparing it to the corkage fee at a restaurant with an award-winning wine list like Longhi’s or Padovani’s or La Mer. But for somewhere with no wine at all?

So I called around town about Town, and while all the major wine guys agreed with me about the food — it really is quite good — they all, without exception, expressed surprise at the “glass charge.” “It’s highly unusual,” said one of the city’s most educated wine buffs. “Sometimes restaurants that have a great wine list won’t even charge a fee.”

So, I called Town again and talked to another manager about the glass charge, and was told again, “well, it’s really just like a corkage fee.” This time, admittedly a little testy, I explained a corkage fee to him.

“I think you don’t understand what a corkage fee is,” he replied.

So now I’m mad. Eventually I track down Town’s busy coowner/ chef, Ed Kenney — first to compliment him on his food, and then to ask about the “corkage fee.”

“Oh, its not really a corkage fee,” he said. “It’s to cover the cost of the heavy insurance premium we have to pay to allow our customers to bring in wine. Our food is really wine friendly, and we want people to be able to enjoy wine while we’re waiting for our liquor license. If I didn’t pay the insurance fee then we wouldn’t be able to let anyone bring in wine from outside.”

Now that’s an answer I can live with.

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