March 23, 2018
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The pay-for-ice movement

By Emmet Meara, Special to the BDN

All right, I don’t get out much. I try to avoid drinking in bars whenever possible because of the prohibitive expense. Two glasses of Kendall Jackson chardonnay at Leonard Lookner’s Waterfront Restaurant in Camden will buy you an entire bottle at French and Brawn.

But there are special occasions.

Such as meeting the “Tarheels” from North Carolina in South Carolina, for instance. How often is that going to happen?

The venue was the posh rooftop bar at The Library Restaurant on Vendue Street in Charleston. It was just noontime, so we were all relatively innocent. Mr. and Mrs. Tarheel took a table outside to we could see the spectacular view of Charleston.

Mr. Tarheel was born with the indelible concept that he is funny. He looked over the scene as the waitress arrived and said, “I love Savannah!” Naturally, she corrected him. “Charleston,” she said, with the charm so typical of the southern woman.

We caught up regarding the disastrous winter, which Mr. Tarheel had avoided by fleeing from a dirt road in Jefferson to Asheville, N.C., of all places. Naturally, we laughed. Naturally we were loud. We always are.

My theory is that the waitress assumed we were either intoxicated, demented or both. I now call it the Savannah Syndrome.

The bill came. I had two drinks and was charged for three. Tarheel had one drink and was charged for two. I mean the waitress was charming, but not that charming. And we were dumb, but not that dumb.

We called her over and politely asked for a correction and-or an explanation.

“Ice,” she explained.

When her posh rooftop bar pours a drink for a patron who asks for ice in their drink, there is an extra charge. My theory was always that you got more alcohol if you ordered the drink “neat,” or without ice in the glass.

No, she said, in that delightful drawl. When the bartender fills a glass with ice in it, there is much more liquid in the glass she claimed, hence the added charge, in the guise of an extra drink on your tab. When we guffawed (that’s what they do in the South), she started drawing diagrams on the bill, with little ice cubes in little glasses.

I would guess that I have been paying bar tabs for 50 years or so and this was the first one that required a diagram. We laughed, but we paid under polite objections.

When we complained around Charleston, we were told that it was a growing phenomenon, paying extra for ice and less liquid. (I figured with that new pay-for-ice provision, a bag of O’Hara’s ice would cost about $600.)

We were not alone.

Only last month, the trendy Darby Restaurant in New York City caused a small uprising when they charged customers up to $4 to add ice to their big-city libations. One patron, my new pal, called it “an outrageous ripoff,” according to a report in the food blog

I agree.

The scandal emerged after a customer noticed a $2 premium added to the already hefty price tag of $13 for a Grey Goose vodka. You must be kidding, $15 for a drink? Even Donald Trump, who inherited $5 million on the day he was born, would call foul.

I have a theory that once the oil companies got away with gouging the country after Hurricane Katrina all bets are off. People think they can get away with anything. And they can.

It was simply business as usual, said Darby manager Patrick Robertson. Robertson, who probably knows Trump, told the New York Daily News “drinks with extra ice get a bigger pour.”

He actually said, “We charge more because we use more alcohol for a drink served with ice. We’re not charging for the ice. Drinks with ice get a bigger pour … We charge more because we use more alcohol for a drink served with ice. We are not charging extra for the ice. Clearly, this person [on] doesn’t go out much and doesn’t know how things work.”

Robertson admitted the price goes up even more steeply for more expensive drinks such as Johnny Walker Gold whisky. He added: “For that we add a $4 upcharge. Again, it’s more alcohol. Many bars do this. Perhaps their computer systems don’t register it on the bar tab.”

People who are not dumb enough (or rich enough) to drink at Darby laugh at the pay-for-ice movement.

Audrey Saunders, who works at the city’s competing Pegu Club, was simply appalled at the idea of charging for ice. She told the Daily News: “Shame on any other bar that actually subscribes to such a practice. Not only would we never do such a thing, but no reputable bar ever would either.”

Well, I will be the first to admit that I don’t get out much and certainly will never visit The Library at Vendue in Charleston, or Savannah, wherever it was.

And I pray Leonard Lookner doesn’t hear about this new pay-for-ice movement.

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at

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