The Latest Happy Hour Rip Off: $1 for "Artisanal" Ice

I’ve complained in the past about restaurants that charge an additional fee for bourbon served neat. I’ve experienced this odious practice in New York and Washington. A colleague was similarly victimized in ordering a Manhattan up. It made me wonder: What will the restaurant industry next come up with to squeeze a dollar or two more from spirits-loving customers?

Now we have the answer: The Washington City Paper has reported that a soon-to-open restaurant and bar called Second State will charge an additional $1 for what it describes as “artisanal ice” in the nation’s capital. I don’t know about you, but I find the idea of “artisanal ice” risible. Others do not. The City Paper all but endorses the concept:

Granted, these are no freezer-burned, generic tray cubes. This is the fancy, unclouded artisanal stuff from D.C.’s boutique ice company, Favourite Ice, founded by local bartenders Owen Thomson and Joseph Ambrose. Second State bartenders will chip off the eight corners for a more spherical shape that sits in the glass like an iceberg. “It’s worth it,” says bar manager Phil Clark. “When it goes into a cocktail, it’s crystal clear. It’s purified water, so there’s no minerally taste.”

Clark claimed Second State isn’t doing this to make money. He said the service costs the bar money because it has to pay delivery costs associated with boutique ice. Perhaps this is so. But then why doesn’t Second State just buy its own spring water (or whatever you use to make “artisanal ice”) and freeze it on the premises? It could presumably offer its own sweet-tasting cubes to customers at no extra charge.

To me, an additional charge for ice is relatively less offensive than paying two dollars for its absence in a glass of bourbon or a Manhattan. Since I like my drinks without the frozen stuff, I can just say no. But the arrival of artisanal ice isn’t anything to celebrate. It’s part of a greater trend threatening our happy hour bliss: the proliferation of pretentious, pricey cocktails on the menus of nicer establishments in such cities as New York and Washington.

New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells recently lamented what he describes as an “epidemic” of these concoctions:

Sit down in any new dining room, and you are handed a cocktail list. Each drink on this document will have one ingredient you have heard of and seven that were apparently named after distant planets. Sometimes you may think you recognize a cocktail that you like (a good cocktail, in other words), but everything you like about it has been replaced by some other thing that you’re not sure about. “Hello there, that sounds like an old-fashioned!” you think. “But with burdock syrup instead of sugar, Croatian absinthe instead of bourbon, and hemlock bitters instead of Angostura.” If curiosity gets the upper hand and you ask for one, you will wonder why you couldn’t have had an old-fashioned old-fashioned.

Or how about a plain old drink with regular ice, instead of the artisanal kind? Better yet, I’ll have that old-fashioned old-fashioned up, please. Bartender, hold the extra charges.

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