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Bars put a cork in tacky old-style bottle service

If the words "bottle service" conjure up overpriced flagons of second-rate booze in the cheesy confines of roped-off "VIP" lounges, think again. In a growing number of bars worldwide, ordering a full bottle of your favourite spirit is just as likely to come with a trolley of fresh specialty mixes and the attention of a knowledgeable mixologist. Yes, the club-world fixture previously more Jersey Shore than Shore Club is being rehabilitated as a swank customized exchange.

"We want to bring the bar to the table," says Claire Smith, the head of spirit creation and mixology for Belvedere Vodka. On Tuesday night, the upscale liquor brand partnered with newly renovated Toronto resto-lounge Brassaii to showcase the latter's gussied-up version of traditional bottle service. Whenever a Brassaii customer orders a bottle of Belvedere, it might arrive on a cart accompanied by pomegranate juice, fresh kiwi purée and a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne to top off cocktails.

Most significantly, the trolley is wheeled over by an amiable Belvedere-trained mixologist who can speak to the customer about the brand, suggest ideal pairings and mix up cocktails all evening long.

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Smith likens the experience to the old-school French custom of having your steak tartare prepared tableside.

"Toronto is one of the top three cities for Belvedere consumption worldwide," she adds. "We ... see a trend toward luxury appreciation [returning]here so we're capitalizing on it."

Brassai co-owner Jordan Fogle says that similar bar services in Las Vegas inspired his establishment's update, but most lounges offer their own twists on the practice.

At the exclusive London club Movida, customers who order a minimum of 10 bottles of premium alcohol, such as Dom Perignon, are feted with a more outré display called The Show, which sees the DJ crank up specific theme music as trays of champagne are paraded out to the tables.

In British Columbia, where provincial laws prohibit clients from buying bottles, table service at clubs like Vancouver's Pop Opera is overseen by a hostess who shuttles back and forth from the bar as drinks need freshening. Pop Opera also throws in a $400 LED-light-accented ice bucket imported from Italy.

For Fogle, though, tableside service is less about bells, whistles and pretension than it is about enjoying a well-mixed cocktail and maybe even some good conversation in the company of an experienced server.

The former proprietor of a midtown Toronto boîte, Fogle walked away from that establishment when it turned into "the Ed Hardy show and lost its cachet," he says, referring to the flamboyant clothing brand.

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Funnily enough, it was also one of the first clubs in Canada to offer the old-style, now passé brand of bottle service to its clients.

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