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Who orders a $125 martini?
As of last Friday afternoon, at least seven individuals and groups have been willing to throw down that much for one of the signature drinks at two-week-old Claudia’s Steakhouse. One guy has ordered two of them. And a couple celebrating an anniversary sipped the martini out of straws (gasp!) for a photo op.
The drink contains two ounces of Nolet’s Reserve Dry Gin—$700 a bottle—semi-dry Noilly Prat Ambre Vermouth, and saffron bitters. The gin is the world’s most expensive because its mix of botanicals includes saffron, one of the world’s priciest spices. Only 500 bottles are produced globally each year.
“We did have a few guests that ordered it that had never had gin in their lives,” says Beverage Director David Bowen. “They just had to see what a $125 drink tastes like.”
But why even offer a cocktail that costs so much? Bowen says that during Claudia’s soft-opening, some lawyers from a big firm came in and said the menu was “too cheap.” One of the gentlemen was a big gin drinker, so Bowen specially ordered the Nolet’s gin for him as a joke. “He was like, ‘Oh my God, this is great. You’ve got to put it on the menu,'” Bowen recalls. So he did. Bowen was going to name the drink after the guy, but instead called it “the Claudia’s.”
Bowen claims the restaurant makes less than a $5 profit on the $125 cocktail, because the gin is so expensive. “In the restaurant business, the higher the spirit costs, you can’t up the price as much,” he says. “Someone might buy a Miller Lite for $2, and they’ll sell for $6 and make $4. But if we’re paying $700 for this, we can’t mark it up too high, because then no one will ever buy it.”
Bowen says he isn’t sure he would have sold any of the gin if he hadn’t put it on the cocktail menu. “It was a big risk, and it actually worked out for us,” Bowen says. “If you feel the bottle, it’s damn near half empty.”
Claudia’s also has bottles of Richard Hennessy cognac ($4,800) and Louis XII cognac ($2,800), but Bowen doesn’t plan to add those to a cocktail anytime soon. He says it’s likely he’ll never sell pours from those bottles, but he stocks them just in case that one customer walks in and wants to spend the money on it. “You want to be able to cater to their every need, because they’re not only just going to buy that,” Bowens says. “They’re probably going to have a $1,000 dinner with it.”
The second most expensive cocktail on the menu is $19, but Bowen says he’s revamping the list to be more in the $9 to $15 range. The restaurant got some heat from Washingtonian critic Todd Kliman for its mark-ups, particularly on the wine list. Bowen, who was promoted to beverage director after the opening menu was written, says he plans to make some adjustments.
The $125 martini, though, will remain.
Photo by Jessica Sidman