Popping Their Corks Over Corkage Fees

TABLE TALK

April 29, 2009|By ELIZABETH LARGE | ELIZABETH LARGE,elizabeth.large@baltsun.com

Once upon a time if you went to a restaurant that didn't have a liquor license, the owner was happy you decided to eat there anyway. The server would open the bottle of wine you brought, provide glasses and pour it for you. For no charge, of course.

Then, as Baltimoreans got more wine-savvy, some were so into their cellars they would take their own bottles even to restaurants that had wine lists of their own. It made sense for these places to charge a "corkage fee," not as a penalty but to recoup some of the loss of revenue because the customer didn't buy wine from the restaurant's cellar. The fee might be as much as the cost of the cheapest bottle on the wine list.

The corkage fee never affected most people in Baltimore, though, until BYOB restaurants started adding it to the bill. It might be $5 a bottle, or a little more for the table no matter how many bottles there were. This is a relatively new development, and not everyone is happy about it.

You can argue - and people on my restaurant blog, Dining@Large, have at length - that it's not wrong for BYOB restaurants to want to recover the cost of washing the wineglasses and so on. But others see it simply as another way we're being nickeled and dimed to death.

One reader on my blog, Elite Elephant Lover, was quite eloquent on the subject: "I did break my long standing tradition and dined at [a BYOB restaurant] and paid my $5 for the hostess to open my wine and bring me a glass. My wife had water which required a glass, water, ice and the effort to refill the glass and it cost her nothing. If it is the price of a wine glass that runs up the cost I will gladly drink my wine out of a water glass. I prefer restaurants ... that drop the corkscrew off at my table and bring me a glass for free."

Doing something right While we haven't seen many restaurants opening around here lately, Brio Tuscan Grille (305 Sail Place, 410-573-1206) in the Annapolis Town Centre is one of the few that has; and it seems to be making a go of it.

Of course, being a moderately priced Italian restaurant doesn't hurt in this economy. You can scoff at its being part of a chain (there are 80 locations worldwide), but the place must be doing something right. Brio follows the upscale-casual model, with white tablecloths but also very little on the menu over $25 and many dishes under $20. The food is mostly wood-grilled meats, fresh fish and pastas. The wine list is extensive, with bargains to be found.

The dining room, decked out with arched colonnades, Italian mosaics, Venetian plaster walls and marble counter tops, seats 200. There are two private dining rooms for parties and a patio.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

National honors Two Baltimore establishments have received two very different national nods of approval.

Charleston in Harbor East was one of 50 winners of OpenTable.com's Annual Diners' Choice Awards. Chosen from customer feedback, the restaurants were given the highest ratings in the "Best Overall" category.

Meanwhile, Brewer's Art in Mount Vernon has the distinction of being voted the Best Bar in America in an online contest sponsored by Esquire.com. And here I think of it as a restaurant first, a bar second.

deal of the week

Where: : Ryleigh's Oyster Bar, 36 E. Cross St.

The Deal: : $2 steamed crabs (buckets of clams and ears of corn also available)

When:: Tuesday nights

Call:: 410-539-2093

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