In new downtown lounges, drinking by the bottle is the norm

The stratification of D.C.’s watering holes continues apace. From wine bars pouring $17 glasses of vino to hotel lounges shaking $14 cocktails, the sky is now the limit to what you can spend downing a round of restoratives with your friends.

Now, enter the �ber-exclusive, all-liquor lounge. Here, customers reserve couches and tables within the nightclub in exchange for spending a minimum amount — usually $300 and up — on full bottles of liquor or champagne. The server arrives with the bottle, ice, glassware and garnishes and leaves the pouring to the patrons.

Fredd leiberman
The swank, reservation-only, bottle-only lounge at IndeBleu.

“It’s not about buying the liquor, it’s about buying the real estate,” said Jamie Hess, who manages Spank, the VIP lounge within MCCXXIII (1223 Connecticut Ave. N.W.). “You’re buying a little part of the club.”

Compared to cities such as New York and Paris — where he’s also worked in clubs — he said the concept was “slow to catch on here.”

But it’s apparently reaching the tipping point. Newcomers Play (1219 Connecticut Ave. N.W.) and Kstreet (1301 K St. N.W.) are bottle-service only, and Hess said that after the first of the year he’ll be involved in launching a new supper-club concept at swank new Oya Restaurant and Lounge in Penn Quarter, with bottle service after dinner.

“We decided not to do bottle service in the lounge/bar when Oya first opened,” owner Errol Lawrence said. “Now, with our executive-chef duo executing a French-Asian menu that exemplifies the unique space that is Oya, we are looking ahead to the first anniversary of this restaurant and launching a form of bottle service in the lounge/bar area.”

Patrick Osuna, who manages the bottle-only lounge at IndeBleu (707 G St. N.W.), said bottle service can be a tough sell in Washington. “I don’t think this is a big table crowd” in D.C., he said. “You’re labeled as being pretentious right away.”

Still, he added, “There’s a certain crowd that does it every weekend.” He said about 50 people each weekend consistently reserve the tables, which go for $300-$500 minimum, depending on the table’s size.

IndeBleu even experimented with removing its velvet rope and opened the lounge to all comers earlier this year, but the rope went back up after only two weeks.

Steve Swetlow, formerly of MCCXXIII and Ozio, two months ago opened Steve’s Bar Room (1337 Connecticut Ave. N.W.), which splits the difference between bottle service and traditional bar service. “I don’t like to be pressured,” Swetlow said, so “it’s not required, but we offer it.”

He said D.C.’s nightlife scene is changing, with smaller venues and better customer service. Still, bottle service is relatively new for Washington, and most customers “still don’t understand it.”

One bar-going twenty-something, who asked not to be identified, said, “It’s great if you’re a Greek shipping heir. It’s kind of a Euro thing, if you ask me.”

“It’s a little rich for my blood,” another said.

But it could be peer pressure that takes the trend to the next level.

The typical Washingtonian “gets mad” when they can’t get in to a reservation-only lounge, Osuna said. “A lot of people in this town, they want what they can’t have,” he said.

So they reserve a table for the next week.