It's almost a steal to go out to eat in NYC these days, especially when it comes to deals on wine. Typically, a bottle is marked up to three times its wholesale value, which often makes it the most expensive part of your dinner check. Wine by the glass is priced even more aggressively—the cost of one glass is normally the price the restaurant paid for the entire bottle. Now, in an effort to lure back budget-conscious diners, savvy restaurateurs are changing the rules. You just have to know where—and when—to go.
The $25 corkage fee at Apiary in the East Village is abolished on Monday nights. "It gives people an opportunity to break into their cellar and try their own wines without getting gouged on expensive corkage," says Ron Didner, the general manager. "Once we had three men bring in 12 to 15 bottles to sample. Some of them were phenomenal—priceless. And we've had people run out to the liquor store and bring back Yellow Tail Shiraz." The policy is also—according to Didner—one way for customers to experience the menu of Apiary’s new, much-lauded chef, Scott Bryan.
At Klee Brasserie in Chelsea, it's free BYO on Sundays and Mondays (corkage is otherwise $25), as long as each person orders two courses. "It's a way to enjoy good food and service and have the wine you want to drink without breaking the bank," says Aet Soe, Klee's wine director. "We figured it's a nice perk for customers." And it seems to be working. "We've been busy lately," she says, adding that people often end up ordering a second bottle from Klee's own list of European producers, which focuses heavily on hip Austrian wines.
Down in TriBeCa, the Harrison doesn't want to inconvenience customers by having them lug their own bottles, so it's offering certain wines at cost on Mondays. Beverage director Adam Petronzio selects three bottles from the main list for $15 each, three for $20 each and three for $25 each—wines that normally sell for $45 to $75. "One of my favorites for $25 is the Sineann Pinot Noir from Oregon," he says, "which works well with the pork chop and the horseradish-crusted salmon." That bottle is priced at $45 on the wine list. Another favorite of his—especially paired with hanger steak—is Bear & Lion Zinfandel from Howell Mountain in Napa Valley. It's $54 on the list, but $20 on Mondays.
At Lower East Side destination restaurant Allen & Delancey, Sunday is Wine Jamboree night, featuring a four-course tasting menu for $38 and wine from a selected region for half-price. Sommelier Alex Miranda matches luscious Bandol wines to chef Kyle Bailey's French onion salad, cassoulet, cheese course and tarte tatin with pink peppercorn ice cream. Wines typically sold at $14 a glass are now $7, and bottles that are $56 to $90 on the list are going for half. "I’ve noticed an increase in business as a result," says Miranda.
Another insider tip for saving money on wine? Order a carafe instead of a bottle. Imbibing at the revered Balthazar doesn't have to be an expensive outing when you opt for an $18 carafe of Côtes-du-Rhône La Grange de Piaugier or Cuvée George Pinot Blanc from Jean Ginglinger. A visit to wine-searcher.com shows that the Pinot Blanc, for instance, retails for $12.99 a bottle—which means $18 isn't a bad markup. Keith McNally's sister restaurants (Pastis, Schiller's Liquor Bar, Morandi and the brand-new Minetta Tavern) also offer pocket-friendly carafes.
Epistrophy, an intimate Italian wine bar in NoLIta, has a list full of Italian wines by the glass and bottle, but its $16 carafes of house wine (the red is currently Montepulciano, the white a Pinot Grigio) are perfectly drinkable. Matched with an $11 antipasti board overflowing with mortadella, salami, prosciutto, cheese, grapes, melon and anchovy toasts means dinner for two for under $30. Deals like this make the recession much easier to bear.
If you'd like to check out wine prices for yourself, visit wine-searcher.com (a guide to retail wine prices—so you can judge the markup for yourself) and corksavvy.com (which features wine lists from cities all over the world, including New York City). And a note for deal searchers: in NYC, it's officially illegal for restaurants without a liquor license to allow people to bring in their own alcohol (unless the restaurant has fewer than 20 seats). Only licensed restaurants can permit BYO.