Swirls: Restaurant wine follow-up – some perspective from a venerable New York establishment that does the right thing

Once a week or so, I make it a point to sneak out of my office for a quick lunch, which inevitably leads me on a 10-minute walk to the famed Oyster Bar & Restaurant at Grand Central Station. There, I almost always order one of New York’s great cheap meals – an overflowing bowl of New England clam chowder, which goes for $6.25 (a tomato-based Manhattan chowder is $5.75). The price includes a homemade roll and all the crackers you can eat. I Wine list never order wine at lunch, but yesterday I left with one of the Oyster Bar’s menus, which, on the reverse side of the large single page, features the  extensive wine list.

In light of my post last week that was critical of a downtown Manhattan restaurant that seemed to be marking up its wines exorbitantly even by New York standards and offering exactly two wines under $40, I wanted to refresh my memory about the Oyster Bar’s wines and their prices. A quick glance surprised me: not only does this New York institution, which is frequented by as many tourists as business people, offer reasonably priced wines, but it does so with a vengeance. On my way home last night on the subway, I actually counted the number of wines and then added up those priced under $40. Out of 183 full-sized bottles, both red and white, fully 46 of them were priced between $30 and $38. I’ll repeat it: one quarter of the wines were $38 or less.

Of the 46, 11 of these wines were sauvignon blancs --quintessential fish and shellfish wines with examples from Chile, Washington, the Loire Valley and Gascony in France, Spain’s Rueda, South Africa, Austria, Long Island and Sonoma.  Other under-$40 selections included a couple of sparkling wines, a few chardonnays and examples of  riesling, viognier, chenin blanc, pinot grigio, gewürztraminer, gruner veltliner, soave, orvieto, grillo and assorted other whites. Talk about a variety of reasonably priced wines! Though more limited, there were also a number of reds priced at between $32 and $38.

The point here is that many if not most diners would like to order wine, but at a price they they consider fair. Not only does the Oyster Bar offer dozens of reasonably priced wines, but the higher the price the less the markup seems to be, which conforms to a  favorable practice by some restaurants that a number or readers of last week’s story pointed to. The Oyster  Bar is a big restaurant and, with its volume, is clearly in a position to offer more relatively inexpensive wines. Smaller  restaurants should be offering reasonably priced wines in droves, especially in this persistently tough economy. I have no doubt that more patrons would order more wine, which would be good for everyone.


  1. Pricing differs from each restaurant. It depends on the level of service as well.

  2. I don't mind eating in expensive restaurants and ordering expensive wine if it's worth every penny. But I agree with you that some restaurants should have a selection of reasonably priced wines. That would attract more customers, I think.
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