Laying down an Andrew Jackson for a cocktail was once inconceivable. But in an era of hand-crafted this and infused small-batch that, it was only a matter of time before your drink cost as much as your entree. Cocktail creep hysteria reached an all-time high when The Rye Bar, the swanky lounge at the Capella hotel in Georgetown, began offering a $22 Manhattan. Granted, it was a pretty fancy Manhattan, made with Dad’s Hat rye, a small-batch whiskey from Bristol, Pa., Dolin sweet vermouth, and French aperitif Byrrh quinquina—all aged together for six weeks in American white oak barrels. “Our intention was to make the best possible Manhattan, so we weren’t as concerned with the price of the ingredients going in,” bar manager Will Rentschler said in May.
Rentschler might not have been concerned, but everyone else was. Local media (including me) obsessed over the price tag, which led to a broader discussion about the rising costs of drinking. Even ignoring the outliers, it’s now fairly common for cocktail bars to sell their concoctions for $14 to $16. The rise of craft spirits, the elevation of bartenders to “mixologists,” and the many hand-crafted cocktail flourishes have contributed to libation escalation. But the upshot is this: People are willing to pay big bucks for a fancy buzz. The proof? The Rye Bar sold its whole first batch of $22 Manhattans—150 cocktails—in eight days.