Duff Said: The price of luxury

24 July, 2018

These days ‘the experience’ is what every splendour-seeker hopes for, and where better to get it than a bar?

LUXURY IS LIKE PORNOGRAPHY – YOU can’t necessarily define it, but you know it when you see it, right?

The liquor business is that of affordable luxury. Everyone can afford the price of a drink, even if, for most of us, treating ourselves means a $16 cocktail instead of the $14,158 shot of cognac one drinker splurged on in London a few weeks ago, receiving a whole 40ml and a Guinness World Record into the bargain. A luxury is something inessential, something expensive, something rare – and these days it’s something philanthropic, too. Back in the day, you see, you worked hard, you earned money (often by doing things that would be unspeakable today), and you used that money to buy things that made you feel less hollow inside, in the dark of the night when the bad thoughts came. Life was easy. But now – thanks internet – we have learned that our luxury items such as smartphones are assembled by four-year-olds in massive battery cages somewhere in China, working 18-hour shifts until their chubby fingers bleed. So now when we buy something, we feel worse, not better. Hence the likes of mezcal – gorgeous stuff (or, if you’re the brilliant @waronterroir Instagram, “mezcal is shit – fight us!”) – but it seems every copita has to be served with a side dish of sanctimonious look-what-we’re-doing-for-these-poor-people-in-the-village-who’s-name-you-can’t-pronounce. Philanthropy by luxury brands often feels like a box-ticking exercise, but then the first steps of progress always do.

Luxury now means experience, and that means giving guests free content. Everyone, with their Twitter and Snapchat and Facebook and IG, is the programme director for a micro-media empire, and unfortunately almost everyone sucks at creating content for said empire, be it a photo or a pithy tweet. Hence the rise of Instagrammable cocktails, which neatly make the consumer seem worldly and cool (even though they still take terrible photos, like me) and give the bar a chance to charge a few quid more. Brands love collaborating with bars to produce wacky serving vessels – for the price of the listing fee they probably would have paid anyway, they get free creative consultancy on POS item design, for which they’d otherwise have had to pay over the odds to a Soho design agency. That copper pineapple you see everywhere nowadays? Originally a creation from Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale in the old days of the Artesian.

The affordable luxury of fine spirits and cocktails has an added value most other luxury goods lack – the products are all poured from the same bottle or mixed to standard recipes, but made individually for each guest, usually right in front of that guest. It’s like watching Giorgio Armani personally cut your suit. It’s experiential and interactive and all for just $16. Bargain.

Brands have traditionally devoted a lot of time and effort to making their tangibles appear luxurious: bottles and labels and communications such as ads. Why not start spending budget on ensuring that intangible personal experience at the bar is luxurious, too? Performance and public-speaking training for bartenders? Training by psychologists in persuasion? Luxury-acclimatisation programmes? Some of the World’s 50 Best Bars already offer these. Now bring me a mezcal cocktail in a copper pineapple, and make it snappy, will you? My smartphone battery is about to die and I want to Instagram my drink…

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