Last fall, Moet & Chandon used some marketing savvy and debuted the Moet M Lounge. The mobile Champagne bar, referred to as a “pop-up store” in marketing circles was created to help publicize its brand.
The Moet M Lounge, designed by Michael Czysz, appeared virtually overnight in four cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Miami. The M Lounge stayed in each city for a week of invitation-only parties.
Champagne lounges offer something to celebrate
BY CHERYL URSIN
Champagne is festive, fun, celebratory, romantic. It’s especially appealing to women, and is perhaps the most famous type of wine, with a colorful history and an international reputation for quality. It’s hard to imagine a better concept for a bar or lounge than specializing in the bubbly. And starting in the 1980’s, a handful of bar operators have done just that.
“Wine bars were big in the early 80’s,” explains Tom Verhey, owner of Pops, a Chicago champagne bar that opened in 1982. “I thought, ‘Why not champagne?'” Twenty-two years later, Pops, the oldest champagne bar in the U.S., is still going strong.
Swanky Bubbles, a champagne bar in Philadelphia, opened five years ago. “And we just keep getting busier and busier,” says Vince Frankowski, partner and director of marketing. On weekends, a two- to four-hour wait for a table is not unusual. “It’s New Year’s Eve every day for us,” Frankowski says.
Champagne is riding high on a cultural wave: increased interest in fine wines and high-end products have helped propel its popularity. Many on-premise establishments are paying more attention to champagne and other sparkling wines than they used to, and many operators have taken it upon themselves to educate their customers about sparklers.
The first step for bubbly operators is to convince people that they don’t have to wait for a special occasion. “Nothing creates the feeling of good times more than champagne,” notes Pops’s Verhey, “but, as we say here, there is always something to celebrate, always a reason to crack a bottle.”
The champagne-bar concept itself goes a long way toward doing this. By-the-glass programs, enormously popular at most champagne bars, also help. Swanky Bubbles offers about a dozen by the glass, with per-glass prices ranging from $6 to $13. “By-the-glass offerings are a huge plus for us,” says Frankowski. “People can try something they would otherwise be intimidated by or unable to afford.”
The Bubble Lounges in NYC and San Francisco see sparkling sales split fifty-fifty between bottle and glass. “Bottles are popular with large parties,” notes co-owner Eric Benn, “while on the weekends, when we are more crowded and people are standing, we do more by-the-glass.”
The popularity of tasting flights is, perhaps, an indication of customers’ increased interest in trying different bubbly brands.
At Napoleon’s, a bar/lounge at Paris Las Vegas, a casino resort owned by Caesars Entertainment, Inc., the samplers are known as “Flights of Fancy.” “They are the focus of the room,” says director of food and beverage Kevin Sterling. “We sell a tremendous amount of them, 50 to 60 a night.”
The flights are served in stemless glasses three champagnes and a Perrier water held by a silver stand. Other bars and lounges use eye-catching miniature wine glasses for their flights.
The chance to try a number of brands or styles side-by-side or a vertical tasting of a vintage champagne appeals to people who are looking to learn more. “The champagne connoisseur jumps at these,” says Paris’s Sterling. At Pops, customers can pick any three champagnes and create their own flights.
Many operators try to expose their customers to new sparkling products. While they find many people are interested, they’ve also discovered that customers are often devoted to familiar names. “Most likely, people are going to order what they’ve had before or know or have heard of,” says Ted Davidson, sommelier at Aujourd’hui, the Triple A, Five-Diamond restaurant at the Four Seasons in Boston. “With champagne, name recognition comes first. Fortunately, most of the best-known ones make good champagne. It’s no accident they are famous.”
For example, Four Season’s Davidson has beefed up his champagne-by-the-glass program. “There are a hundred restaurants near us that do Veuve Clicquot by the glass,” he explains. “We do a half-dozen champagnes by the glass, including a rose, a vintage champagne [currently Laurent Perrier at $28 per glass], plus a sparkling wine of high quality and as far as I’m concerned, we always will.”
From the day after Thanksgiving until New Year’s, Four Seasons Boston also employed a champagne cart, offering 20 champagnes and sparkling wines by the glass during the holiday season. “We are offering the cr