Column: Bottle Services'

by Bill DiDonna


When I was 16 my best friend’s mother went away for the summer leaving him in charge of the house and cats. We all moved in and on the first day, pooled our money and sent another friend’s 14-year-old brother to the liquor store to buy a handle of Bombay. New York was different in the ‘70s. He soon marched proudly back up the front steps only to stumble and drop the bottle a mere foot from the front door, shattering dreams and leaving us nothing to cut the Acid with.


Through an arcane series of events, I was gifted a two night stay in one of the finest suites in one of the poshest hotels in the world. All I had to do was to leave a credit card imprint for ‘any additional expenses.’ I was not planning on watching porn or dining alone ‘en suite.’ I was in Singapore and I was going to roll. I did have to examine the minibar; minibars have been an obsession of mine since a high school buddy showed me how to razor blade open the bottles and replace the contents with water or tea on a French Club field trip to MontrÈal. Larger than a kiosk but smaller than an actual shop, the minibar held wonders I could only have previously imagined. Caviar, Foie Gras, Deviled Quail’s Eggs, 1/8th bottles of ‘69 Champagne Salon, and who puts 250-year-old Napoleon Brandy in nips? These mad geniuses do.

I examine everything in detail to impress my friends, they are struggling English teachers working in Singapore who I am visiting and treating to their first decent meal in months. I head out of the hotel thinking of Claire, the fairest of the struggling teachers and how good she would look in my balcony soaking tub later on.

After a decadent dinner of Szechuan fare, the deferential waiter approaches: ‘Excuse me sir, do you have another card, there seems to be a problem with this one?’

‘That is not possible, would you run it again please.’

‘I’m afraid we’ve already run it three times sir, I am sorry.’

I had a little cash, but the struggling teachers had to foot the bill. I promised I would make good on the tab then went home, alone.

When I opened my door there was a slip of paper that had been slid under it. A bill for $4,800 in minibar charges, and a notice that my credit card was over its limit. I bounded to the front desk, gesticulating madly until I found an English speaking manager.

‘Everything in the minibar is wired to a central control. If you pick it up it is considered purchased.’

‘But I picked everything up.’

‘Yes, you must have been extremely hungry.’

I finally got him to come to the suite, examine the minibar and agree that a terrible mistake had been made. He would refund my money immediately, it should take no more than 24-48 hours to process. I spent the remainder of my time in Singapore, penniless and starving inside the Clovis Suite. As a precaution, the manager had the minibar removed.


Things had been going poorly between Rachel and I and it was decided that a trip to France was just the thing. The harvest had been a good one and we thought Burgundy would be the perfect antidote to our relationship malaise. We took an early ferry, picked up a car in Calais and were in Dijon in time to buy some mustard and a smashing lunch at Chapeau Rouge and then off to Beaune. A wonderful city and the heart of Burgundy, you could taste some of the world’s finest wines for one dollar [in the ‘80s] in the cellars of a 14th century convent. We tasted and tasted and finally decided on a Lamarche Vosne-RomanÈe for later imbibing. Back out of the cellars we bump into two inebriated Frenchmen dressed in red Ermine-lined capes and large fur hats. They want to know what bottle we have in our bag, when we produce the bottle of Lamarche, they pat us on the back and drag us off with them.

We are hauled into the courtyard of an old palace, where many more men in ermine capes stand around drinking wine and smoking cigarettes. One of our captors yells ‘Francois’ and soon we are face to face with the man who made our wine. My French is rudimentary at best, but Rachel’s is pretty good and she is soon clowning around with these pillars of Beaune society. It is a harvest party for the Chevaliers and we are invited. Priceless vintages are drunk directly from the bottle, lewd toasts are proferred every few minutes and groups of men burst into song unasked. The Lords of Burgundy are a lusty lot and although enjoying myself I am distanced by my lack of French and the growing unease that Rachel is getting extremely drunk. Things come to a head when she leaps up onto the table to preform some sort of impromptu burlesque, slips on a platter of snails and lands with a thud, cracking her skull on the thick oak table.

There is a brief silence, followed by cacophony as 50 Frenchmen each express their view on what should be done next. Three or four proclaim themselves doctors, but can barely stand, let alone operate. A pitcher of water is summoned and tossed on Rachel’s prone form, but she does not rouse. Finally a brigade of men lift her up and carry her through the square to the hospital. She is rushed into surgery, I am forbidden to see her, and go, instead to the hotel where I realize the bottle of Lamarche had been left behind somewhere. The next day, I am informed that she will live, but she needs to spend at least a month recovering. I contact her parents and head back to London, promising to visit as soon as possible.

I realize after reflection, that Rachel really is a wonderful woman who I desperately want in my life. I resolve to tell her just that and so three weeks later I hire a car in Calais and heading back to Beaune. I buy the largest bouquet I can afford and bound into her room. She looks radiant. Like emergency brain surgery was the greatest spa treatment ever. There is a man sitting in the chair next to her bed. ‘This is Claude, he’s my doctor.’ Claude rises and we shake hands. ‘He saved my life.’ I shake harder to show him my appreciation. ‘And now we’re getting married.’ I stop, mid-shake, he is still holding my hand and pumping vigorously. ‘Who would have thought all that drinking and carrying on could have such a happy ending?’

Written by Bill DiDonna

Issue 154

The Cadence Issue

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