Clo wine bar – when the wine is self service, do you tip?

Strolling between the burnished steel Enomatic machines, with their bottles behind (plexi)glass and only dispensing nozzles poking through I thought the high-tech Clo wine bar seemed like a reasonable place. Selections included Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Rkatsiteli ($5), Domaine Tempier rose ($9), Nicolas Potel Savigny-les-Beaune ($11), Chateau Musar 1990 white and red ($33 and $30 respectively), and Leoville-Las Cases 1989 ($47).

But then I realized those were for two ounce pours, not full glasses. And with machines doing the pouring, there would be no overfilling.

Located in the Time Warner Center on the fourth floor landing between Masa and Per Se, the space has walls with no ceiling. One long table runs down the middle and you can rub Brioni-clad elbows with the person sitting on the stool next to you.

The menu appears projected down from the ceiling onto the tabletop. Oddly, the focus is not sharp and I felt as if I’d had a few before I’d even ordered anything. A fancy camera sensor detects your finger tip and you can flick through the projection, sometimes flicking farther than you intended. (If you’re into party tricks, spread all ten fingers over the menu and the sensor doesn’t know which one to read.) The menu has a few descriptions including the some bars next to words “earth,” “zip,” and “sweet.” One guy in my party remarked that this nomenclature was one of those things that is supposed to make it easier for you but in the end made him feel dumber since his wine was dry but the graphic was telling him it was medium sweet.

Fork over your credit card to start a tab and the server gives you debit cards and some tiny tumblers–perhaps they are a new line of Riedel, the “O” Thimble? They are so small that they make a two ounce pour look like a normal fill all while looking oddly like a wine shot glass. Anyhoo, to fetch your wine, take your tumbler to the Enomatic of your choice, insert card, punch number, receive wine. The pours are fresh and slightly chilled. Walk around with your friends but don’t share samples with them since you risk not having anything left by the time you return to your stool.

Even though we didn’t have any, apparently small bites are also available (no word on whether these pop out of the wall). And so is some extravagant merchandise such as the “dollypop bottle cooler” ($226), the handblown-to-order Mickey decanter ($495), or a “tripod” wine glass ($70 each).

Speaking of tripod, there was one area where I didn’t have a firm footing: when the wine is self-service, do you tip? More photos after the jump!

Fourth Floor, Time Warner Center
10 Columbus Cir., New York, NY 10019

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19 Responses to “Clo wine bar – when the wine is self service, do you tip?”

  1. This is really interesting, next time I’m visiting my younger brother in the city I may stop by. He lives near columbus circle, so it’s an easy transition.

    And, to answer your question, only if I see the machine maintenance worker would I tip.

  2. I can’t imagine how anyone would find this appealing (did you enjoy the experience at all?!?). At a time when technology is making advances so fast that today’s gadgets are tomorrow’s museum pieces, I want interaction when I’m drinking wine! So much of the pleasure of wine is its ability to bring people together…why take that away? I would much rather have a sommelier behind a wine bar to talk to and ask for recomendations! To strip people from wine’s equation is to simply make it a commodity. I’ll stick to places like Terroir!!

  3. the private liquor store near my house has a free tasting at 1oz pours of 10wines which they change every couple of weeks

    its free! and unlimited tho Im sure they would say something if you didnt buy anything but still hah

  4. I have been to Clo a few times. The team of Sommeliers choose the wines and edit the selections. They are available and have helped me in the past. The idea of the table I think was to allow people to learn and have fun in a sometimes confusing world of wine. The sommeliers write the reviews to help open the door to dialog and conversation. I have also seen customers not use the table (for what ever reason) and just use the 2 sommeliers there (there is even a Master Sommelier there – Keith). I think people are missing the point of the concept here – it is to explore wine – however you do it (all tech, no tech or something in-between). The concept did not build itself and the wines got there through tasting and I bet the wines from Brazil, Uruguay and other corners of the globe. I have not seen these in any other wine bar or shop in town. That is why I go there. Blows anything else away and it is different.

  5. I agree with ‘govino’ – Clo is very cool and fun and the staff rocks. As/ more helpful than any place I have been to – in any city. They also put flights together for you. If you don’t need help and do it yourself – fine, you do not have to tip. It is not mandatory. The reviewer missed the idea of the space by a mile. Tipping is not the point here – it is the experience and how much I got out of it.

  6. I work at a similar type place in Dallas, Cork. The major difference is that in TX, you cannot have self-serve alcohol, so the store must have people to serve the tastes and glasses. We provide real wine glasses as well – somehow a real glass feels less like you are taking a tour. I agree that part of what makes it a great experience for our customers is that there are trained people to make recommendations and discuss the wine with the customers. It’s hard to say whether tipping is necessary but my guess is no. A wait staff provides the service from start to finish AND is paid less than minimum wage. This is not a wait staff. However, a tip for someone who gives extra special service though would be in order.

  7. I checked it out a few weeks ago and it is a cool space with a great selection of wines. Yes its a little pricy, but that is to be expected based on the location and clientele going to those restuarants and shopping in TWC. The technology isn’t that great, it was cool for two minutes but as tyler said the resolution is terrible and the accuracy of the navigation is frustrating. At the end of the day, its an interesting concept and a great ‘first’ date spot as the gimmick is a talking point.but I wouldn’t expect too many repeat customers considering the cramped location and prices (esp. In this economy).I wish them the best and recomend checking it our for yourself if you get a chance. But I don’t forsee them to be to successful.

  8. My experience with the machine pours, as used in many wine shops, etc., has been really awful. I know that the technology and manufacturers vary, but I think that for me it may be psychological. The idea of my wine touching anything but the glass of the bottle or natural cork before the glass is off-putting to me. I know all of the arguments, but I guess I am traditional here. Perhaps a blind tasting could convince me otherwise.
    I suppose the one good point is, as the article asks, that you don’t have to ponder what you tip a waiter for pouring your ’89 Leoville.

  9. I like Clo because you can either navigate through a very diverse list on your own or speak to the sommeliers on hand. In my few experiences there, I actually had more interaction with the people behind the list than I would at a normal restaurant or wine bar. There were even a few winemakers in bar on my last visit. The setup seems to be very social if you want it to be, whether you want to talk to the sommeliers or the person next to you. It’s worth checking out.

  10. I was at Clo this past weekend and while it is a bit gimmicky I really enjoyed myself. If you are going for the scene and the experience of being in a small NYC wine bar then it isn’t the place for you. It is bright and airy and not great in terms of location. However, they have a number of wines that I otherwise wouldn’t have ever tried, which I think is the main point of the place. I really hope they do well. The staff is incredibly pleasant. I wouldn’t think that the prices are out of line – they have a number of wines for $5 or less a pour. With a standard pour coming in around 5oz you are looking at a number of wines at $12.50 a glass or less – which is not unreasonable in NY. I highly recommend it. Having talked to one of the sommeliers, there is a plan to open a small space in TWC where you can buy the wines that you may have tasted at the bar (I think this makes it a little more appealing.)

  11. Hello Tyler – Went to Clo yesterday nite. Amazin experience to sit down and have wine and look out at the Columbus Circle. But definitely on the expensive side for petty tasting samples for upto $50 from the automatic “vending machines”.

    But overall, definitely recommended.

  12. I actually like Clo, though I’ve recently had two really bad experiences there, all due to the same staff member. The guys working there are great, all very helpful, very knowlegable. The problem I have consistently had is with this chubby asian girl that works there. Not only is she rude and gruff but she is completely ignorant of the wines around her. There were no slots at the light display open, so I had to stand near the balcony. The sommeliers were busy so I turned to her for help. At first she seemed annoyed that I would even ask her for help, but when I tried telling her what I liked she led me to something utterly opposite to what I described! And then blew me off when I complained! Machines or no, in a venue that small the staff really matters. If these guys want repeat customers, they need to find a new server girl. I have given her two chances now and only an act of god would make me go back as long as she is there.

  13. Its so FUNNY that you mention that girl… My husband and I live in California and are HUGE wine people. We travel to New York a lot for business and ALWAYS eat at Masa. Each time we would pop our heads into the Clo construction site and try to find out about it and what must be the same Asian girl would be sitting around in sweatpants, drinking soda, and IGNORE us. My husband was infuriated and refuses to step foot in the place. I however can’t wait to go there with my girlfriends and check it out!

  14. Enjoyed Clo last Friday night, sitting at the resin table after Jazz at Lincoln Ctr and chatting with someone across the way who asked about a wine I was trying. My friends liked the interactive thing, I tasted 4 wines. The dispensing mechanism is standard and doesnt bother me. Staff was nice. They seemed welcoming to all– we were not dressed in any affluent way. I tipped 20%– it would not occur to me not to tip. They did ask me if “any one special helped” me after I asked if they pool their tips. You need to tip in any place with ambience–really!

  15. Of course you tip! I love Clo and visit regularly. Yes, I get my own wine. That’s part of the experience. But the staff and sommeliers are knowledgable and helpful. Their recommendations are always spot-on. In fact, they spend more time with me than most “servers” at conventional winebars and are way more informed. I think it’s appauling that anyone wouldn’t tip.

  16. […] Fancy enomatic machines can store and open bottle of wine for days, if not weeks. Thus stores (and bars) can use the system for dispensing tasting sized pours of expensive wines, amortized over days. […]

  17. […] bar die Clo heet is een futuristisch ogende ruimte waar je dmv een speciale betaalkaart wijn uit de fles kan […]

  18. I have been working at a self-serve wine bar/liquor/convenience store for the past three weeks in California. I like the idea of these systems but my conclusion is that they work best in high-traffic locations with easy access to food and taxi service. Our store is located across from an office park near an airport and really does not have enough foot traffic to support a full-time knowledgeable staff (the owner just fired her full-time wine buyer/sommelier and hired me to come in a few days or nights/week to help). The owner changes the wines so frequently that I cannot keep track of what is being poured and the only other “employees” are her mother and a friend. I have no selection power and no way to taste the wines without purchasing them myself. This makes me feel extremely uncomfortable and unprofessional when it comes to recommending any wine in the store to customers. I am still wedded to the old-fashioned way of choosing them and pouring them myself.

  19. Clo Wine Bar sounds like an interesting place. If I’m ever in New York, I’d check it out!


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