Martinis can be hazardous to your wallet.


At Katana, the hip eatery on the Sunset Strip, a martini made with Ultimat Vodka runs a cool $18. At the Standard Hotel's Rooftop bar downtown, a Grey Goose vodka martini rings in at $14, while a classic vodka martini at the venerable Hotel Bel-Air can be had for about $16.


This year, cocktail prices have soared, not only because bar owners and restaurateurs are faced with rising costs but because they know their patrons will keep drinking.


"If I was going out, I would not have a problem paying, but wow, they are expensive," said Christian Corben, executive manager of restaurants Katana and Sushi Roku. But he added that $15 martinis wouldn't "deter me from going back if the food was amazing."


At some of L.A.'s hippest establishments, pricey drinks have become a kind of cover charge for everything from an ocean view to a steady procession of beautiful people.


"When you go out, you are there to spend money, and you are also out for an experience," said Warner Ebbink, co-owner of Dominick's and 101 Coffee Shop. "If you go to the rib joint and drink beer, you are not going to pay more than $4 or $5. Hotel bars, like at Disneyland or someplace with a captive audience, they just kind of stick it to you. They can charge you pretty much whatever they want."


This is especially true in glitz-minded Los Angeles, where any number of new restaurants and bars Mood, Geisha House and the Tropicana Bar, to name a few have pushed prices to new highs. "If you are the new hotspot, you can get $15 for a martini," said Loren Dunsworth, owner of Lola's, where martinis top out at $12. "I don't know if that gives a venue longevity."


Ultra-premium markup
An alcoholic drink which could be beer, wine or a cocktail costs an average of $8.26 in Los Angeles, according to the Zagat Survey's 2005-2006 review of regional nightlife, up over 23 percent from $6.70 two years earlier. During the same period, the price of an average drink in New York increased only 6.4 percent, to $8.83.


Both New York and L.A. fall behind Las Vegas, where the average drink is $9.42. San Francisco's drinks average $7.27, and in London, it's $8.38 a pop.


Part of the reason prices have shot up is that the hottest restaurants and bars often make their exotic drinks with ultra-premium liquor. Wholesale prices for a bottle of Stoli Elite or Ultimat can top $40, compared with under $7 for standard vodka like Seagrams.

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