In Japan, the idea of a “bottle keep” that allowed a bar’s wettest customers to economically buy and store an entire bottle of spirits at their favorite watering hole has a long history. Around the world, restaurants and members clubs have offered the service for decades now. But more recently, top resorts and hotels have embraced the booze locker, and the amenity is spreading like luxury wildfire. Locked cages filled with private collections of top-shelf poison now sit behind hotel bars from Aspen to Edinburgh.
But we can’t help but wonder why? After all, shouldn’t a five-star hotel be able to stock better bottles than the average guest?
In the Cherry Creek North neighborhood of Denver, Toro restaurant by chef Richard Sandoval, located inside Hotel Clio, offers guests a tequila locker program where “all expressions of Clase Azul are among the most popular bottles,” says Serena So, director of food and beverage.
It offer two tiers of annual membership with the top costing $250, plus a minimum purchase of five bottles from Toro. Paying rent on your booze may sound odd, but So says that both business and leisure guests request access their locker at least once to twice a week.
“Experiences are a valuable currency, and a premium locker unquestionably delivers a ‘wow factor’ when entertaining guests,” says Jack Ambriz, who for three years kept two spirits lockers at the now defunct Cubano Room in Newport Beach—one for his premium liquor and the other for a bottle of Louis XIII. “It’s about embracing a lifestyle that prioritizes convenience, exclusivity, and personalization.”
It’s that aura of access and exclusivity that top hotels see as an added value for its guests. To sweeten the deal even further, some hotels also open up its ordering forms to guests, allowing them to access rare spirits and wine that aren’t always sold in local liquor stores or are limited on restaurant menus. The locales can even offer wholesale pricing, priority reservations, tastings, or elevated drinking accessories like engraved glasses or cigars.
In 2021, the Balmoral, A Rocco Forte Hotel in Edinburgh, partnered with Macallan to launch an on-site Scotch Club for only 35 global members at a time. Participants receive a personalized bottle of Macallan for storage in an engraved locker. Access here includes tickets to whisky master classes, complimentary whisky tastings, and service of their Macallan in a Lalique crystal glass.
The lockers’ depth of access doesn’t end at ultra-exclusive spirits. At the Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado, an $8,000 annual wine club membership grants guests access to fine and rare wines that are literally available nowhere else.
“Due to many top producers increasingly sending their wines more exclusively to restaurants for heightened visibility on the market, many of these wines are inaccessible at retail stores,” says Chris Dunaway, wine director at the Little Nell. For instance, coveted Burgundies appreciate at a staggering rate. But ordering ahead of time via the Little Nell’s wine club means that “guests pay prices far below what they’d pay even a couple of years after release,” Dunaway explains.
David Litwak, founder of the recently opened Maxwell Social, a New York members’ club, sells premium bottles to members at cost with storage. That allows guests to buy an entire bottle for roughly the price of a craft cocktail. That’s a deal that speaks for itself, he says. But it’s not about saving a buck; it’s about creating a sense of belonging.
“Lockers lean into a different type of luxury,” Litwak says. “It’s the freedom to do whatever you want. It’s luxury via freedom instead of service.”