Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wine Bar Disaster

I work in advertising and I'm aware that in the online space, bad reviews can still be good: helping with search results, brand awareness and name recognition.  As a result, I don't write a lot of negative stuff on The Clean Plate Club.  I don't write about restaurants unless I would recommend them to a friend....And if I visit a restaurant and wouldn't recommend it, I just prefer not to talk about it at all in this forum.

Recently however, I was so disappointed with an experience, that I felt I needed to write about it - if only for catharsis.

Last Thursday night I decided I wanted a glass of champagne, and to have a little romantic time out with my guy.  I was reading restaurant reviews and recommendations from other bloggers and the wine bar, Cuvee came up a few times in searches.  It was convenient (in the Blue Back Square area of West Hartford), boasted a great list of wines, champagnes, and specialty cocktails.  And it even had one thing that Boston has always lacked.....amazing happy hour deals!  The website had a list of several enticing drinks and appetizers -it was such a bargain, that we had to try it.

Happy Hour at Cuvee is actually 2 hours long, from 5-7.

We arrived a little after 5pm to an already bustling atmosphere.  We stood at the hostess station for a minute, but since it was unmanned, and the bar was just beyond, we decided to stroll right in and find a seat.  We found a seat at a tall bar table, and surveyed the atmosphere.  The lounge was dimly lit with high ceilings, and wine racks on most of the walls.  It was cool and sexy, what you would expect from a wine bar.

We had been sitting, enjoying the atmosphere for a few minutes when we saw another party of middle aged women sit down at the table next to ours. The manager immediately hustled over welcoming them to the bar, giving them menus, and explaining happy hour.

He then walked toward our table and continued right past....As if we didn't exist.

Ok, maybe he knew them....I rationalized.

Still after 10 minutes nobody came to wait on us, so Rafe took matters into his own hands and ordered at the bar.  Beer for him, champagne cocktail for me.

The is when we realized that the one bartender was handling the drink orders, for the ENTIRE restaurant.  She hastily poured my champagne - bubbles overflowing all of the bar.  dropped in the sugar cube, dash of bitters, and handed it to Rafe.  So, I got my champagne...though it was on my hand as much as in my mouth.

No big deal, it still tasted fine, and she looked busy.  I'm not going to get worked up about it.

The manager was back behind the bar, handing out more menus.  I motioned to him that we would also like one.  After being at the bar for 20 minutes we finally had a menu, and were informed that Happy Hour actually meant that everything on the menu - drinks and food - were half priced.  GREAT.

Ok, I decided this was a great value, and I would let go of our previous issues with the place.  I was wiping the slate clean.

We decided on the Cuvee salad, the cheese plate, and the meatballs.

And then we waited,
and waited
& waited.

The poor solo bartender finally got a moment without any orders and made the rounds of the lounge.   We ordered our food, and Rafe ordered a beer.  We repeated our food order twice since the bartender was concerned that she might forget.

We waited for another long while....  Not even the beer came to our table.

Rafe went back up to the bar and ordered his beer....again, and another drink for me.  He was annoyed that there was not even a spark of recognition for his previously ordered, yet unreceived beer.

Finally our food came out....sort of.
We had the salad and the cheese plate.  But no meatballs.
We let the bartender know and she said it would be right out.

The salad was a delicious chopped mix of romaine, bacon, avocado, roasted red peppers and chickpeas with a light vinaigrette.  The cheese plate was incredibly generous in portion, with huge slices of a few cheeses.  We recognized a smoked cheese, a feta, a blue, and another creamy variety.  I thought to myself I wish they had spent as much time explaining the cheese as they did with the beautiful slate used for plating and presenting - since we had no idea what we were eating.

We finished our salad and cheese and were basically fed up with the whole night.  We never got our meatballs, we couldn't even signal a waitress or bartender to get our check. Rafe again walked up to the bar and asked for it.

The bartender ran his credit card without even giving him an itemized receipt.  It came out to WAYYY too much money - and we asked for an itemized receipt.  Of course, the meatballs that we never received were on the check, and nothing was 1/2 priced as promised.

Rafe calmly explained that we never got the meatballs, and that we were told that everything should have been half priced.  The bartender began to argue with Rafe - explaining that happy hour was only until 7.  Rafe told her we had ordered our food long before 7p.  She relented, fixed the check, and re-ran his card.

She came over as we were leaving to apologize.
I appreciated it, but it wasn't entirely her fault either.

She was clearly overwhelmed behind the bar, making drinks for the entire restaurant while also waiting on the bar area.  The manager came over ever now and again to chide her for a poorly made drink, or for keeping a messy bar...
Honestly, she was doing the best she could.

I don't know if this was standard practice for this place....or if a couple people blew off their shifts and left her to go-it alone.  All I know is that Cuvee was bursting at the seams that night.  The energy of the staff was frenetic and grouchy.

I feel like the manager - or someone, should have been behind that bar helping the bartender, or at least helping out in the lounge. He seemed pretty useless.  A waiter from a nearby cheesecake factory, obviously done with his own shift, helped out behind the counter for a bit.....which was nice, but also really strange and unprofessional.

Instead of leaving the bar mellowed from happy hour, we left agitated.  That was the worst service either of us has ever had while dining.  

It was such a shame.  The food that we were served was great.  The prices - especially for happy hour, were incredibly reasonable.  For a salad and cheese plate, 2 champagne cocktails and 2 beers only came to $23!.

  Although I would like to avoid this restaurant forevermore, I feel like something must have just been TERRIBLY off that night.  Once the memory of this experience has faded a bit, I'd like to go back, outside of happy hour, and give them another chance....

I mean, they couldn't have been serious, right?

Cuvee on Urbanspoon


  1. It sounds like they were severely understaffed. On a brighter note... you lucky duck, living in CT where there's such a thing as happy hour. I miss happy hour!

  2. Wow. I can't believe it was one thing after another after another. each time your generous spirit was ready to forgive them, they went an trashed their already tarnished image. Sounds like a serious case of mis-management. I can't believe the way the poor bartender was treated, and the fact that nothing on your bill was happy hour priced!

    PS champagne cocktails! woo-hoo!!

  3. Wow, this sounds like a terrible experience. On the plus side, at least you are in a state that recognizes happy hour!

  4. Hmmm interesting that they only have 65% like on Urban Spoon? I can't imagine how frustrating that must have been.
    I like the company I am in with the comments on this post :)

  5. I'm sorry you had such a bad experience. I'm sorry for that poor bartender as well :(

  6. Wow, that's terrible. I'm sorry you had such a bad night there. That's the worst when you get all excited to go out and stuff like this happens.