“Water is essential to life,” notes the opening sentence of the “Tasting Water” menu at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s in-house Ray’s and Stark’s Bar restaurant, which has just launched the 45-page menu and hired Martin Riese, a “water sommelier.” It’s the sort of believability-tickling ploy perfected by internet trolls, advertising strategists, and whoever was responsible for the Maurizio Cattelan retrospective at the Guggenheim.
With breathless coverage already appearing in NBC, Business Insider, Jezebel, and Gawker, it seems to have succeeded at tapping into a healthy reservoir of Los Angelan embarras de richesse. And yes, how embarrassing it is for a serious museum to play host to trivial grandstanding. But like the art business, the restaurant complex requires an unending stream of dubious gimmicks to whet fickle patrons. Occasionally these machinations do give rise to something singular and good, but for the most part it’s just noise.
Aloofness aside, as a veteran of the art-water beat, I was more than a little dismayed to find that prior coverage neglected the burning question: is there a corkage fee? A call to the restaurant stumped the respondent, who noted that there was a $15 corkage fee for a diner’s second bottle of wine (the first is complimentary), and promised to follow up. The post will be updated with that information in due course. [See below]
The menu, which features on its first page a watery quote by Leonardo Da Vinci, closes with an unsourced (possibly apocryphal) Wallace Stevens line: “Human nature is like water. It takes the shape of its container.” Fair enough.
Update, 5:00 pm: We were able to reach Martin Riese, the water sommelier himself, and this is what he had to say vis-à-vis bringing a bottle from your cellar: “I would love to see people bring in their own water, hopefully something I don’t have on the menu, and I’d be happy to try it. For wine, our policy is to charge no corkage fee for the first bottle, and the second bottle is $15. We haven’t yet decided on a corkage fee for water.”
NB: A reader, Johnny Taylor, has shared Penn & Teller Bullshit on Water, a madcap documentary featuring people in tuxedos non-ironically tasting bottled water.