NEW YORK (AP) – One of the hottest trends at swank clubs around the city is getting a table with a group of friends and ordering a bottle of vodka or tequila for several hundred dollars.

Business owners make plenty of dough and patrons can drink uninhibited for hours on end, albeit at a stiff price.

But last year’s deaths of two women killed after hard nights of drinking in Manhattan and at least one other violent incident in Queens has officials rethinking the practice. It is just one part of a broader nightlife crackdown that resulted from the high-profile cases.

“People are leaving these premises totally intoxicated and getting into all sorts of problems,” said state Sen. Frank Padavan, a Queens Republican.

Concerned with the situation, the State Liquor Authority recently submitted a bill in the Legislature that would allow the agency to regulate bottle service. The authority says there are currently no laws on the book that address the issue. Padavan also said he was part of a task force with the State Liquor Authority that recently examined bottle service.

Bottle service has become popular in cities such as Miami, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It connotes VIP status and is wildly popular among the wealthy. It connotes VIP status and is wildly popular among the wealthy. It’s also a big money-maker for high-end clubs, generating thousands of dollars a night.

The bill is the latest in a flurry of moves that New York authorities have taken in the wake of two highly publicized killings involving Jennifer Moore, an 18-year-old from New Jersey, and 24-year-old Imette St. Guillen, a graduate student. Authorities have charged two men in those killings – one of whom was a bouncer.

Last year, the State Liquor Authority issued a temporary licensing moratorium making it difficult for new bars and clubs to open in trendy Manhattan neighborhoods. In February, the New York City Council passed measures requiring security cameras at nightclub doors and cracking down on fake IDs.

The council also called upon the Legislature and State Liquor Authority to restrict the increasingly common use of bottle service, whereby patrons must buy a full bottle of alcohol instead of a single drink if they want to sit at a coveted table.

The council’s resolution doesn’t require any action. The liquor authority’s bill raises the stakes, however, saying the “practice brings with it several inherent risks if not properly regulated. These risks include the service to minors and the service to intoxicated individuals. The SLA has an obligation to the public to ensure that bottle service is conducted in a supervised and responsible manner.”

Club operators say there are already laws on the books prohibiting establishments from selling booze to underage drinkers and intoxicated ones. Rob Bookman, counsel for the New York Nightlife Association, believes the state doesn’t need another law.

State Liquor Authority spokesman William Crowley said it’s too early to comment on what type of regulations the bill could produce.

Nightclub operators also say the bill doesn’t specify how the authority would regulate bottle service and whether that would include wine or champagne. That could alarm the powerful restaurant lobby, along with the New York Nightlife Association and its approximately 150 members.

“I would argue against the bill,” Bookman said. “It gives the SLA a blank check through unspecified regulations to micromanage the industry.”

Bookman said there was no proof that bottle service was being “unlawfully supervised,” and he intends to fight it vigorously.

“I see no evidence to that effect,” Bookman said. “I see a lot of hyperbole but no evidence.”

In the case of Moore, authorities say there was no indication that the young woman was swilling from a bottle at the club in Chelsea where she was partying. The bar that served St. Guillen didn’t have bottle service.

Padavan said a 25-year-old man was beaten to death in Queens in October after he got into a fight at a karaoke club that had bottle service. It’s not clear if the people involved in the deadly brawl had ordered a bottle but Padavan believes it might have been a factor.

“The fact remains we have got to regulate this,” Padavan said.

Shawn Kolodny, who operates the chichi Pink Elephant, said the economics of running a nightclub make bottle service essential because of the city’s high rents and other expenses.

“It becomes so expensive to operate the business that we have to keep revenues high,” Kolodny said. “Bottle service has proved one of the more helpful ways to do that.”

Kolodny added “we’ve had no problems with any of those issues related to bottle service.”

David Rabin, co-owner of Lotus and NYNA’s president, said regulating the service could put the city at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting tourist dollars, and lawmakers need to understand this. Many tourists come to New York for the nightlife, and excessive regulations could keep them away, he said.

“New York state legislators have to start realizing that New York City is competing with Moscow, Tokyo and London, and let alone Las Vegas and South Beach,” Rabin said. “They just can’t turn New York into Cleveland on the Hudson.”

AP-ES-03-11-07 1401EDT

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