I have always been frustrated at the price paid for wine in a restaurant. I know that liquor sales are what make most restaurants profitable and I can't fault them for that. I don't even mind paying $20 for a bottle that might otherwise sell for $10 at the store. What I get riled up about is the bottle that retails for $50-100 and can cost upwards of $200 on the wine list. In recent years I have found that there is an alternative to the high prices. Corkage!
For those not familiar with corkage it is the idea of bringing your own bottle of wine to dinner and having the restaurant, for a small fee, open and serve the wine. They are reasonably entitled to the fee because they serve the wine and furnish glasses. The fee is usually anywhere from $5 to $20 and usually corresponds to the menu prices. In some places that choose not to have a liquor license it may even be free.
Given our current economic crisis (I know, another blogger trying to capitalize on the big news headline, how original), I think it is fair to say that many of us are looking to save a little money. I am by no means advocating bringing a bottle of two buck chuck and paying $20 to have it opened with dinner (though it that's your style well I won't stop you). What I am advocating is picking up a $50 or more bottle of wine and paying the $20 for corkage. You can usually find some fantastic bottles at this price, and some even cheaper. That makes a $50 bottle a $70 bottle, that might have cost you as much as $200 at the restaurant.
One of my favorites for this is Tango Sur. I have written about Tango Sur before, but I just wanted to highlight its free corkage. Beer, wine, they might even let you bring a bottle of everclear if you were so inclined (eech). The point is that it is a great place to enjoy a fantastic bottle of wine with a fantastic meal and save some coin.
On the higher end of things I recently brought a bottle of 1998 Larrivet-Haut-Brion to Mon Ami Gabi. It was a fantastic wine that there was no way I could afford had I tried to buy it off a list (that is if they even had it). Sure I paid a markup on it, but it was stil lvery reasonable comparatively.
Chicago is awash in restaurants and almost all of them will accomodate you if you are willing to work with them. I recommend calling to find out the corkage policy before visiting. Some of them will even waive the fee if you buy a bottle off the list first.
One more nice resource for Chicago is the book BYOB Chicago. The book details restaurants that offer free corkage. If you don't find the restaurant in the book, call, I can almost guarantee they have a policy and will be happy to help you out.