Corkage is a thing my opinions are very varied on, so I have been saving writing it up. But I'm seeing a new trend in NY restaurants at the moment that I see as so absurd I feel it needs addressing. Places that do not offer wine are charging for corkage which is ridiculous and, if we are learning anything from the saga of the East Village's European Union opening, probably criminal.
In a nutshell, corkage is the fee restaurants charge to serve you your own wine. The fee is justified as covering the costs of glassware and the staff to support the service of wine and the charge is understandable, because places make money on their wine and a certain amount of any restaurant with a liquor license's business model would be a certain amount of earnings from beverage service.
The few, simple guidelines I believe apply to bringing your own wine to a restaurant, are:
1. The wine should be something the restaurant does not offer. If they sell what you want there, you should buy it from them.
2. The wine should be unique from their offerings. Don't bring Ornellia to a place that sells Sassicaia. Even though they are indeed different, they are not unique enough to justify supplying your own.
3. Your wine should be significantly better than what they are offering. Or at least as good. The chef should not be expected to make food that will go well with a wine not on par with the caliber his place offers.
4. The most that any place should charge for corkage is the cost of the cheapest bottle of wine on their list. Half of that would be fairer, since they are losing no product in the exchange.
5. It is their place and thusly their policy is to be followed, no reason to argue. If you are bringing wine to a restaurant, you should call ahead of time and find out their corkage policy, not show up with wine in a scuba bag and argue about the house's rules.
Now, being a guy without a lot of depth in his wine cellar, at this point I am not faced with wanting to have so and so cook for me while I drink my prized bottle of such and such, which is the occasion I can imagine my wanting to bring a bottle to a place for.
At this point, I mostly still consider the wine program an intricate part of a restaurant's philosophy and judge their choices in offerings, as well as pricing and service, to be telling as to where their really heart lies.
As for this new, recurring practice of places charging a corkage fee while awaiting their liquor license -- screw that and screw them. When going to a new place, call and ask if they have a liquor license. If the don't, ask if they allow you to BYOW (no longer a safe assumption). If the answer is no, and then yes, ask if they have a corkage policy. If they charge you for serving you your wine when they have not gone through the costs of putting together a wine list, paying someone to maintain it, applying for and securing the proper licenses, and insuring the place against possible liquor-inspired law suits, they don't have the right to expect profit from the sale. If things are as they should be and there is no charge for corkage, buy their most expensive bottle of water and help keep them going on the right track.