Water, Water Everywhere At (h20), Order A Scotch 'N' Water, But Hold The Scotch

Posted: May 16, 1987

LOS ANGELES — You can order a Perrier just about any place these days, but (H2O), the Water Bar, in Beverly Hills is probably the only place in the U.S. where you can choose a mineral-laden Borjomi from Russia, or a Rokko from Japan in its surprisingly pretty cardboard carton, or a Bourassa, from British Columbia, ''naturally pure glacial water" in a distinctive "cut-plastic" bottle that resembles a hunk of ice, sort of.

These waters and more than 50 others imported from around the world are available at this tiny bar tucked into a quiet corner of 'ixi:z (pronounced ''ixeze"), a Japanese-owned men's clothing store at the foot - or maybe the head, depending on how you look at it - of Rodeo Drive.

The invitation on the bottle-shaped menu is something less than promising: ''Welcome to (H2O) . . . the place in Beverly Hills to sit down and just order water . . ." When (H2O) opened a few months ago, the concept was odd enough to capture lots of publicity, in the wake of which the place was besieged by the trend-conscious, many of them looking for more than water.

Manager August Suelflow says people called to reserve tables and wanted to know when the dancing started. Many of them were disappointed to learn the entire establishment consists of a half-dozen seats at a glass bar, that there is nothing but water on the menu - albeit lots of exotic brands - and that anybody who wants to dance is on their own. The water bar is open only during store hours, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

(H2O) began as a service to 'ixi:z customers. Many Beverly Hills shops offer coffee, wine and other drinks. 'Ixi:z wanted to do likewise, but with something that would, according to Suelflow, fit the shop's youthful, health- conscious, sporty image. He was charged with setting up the operation and quickly immersed himself in water, so to speak.

It was easier for Suelflow to learn about water than it might have been a decade ago. In the dozen years since Perrier set out to conquer the U.S. market, consumption of bottled water has risen dramatically in this country, due not only to intensive marketing and burgeoning interest in physical fitness, but to growing concern about contamination of local water supplies.

A few years ago, there were only a few American waters on the market, and many were distributed only locally. Now an increasing number of U.S. springs are being tapped and bottled. According to Suelfow, Maureen and Timothy Green, the British writers whose "The Good Water Guide" is the definitive book on European mineral waters, are working on a companion volume about American waters.

Still, in most areas, a limited number of brands are available. And, says Suelflow, even some people who routinely buy Perrier or Poland Spring are surprised to find that other waters taste dramatically different. A glass of fizzy, slightly lemony Ferrarelle from Italy is an entirely different experience than a highly-mineralized Contrexeville from France.

(H2O) stocks the usual brands - Perrier, Evian, Calistoga - but Suelflow finds most of his customers want to try something they've never had. He deals with 30 different distributors to stock the bar. Each month there's a new water-of-the month; Hawaiian Sparkling Artesian Water is the choice for May. It has a kind of cream-soda quality. Suelflow describes it as, "very citrus- y, very sweet, although it's not sugared or flavored."

That's water-speak, which is very like wine-speak. Indeed, water tastings are already with us, at least they are with us here, in Los Angeles. Suelflow said he has had many requests for cartons of assorted waters for at-home tasting parties, so many that he's putting together an (H2O) party-pack and a mail-order catalog, so subscribers can have their favorite exotic waters sent to them at home.

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