To Saber or Not to Saber? A Closer Look at the Dramatic Champagne Popping Technique

By Madeleine Luckel

Every day at 5:00 p.m. on the dot, the New York St. Regis hotel kicks off their cocktail hour by sabering a bottle of champagne.

For those unaware of the slightly scary term, to “saber” a bottle of champagne means to slice the cork off with a large sword with all the drama and elegance that you can muster—rather than say, just popping the bottle like your average New Year’s Eve reveler.

And what event could be heightened by an extra ounce of flair than a wedding? Just allow yourself to picture the possibilities. The entrance of the bride and groom is kicked off in a memorable (and yes, highly Instagrammable) way. A special toast ends with a bang. Even the rare bride and groom who do not like cake can offer up a a festive, and much more unique, alternative.

To learn more about the art of sabering, I went to the St. Regis, which was offering a special master class on this tricky technique. During an afternoon last month, the St. Regis’s resident expert led me over to the area of the bar where this activity normally takes place. We are greeted by a happy band of happy hour revelers who become increasingly intrigued as my personal lesson unfolds. (I had a full-fledged, in some cases cheering, peanut gallery.)

My instructor explains in a congenial and calm way exactly how it’s done. The key is that you are not in fact slicing the cork off, but are instead using the pressure of the saber somewhat like a hammer. A confident and strong glide of your sword should do the trick—without risking a broken bottle.  (Just recall Cameron Diaz’s flawless technique in Whatever Happens in Vegas.)

The example demo goes off without a hitch. But am I really going to do this? My palms grow increasingly clammy, I’m looking for an out. Alas, I go up to the metaphorical plate and take my best shot.

It’s not nearly strong enough, and while nothing bad happens (read: breaking the bottle, or any part of myself or others) the champagne remains un-popped. I try again—more times than I will admit here—and my audience falls uncharacteristically silent. Finally, with more words of wisdom and encouragement from my teacher, I succeed! The bottle is opened, glasses are filled, and I am handed a neat yet sharp souvenir as a token of my accomplishment.

However, as fun as it was to learn this trick, I wouldn’t attempt to do it unsupervised. The same could easily go for any willing, able, and educated bride or groom. (Who likely wouldn’t need a reason to increase their wedding day nerves.) But thanks to many knowledgeable hospitality professionals, such as the St. Regis’s own expert, there’s always the option to bring in a pro. (And indeed, the St. Regis does offer a champagne sabering moment at weddings hosted at the hotel, in case you were wondering.)

But would a real bride actually do this? I ask my friend Stephanie, a writer at Sotheby’s, who is currently engaged and planning a wedding in Newport, Rhode Island. Coincidently, Stephanie had a recent wedding-related encounter with champagne sabering all on her own.

“One of my bridesmaids was living in Slovenia, and my fiancé and I recently visited her,” she said. “We hadn’t seen her since we’d gotten engaged, so she wanted to give us a proper toast. When she busted out a champagne saber to open the bottle, we were extremely impressed. Safe to say, it was one of the most original and dramatic toasts we received. Apparently champagne sabers are somewhat of a Slovenian tradition, and we thought it would be fun to get one as a souvenir. However, we were fairly certain it would not pass airport security, so perhaps I can register for one in the States?”

While it’s definitely a showy way to kick off cocktail hour or reception, Alexis, an interior designer who got married this fall in New York, points out it could add an extra level of stress on a couple’s wedding. “Sabering a bottle of champagne at a wedding seems like it could be dramatic and exciting for guests, but throughout a wedding there are so many details you have to worry about going right,” she says. Another friend and fall bride, Kat, who works in finance in New York, has similar logistics-related concerns. And while she hadn’t thought to have a sabering moment at her wedding, one fear comes to mind when asked about it now.

“Before our wedding, I heard a horror story about a groom dropping his champagne glass on the floor while dancing, which ended in his wife of less than 30 minutes being whisked off to the ER with her white dress stained red.” She says. “Needless to say, after hearing this story, I wanted nothing to do with glasses near me on the dance floor or the possibility of a glass breaking in any capacity!” Fair enough!