Ringing in the New Year on LI with a saber and champagne

The traditional practice of champagne sabering, or le Sabrage in French, will be demonstrated during the New Year's Eve celebration at the Coral House. Videojournalist: Chris Ware (Dec. 31, 2013)

With flicks of a gleaming saber, Frank Esposito sliced the tops off thick green bottles, spraying onlookers with sparkling wine.

Twelve hours until midnight -- and the start of a strange new New Year's tradition -- some fine-tuning was in order.

While most of the bottles were neatly popped open during the trial run, several necks were inadvertently broken. One bottle was split in two.


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Esposito, who manages the Coral House in Baldwin, said afterward that it was smart to do a practice session. He's attempting to set a record for successfully sabering the most sparkling wine bottles in one minute, before a crowd of 1,000 at the catering hall's New Year's Eve bash.

"I don't know if a cracked bottle in half counts for the record," he said. "We'll have to call Guinness on that one."

Esposito is bringing a storied, if bemusing, tradition to Long Island: "l'art du sabrage."

That's the French tradition of opening a champagne bottle with a heavy cavalry sword, a ritual believed to have originated among the officers of Napoleon's army.

According to the website for Guinness World Records, the 60-second sabrage record stands at 32 bottles, a feat accomplished in 2011.

Butch Yamali, Coral House owner since 2011, said he was inspired to jazz up the upscale venue's New Year's party after reading up on the bottle-popping technique.

"It brings the place up to a higher level," said Yamali, 51, of Merrick. "People walk in and ask, 'What are you doing with swords?' "

Esposito, 48, of Baldwin, said he has sliced the corks off sparkling wine bottles before with a chef's knife -- "just fooling around in the kitchen." Now he's armed with a genuine saber obtained from a knife shop in upstate Mount Kisco for about $400. It's only about a foot long with a curved blade, resembling a pirate's sword.

If nothing else, the event will add a touch of theater to the annual party, Yamali said.

"Every New Year's Eve party there's food, a countdown . . .," the owner said.

The organizers weren't exactly sure when the sabering would begin Tuesday night -- perhaps at midnight, perhaps minutes into the new year. But one thing was certain: It would end in a frothy fountain of bubbly wine.

Besides the weapon used, two keys to success, Yamali said, were for the sparking wine to be properly chilled (38 degrees) and the bottles to be precisely angled (45 degrees).

Esposito walked the banquet room Tuesday with his saber, drawing some concerned glances. And a bit of sarcasm.

"The most dangerous man," one woman mocked.

But the manager with the sword admitted to a touch of stage fright.

"I was going to call in sick today," he said.

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