While it’s easy to spend a few hundred bucks on dinner for two at Philadelphia’s top restaurants, it’s just as easy to keep it under $50 by bringing your own bottle to one of the city’s many BYOBs, which often rival and at times surpass their liquor-serving counterparts in quality of cuisine.With so many BYOBs, restaurants have to maintain very high food standards to compete.While locals have long complained about Pennsylvania’s strict liquor licensing laws and high taxes on liquor sales, the fringe benefits are out of this world. The law makes it difficult and expensive for a new business to serve liquor, with a set number of liquor licenses available that must be bought from another business that is going out of business. As a result, Philly has arguably the largest and best BYOB scene in the entire country, with something for every taste and budget. With so many BYOBs, restaurants have to maintain very high food standards to compete. Most BYOBs, or BYOs, maintain a casual, comfortable neighborhood vibe, even though many are centrally located in the major neighborhoods, and very few of them have “corkage fees,” an annoying charge of around $5 for opening your wine. This charge is more likely at a place that has a bar of its own but also allows the BYO option, and the fee should always be clearly noted on the menu.
There are BYOBs in every Philly neighborhood, and a few not to miss include Mercato, Audrey Claire, Pumpkin Restaurant, and Dmitri’s (South Philly location). Some restaurants, like Farmicia, offer a full bar but also let you bring your own bottle if you prefer. While wine is the drink of choice for most BYOB-ers, there are also spots where other drinks are commonly brought to the table. It is common to bring beer to casual spots like Jamaican Jerk Hut, Tacconelli’s Pizzeria, and Plaza Garibaldi or to bring the booze of your choice to Mexican Lolita, which you can add to the restaurant’s homemade mixers.
Purchasing alcohol in Pennsylvania is not always simple. There are beer distributors and state-run Wine & Spirits shops, but beer cannot be sold at the same store as wine and booze. Hours are limited, with most of the spirits shops closing between 7pm and 9pm. Very few beer or wine stores are open on Sunday, so plan ahead. Many bars sell six-packs to go, but you can expect to pay higher premiums for the convenience. Visit www.pawineandspirits.com for the state store locations, or ask a local to point you in the right direction.
And be sure to check out the most convenient addition to the BYOB scene in Philly in the form of Garces Trading Company. A novel concept and the only one of its kind in the city, the restaurant has a wine boutique attached to the restaurant, offering an excellent selection minus the steep restaurant markups, so you have the best of both worlds. You can BYO without having to plan in advance. Just grab a bottle and take it to your table, where your waiter will open it for you; you pay about the same as you would at any wine store.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Philadelphia.