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Apr 22, 2007 02:44 PM

Can someone please explain the liquor license thing in Philly?

I've been reading about all the BYOB restaurants in Philly and someone told me that it's cumbersome to obtain a license to sell wine so a lot of restaurants don't bother.

We have reservations at Vetri's, Matyson's and Bookbinders. Will we be able to order a drink at any of these? We usually like to have a drink before dinner and wine with dinner. I'm fine with bringing in the wine, but do we need to bring in a cocktail as well?

We're staying at the Marriott Downtown by the convention center. Is there a wine store nearby?

(Forgive the stupid questions...we live in New Orleans where even the taco stands sell alchohol)

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  1. Vetri... has a liquor license. Matyson - BYOB. Bookbinders - cancel your reservation and go to a different restaurant.

    There is a small State liquor store adjacent to the Marriott, on 12th street north of Market. The store with the best selection is 1218 Chestnut. The one at 19xx Chestnut has a decent selection and is closest to Matyson.

    Pennsylvania (statewide) has a limited number of liquor licenses, with the number available based on the population. Philadelphia has more restaurants than licenses, so if you want a license you need to buy it from a restaurant that is selling it or going out of business... price is $250,000 or so on the open market. So many restaurants open BYO and concentrate (and must make their profit) on the food.

    Most people treat BYO for wine, some bring beer. A few places (e.g. Lolita) sell homemade margarita mix and you bring your own Tequila. Otherwise generally people do not bring their own cocktails, but I suppose nothing stopping you from bringing liquor mini bottles and getting the mixers from the restaurant. The PA state stores have a moderate selection of miniatures and pints available.

    1. They're not stupid questions at all. More and more, Philly and the 'burbs are becoming a haven for fans of BYO, and for visitors from out of town it can be a little confusing.

      I totally agree with Juggler about canceling your reservations at Bookbinders. Philly has become a real foodie town and Bookbinders just hasn't kept up with today's wonderful offerings. Lucky you to get reservations at Vetri!!!

      Most people bring wine to restaurants designated as BYO, but beer, tequila, or even rum isn't out of place when the cuisine calls for it. If a restaurant has no liquor license, they usually serve NO liquor at all -- that includes cocktails. No license means they can't SELL liquor. There are a few places that will GIVE you a glass of wine or even champagne with dinner; they're just not allowed to charge you for it if they're not licensed.

      3 Replies
      1. re: CindyJ

        Thank you everybody. I think I get it now.

        As for Bookbinder's, we picked it because the hubby wanted lobster and that seemed like a good fit. Can you suggest another place we can find really good lobster?

        1. re: Linda431

          I'm usually the last to recommend chain restaurants, but in this case I'll make an exception. McCormick & Schmick's on Broad St. right near City Hall has wonderful seafood, including lobster.

          1. re: CindyJ

            I don't think of this as a lobster town, but I imagine that a good steakhouse like Capital Grill will probably do one well. McSchmick, in general, is just okay, not great.

      2. As mentioned, any of the high end steakhouses (Palm, Morton's, Ruth Chris, Capital Grill) will make a good lobster. There's a new high end seafood place called Oceanaire, but I don't know much about it.

        3 Replies
        1. re: lawgirl3278

          Thanks guys!. I'll let you know how it went.

          1. re: Linda431

            I haven't been in a while but there was always a lobster place in the Reading Terminal Market. Coastal Cave? Used to be able to get a lobster and take it to the beer garden!

          2. re: lawgirl3278

            Oceanaire is a chain. the one in DC is well liked, but I've never been

          3. There is no question that Pennsylvania has some goofy liquor laws. But, as it turns out, BYOBs are a mixed blessing, with both pros and cons.


            It can be really disappointing if you didn't know a restaurant or a BYOB and showed up expecting to order alcohol.

            For out-of-town travelers, the BYOB thing can be tricky if you dont know where to buy, or can't conveniently get to a wine & spirits shop.

            And cocktails can be difficult as most people dont want to bother bringing the mixers.


            You can shop ahead and buy exactly the wine you want, and are not limited to a wine list.

            You dont get gouged by the outrageous markups that restaurants often charge.

            The net result is that you can enjoy a truly outstanding bottle of wine with dinner without being robbed blind.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Greg P.

              Now, you can get wine delievered. So, if you go in without knowing a restaurant's byo status, someone will bring your wine to you, tableside. I had heard about this happening, but hadn't seen it...until last night. I was dining on South Street and overheard a couple placing an order with their credit card (at the time I had no idea what they were doing). About 15-20 min later a man showed up with their drink, and perfect timing too!

              1. re: lbmsw

                Hey now that sounds cool. Any idea who runs this service and/or a phone number?

            2. About that lobster: another option would be to try some of the betterr Chinese Restaurants, and have lobster with ginger and scallions/blackbean sauce/lobster sauce. Square on sqaure wasn't serving lobster last night, due to the price being so high; so ask. If Sansom St Oyster House has lobster it would be good, but avoid lobster promotion at Downey's (too tacky) and Bookbinder's really is a tourist trap to avoid. Better Chinatown.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Bashful3

                I took your advice on Bookbinder's and went with La Famiglia. (No lobster, but I reallly didn't miss it.) I posted a report here:

                Thanks for the help. We had a great time.