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Mar 28, 2010 03:41 PM


Floridians coming to Philly for 10 days first week in May and staying in Center City. What is the BYO experience? Is there a corkage fee? How is the wine selection at the liquor stores? Are there any private wine stores? Especially interested in American pinot noir from the Northwest.

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  1. There's been quite a bit written on these boards about PA's arcane liquor laws. I, personally, love the BYO option. The "experience" is that you shop for your wine, bring it along to the restaurant, and the restaurant will uncork it, provide wine glasses, and sometimes even pour your first glass for you. The corkage fee is up to the discretion of the restaurant, but it's my perception that the majority of restaurants do NOT charge a corkage fee. Those that do have a fee charge maybe $5/bottle, sometimes a bit more.

    The wine selection at the state liquor stores depends on the store. There are "premium" stores that carry a better selection. But keep in mind that when you buy from a state store, you're essentially buying from the state government. That means that you're paying waaaaaay more than you should be paying because of markups and taxes, and you probably won't get any advice with your selections because the people who staff the stores are state employees. You can go online to see what the state stores carry -- they all carry the same wine at the same prices.

    There are a few locations that might be considered "private" wine stores but I believe those are all associated with wineries.

    Doing a search on this board will shed lots more light on the PA BYO scene. My best advice to you regarding wine purchases would be to go out of state (to NJ or DE) if at all possible.

    2 Replies
    1. re: CindyJ

      CindyJ, it used to be true that you paid higher prices at PLCB stores than elsewhere. However, since the days of Jonathan Newman, the PLCB stores frequently have quality wines at lower prices than elsewhere, even NJ. It's true that the selections are sometimes a bit limited, and the quality of stock and service varies from location to location. For example, the Ardmore PLCB store has a great selection and knowledgeable staff. I have also heard that the PLCB location at Garces Trading Co has an excellent selection. For out of town visitors, that might be the best option.


      1. re: drjane

        I'd agree with you about the wine at GTC, but that's clearly the exception, not the rule. I think I recall reading that some of the wine sold at the PLCB stores has been specially bottled for PA, and maybe those are the ones that are available at supposedly better prices. But I doubt that you can compare PA wine prices with those of DE or NJ, bottle for bottle, and find PA to have the lower prices. With that insane 18% Johnstown Flood Tax levied on every bottle, how can PA sell for less?

    2. If you go over the bridge to NJ you must go to Moore Brother's wine store. Greg was the sommelier for Le Bec Fin and has some of the nicest wines you can find. Otherwise, I find state store at 12th and Chestnut to have nicest selection.
      As far as great BYO's-----Branzino, Melograno, Audrey Claire, Caffee Cittaa Vista, Tre Scalini, Matyson, Apamate, Lolita(byo tequila for margaritas!).......................

      2 Replies
      1. re: bonappetite

        Although a quick search will bring up many good byob's, I would add BIbou, Little Fish, Modo Mio, Mercato to your list. Reserve now (except for Mercato which doesn't take reservatiosn) because they get booked weeks in advance.

        1. re: JanR

          Great choices JanR, knew i was blanking on the best....Mercato and Bibou are not to be missed!!

      2. I have never heard of a corkage fee at a Philly BYO.

        Has anyone checked out the wine selection at the new Garces Trading Co? It's the first exception to the state run monopoly.

        7 Replies
        1. re: barryg

          Actually it isn't, it's a small state store inside the Garces space. If you search the PLCB site for store locations, Garces Trading's address comes up as Wine & Spirits Store 5148. I think I remember reading that the Garces organization has some input in the wine selection, but the money is going to the PLCB.

          1. re: Buckethead

            An article I read has the store being run by Cindy whose last name escapes me but who is the most knowlegable PLCB employee I ever met. I am going to go just to talk to her!

            1. re: Bigley9

              The selection is good and the staff is knowledgeable at the new Garces Trading Co. It's a small selection, mostly Spain, France, and Italy if I remember correctly, but good range of price (I saw $8.99-$125). It's a great deal if you're dining in or not... it's now our closest store to our place!

              We were at Kanella (another stand out BYOB!) for lunch the other day and when another table asked where the nearest wine store was, they sent them there. Brilliant!

          2. re: barryg

            Maybe it's a practice unique to the 'burbs? Sovana Bistro in Kennett and High Street Caffe in West Chester come immediately to mind as places that charge for corkage..

            1. re: CindyJ

              That's really surprising. I don't see how a place in town could get away with it since there are so many BYOs and nobody charges.

              1. re: barryg

                Well, I'm guessing High Street Caffe charges because they allow BYO even though they actually have a liquor license, Sovana Bistro charges for the same reason, however, they charged a $5/bottle corkage fee even before they obtained their license, and truthfully, I never minded paying it. Talula's Table, which does NOT have a liquor license, also charges a corkage fee for the table for their tasting dinners. Again, considering the number of courses, the amount of wine that's typically poured at these dinners, and the amount of good quality stemware they provide, it's well worth it.

              2. re: CindyJ

                It's definitely not common practice in Center City. I've yet to come across a BYO here that charges corkage.

                And while I'm no big fan of the PLCB, it's perfectly possible to find an acceptable bottle of wine for dinner in one of the state stores, especially for an out of town visitor, and there are good bottles to be found at reasonable prices. Especially considering the alternative of what you'd pay for gas/transportation to get out of the city and back just for a bottle of wine, unless you're a complete vinophile looking for very particular vineyards or wines. In which case, traveling with some of your own stock would be best, or plan to be able to shop out of state.

            2. As of when I last visited both Restaurante Alba in Malvern and Sola in Bryn Mawr had corkage charges. Sola was extremely reasonable; Alba was somewhat high making it worthwhile only if you were bringing a special not run of the mill bottle. I imagine these places in the burbs charge because they can. For one thing, the sales tax outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh is 6% not the 8% of those cities.

              3 Replies
              1. re: FayeD

                Alba has $10 corkage, but they now have a liquor license. Sola has $2, but provide high end stemware and the servers pour for you if you wish. Others in the burbs that come to mind are the new Gemili in Narberth and Kaya's in Havertown. Both have $3 corkage and pretty generic stemware.

                1. re: FayeD

                  I wasn't aware of Alba's liquor license. That really does influence my choice of dining spots. I've got plans to be there next week... maybe I'll revisit my options now.

                  1. re: CindyJ

                    Many thanks for all your replies. We are looking forward to the "BYO" scene in Philadelphia.

                2. I thought I'd add one more suggestion to the pile: if you have any particular wines that you like, you can check the online state catalog for their availability at ANY state store location, and you can have the wine shipped to the nearest location to you for no charge (in the event that the wine you fancy isn't available near you). From my memory, for example, the 12th and Chestnut location isn't great for American pinot, but the Chestnut Hill location is very well stocked.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: nwinkler

                    I thought that there was a charge to have the wine shipped to your nearest location, with exceptions. For example, during March they were doing this for free for the chairmen's selections.