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Mar 19, 2012 08:00 AM

PA's crazy liquor laws -- another example!

I just found myself reading and trying to understand some of the nuances of PA's rules and regulations regarding BYOB restaurant policies, and I came across something I find impossible to believe. Now, maybe PA's laws have changed since this inquiry was generated, but, if I'm understanding this correctly, it is illegal for restaurants that do not have liquor licenses to possess or store alcoholic beverages on premises, even if that wine is used exclusively for cooking. More specifically, in response to an inquiry from a restaurant owner, a representative of the PLCB wrote: "With respect to storing white wine and sherry in your kitchen, you cannot store or possess white wine and sherry anywhere in your establishment if the white wine or sherry is drinkable. However, if the wine or sherry is not drinkable (i.e., the salt content of the wine or sherry renders it unfit for drinking purposes), then such wine or sherry could be stored on the licensed premises for cooking purposes only."

HUH??? We've got some very upscale BYOs that feature menu selections prepared with wine. Am I to understand that these places are either using "cooking wine" or else they're breaking the law?

Also, I've been to several restaurants that do not have liquor licenses but offer complementary wine and other alcoholic beverages to customers. That's illegal, too? Curiouser and curiouser...

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  1. How about this one...

    From what I have read about outdoor seating, PA liquor laws only allow alcohol to be served to the tables that are adjacent to the building. So, technically, curbside tables should not be served alcohol.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Philly Ray

      I suppose in terms of actual alcohol consumption, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But from a safety perspective, it can get pretty dicey when servers are balancing drinks (and plates of food for that matter) across busy sidewalks. For that reason, I wish more places would pay attention to this law.

    2. I have to suspect that most good byos have a few bottles on hand, even if it's illegal. i mean, what if the waiter's opening a bottle and winds up pushing the cork into the bottle? there's got to be some sort of 'plan b.'
      i say this w/no actual knowledge of what the restaurants do, just my guess...

      2 Replies
      1. re: Bob Loblaw

        I was once at a South Philly BYO where an inexperienced server incorrectly positioned the worm of the corkscrew into what was a very nice bottle of Barbera. The further in the worm went, the more chipped glass fell onto our table until finally the neck of the bottle broke. There was a lame apology and that was it. Not even a comped appetizer or dessert. Now, we often tuck a corkscrew into our wine tote, and in all but the most upscale restaurants, open the wine ourselves.

        1. re: CindyJ

          I had a similar experience with the glass chipping and no apology or comp or kiss my butt or anything from the server or the owner. So, a while ago I began decanting a bottle at home and returning it to the bottle, then putting a VacuVin stopper on it when we go to BYO's. Works just fine for me.

      2. I know of two Japanese restaurants that allow regular patrons to keep a bottle of sake on the shelf with their name on it. Is this storing for the restaurant or for the customer? These idiotic laws need to be overhauled. And to think of all the great products not available because the Chairman doesn't think they're profitable enough.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Chefpaulo

          I remember when Sovana Bistro first opened in Kennett Square, and this was long before they had a liquor license, they had a wine rack where they stored bottles of wine for customers. Come to think of it, I recently noticed a temperature-controlled wine storage area at The Orchard in Kennett Square; I'm certain it's used for customers' bottles since the restaurant does not have a liquor license.

        2. Well here is something 2011 where the PLCB states:
          "An unlicensed establishment is permitted to give away free alcohol. The Liquor Code does not limit the amount or type of alcohol that an unlicensed establishment may give away. However, there cannot be any payment or purchase required or associated with the offer of free alcohol at unlicensed premises."

          So many places give out comp wine that that I have to believe it is legal. However I do know a couple places that give out "complimentary" wine as part of a prix fixe or if you buy the right thing... per the link, this is (unsurprisingly) not kosher.

          12 Replies
          1. re: barryg

            Also from the same link:
            "Please note that the Liquor Code does not regulate alcohol storage at an unlicensed premises. "

            Which implies that storage on behalf of the customer would be legal unless the municipality (not PLCB) restricts it.

            So by that logic, the restaurant can store wine for cooking, but since the customer paid for the dish with wine in it, is the restaurant in violation of "selling" the wine? As backwards as PLCB it is, I find it to hard to believe cooking with wine is not allowed.

            1. re: barryg

              Back to the OP... the issue in question seems to refer specifically to a *licensed* "eating place retail dispenser." If my Google is working right, this is a bar or deli that can sell beer to go. So, nothing to do with BYOBs at all. I guess if you want to sell beer to go you give up your right to store any wine, including cooking wine.

              Of course I am not a lawyer, nor do I work for PLCB.

              1. re: barryg

                So it looks like some of the laws have changed in recent years. I wonder whether it's still illegal for a customer to bring a bottle of wine which was not purchased in PA into a PA BYO.

                I also wonder whether THIS part of the regulation is still in effect: "...the customer's wine should remain at the table for consumption by the customer, and any unfinished wine should be taken by the customer off the licensed premises. Furthermore, should a customer leave a licensed premises with an unfinished bottle of wine, the Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, which is responsible for enforcement of the liquor laws in Pennsylvania, might assert that you sold the wine to the customer unless you are able to show that the wine was the property of the customer. In order to prevent such a scenario, it is suggested that you require customers who bring their own wine onto your licensed premises to have in their possession a receipt reflecting where the wine was purchased."

                It's all truly laughable!

                1. re: CindyJ

                  The law hasn't changed, the rules you linked to only apply to places that sell take out beer.

                  1. re: barryg

                    I didn't see the reference to beer. Where was it?

                    1. re: CindyJ

                      See my above post. If you read your linked opinion closely it specifically refers to "licensed eating place retail dispensers," not BYOBs. The opinion I linked to refers specifically to *unlicensed* establishments. In PLCB jargon, an "eating place retail dispenser" is a restaurant, bar, or deli that sells beer to go. In other words, places selling beer sacrifice their right to store any other type of alcohol.

                      1. re: barryg

                        Now I'm REALLY confused. If an "eating place retail dispenser" is a restaurant, bar, or deli that sells beer to go, and if beer is considered alcohol, then how can it be that "Section 492(13) of the Liquor Code prohibits eating place retail dispenser licensees from possessing or permitting the storage of any alcohol or liquor on the licensed premises"? Wouldn't the beer have to be stored on the licensed premises in order for them to sell it? What am I missing here?

                        1. re: CindyJ

                          Keeping in mind that this is all amateur internet sleuthing... if you look at the code in question it appears that the law makes a distinction between "malt or brewed beverages", "alcohol," and "liquor." Eg, 492(14) explicitly prohibits malt beverage licensees from selling alcohol and liquor.


                          If you look at the code definitions, the difference appears be that "alcohol" specifically refers to distilled beverages.

                          Edit: if the link doesn't work you may need to enter the liquor code (section 47) via this link and browse to the relevant parts:

                  2. re: CindyJ

                    "and any unfinished wine should be taken by the customer off the licensed premises".
                    So the cops can stop you and charge you with having an open container? Who writes these anyway?

                    1. re: Chefpaulo

                      ...a bunch of bureaucrats who have had too much to drink?

                      1. re: Chefpaulo

                        Chef.. the way to deal with the bottle of wine that is unfinished is to cork it, and to place it in the trunk of your car. Police cannot charge you for open container violation.

                        CindyJ, nothing has changed with regard to alcohol brought into the state. That is still against the law, and a person is subject to arrest, fines and confiscation of the merchandise.

                        If folks are interested in the continued discussion of changing PA liquor laws you might take a look at the following group on Facebook moderated by Lew Bryson. Lew is a published author, and an outspoken critic of the PLCB system who has testified in Harrisburg in favor of privatization of the PLCB system.

                  3. re: barryg

                    If the free wine in question is Manischevitz, it's kosher. :-)

                  4. I didn't read entire thread - my apologies if this was mentioned already. There's also some wacky rule regarding purchases from state stores having to be bagged before you leave the store. I buy one single bottle of wine and they always insist on putting it in a plastic bag. When I've asked (a couple of times) to have them not bag it, the do it begrudingly - and ask me to walk out with the receipt wrapped around the neck of the bottle.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ssturn

                      I got tired of all the plastic bags, too. One way around it is to bring along your wine carrier...or purchase one of their reusable tote bags for a couple of bucks.