Philadelphia and the Countryside - Press Room

Releases: Expanded View

Oct 30 2006

Brown Bagging Is Chic At Philadelphia's 200+ Bring-Your-Own-Bottle Restaurants

BYOB Boom In Philly Makes City A Hotspot For These Cozy Culinary Wonders

Soon the bring-your-own-bottle (BYOB) restaurant will be as synonymous with Philadelphia as the cheesesteak, the soft pretzel and Rocky. Typically cozy, family-run, laid-back, inexpensive—and all about the food—BYOBs can be found around most every corner of Center City and tucked down country roads (at last count, more than 200).

In recent years, the BYOB scene has gone beyond mom-and-pop joints to include haute international bistros, funky casual spots and authentic ethnic eateries. And these days, patrons are toting more than just bottles of wine; they’re bringing tequila, vodka or whatever other spirit they prefer. The prevalence of BYOBs is so great in the region that the Zagat Survey of Philadelphia restaurants is one of the only such city guides to contain a separate listing for “BYO.”

Why BYOB?:
Historians have yet to come up with the name of the region’s very first BYOB, but modern restaurant experts agree the phenomenon developed as a result of Pennsylvania’s strict liquor laws and high liquor taxation. When start-up restaurants choose to forgo the expenses of owning a liquor license, they lower their initial overhead, which lets them keep menu prices lower, which, in turn, attracts a wider range of clientele. Today, the spirit of the BYOB celebrates this level of freedom and casualness. Like the brasserie, the café and the gastropub, the BYOB has evolved into its own genre, and consumers like being in charge. At a BYOB, diners get to drink exactly what they want to drink, without draining the budget and without sacrificing quality.

BYOB Etiquette:
Thankfully, very few BYOBs stand for fussy manners. Most permit jeans. Brown-bagging Chardonnay is universally accepted, as is substituting wine for beer. Still, there are a few ground rules. Number one: Learn reservations policies. For example: Rittenhouse Square’s popular and cute Audrey Claire accepts reservations every night except Friday and Saturday. Queen Village’s noisy and fun Greek seafood mecca Dmitri’s won’t take reservations, but the hostess is glad to search the bar across the street to find patrons on the waiting list. West Philadelphia’s Marigold Kitchen, housed in a beautiful old brownstone and serving impeccably nouveau American fare, gently advises diners to call a few weeks in advance to reserve a table. Number two: Most BYOBs will not ask you to open your own bottle. Number three: Many BYOBs are cash only.

Italian BYOBs:
By far the most prevalent BYOBs serve Italian fare. These trattorias first came into popularity in the once predominantly Italian-American South Philadelphia neighborhood, where red tomato sauce is called “gravy.” In South Philly, not-to-be-missed Italian BYOBs include Franco’s High Note Cafe, where servers deliver osso bucco and sing opera; Tre Scalini, a decorative throwback to the 1970s that’s famous for black squid ink pasta; and Mr. Martino’s, with the romantic vibe of an old speakeasy, homey white bean soup and baked ricotta with broccoli rabe. Among the dozens of Italian BYOBs in Center City, buzz-makers include handsome and hip Mercato, for Tuscan salads and mojo short ribs; chic Melograno, with long, worthwhile waits for fig-stuffed quail and beet and mascarpone ravioli; and Ernesto’s 1521 Café, for amazing vegetable Napoleons and arguably the city’s best tiramisu.

A Family Affair:
Second in prevalence to Italian BYOBs are couple-run operations. Philadelphia swarms with happily committed duos who work together to make their restaurants happen. At Old City’s homey Chloe, Mary Ann Ferrie and Dan Grimes share time behind the line, making fig flatbreads for patrons. Deep in South Philly, Kathy and Davide Faenza are, respectively, pastry chef and chef at L’Angolo, a charming gem for straightforward Gallipoli-inspired fare. Catherine and David Ansill also share kitchen duties at the Italian Market’s Pif, a wee, curtained spot for no-holds-barred French brasserie cooking (think escargots and organs). Phoenixville’s contemporarily lush Majolica is owner-operated by wife and hubby team Sarah Johnson (manager) and Andrew Deery (chef). In Chinatown, there’s a double-couple: classic Cantonese Lee How Fook—home of the city’s best oyster hot pot—was founded by Doris and Shing Chung, and is now run by their daughter and son-in-law Sieu and Andrew Nguyen.

Countryside Connections:
Bring-you-own-bottle restaurants extend far beyond city limits. Even city dwellers have been known to make the drive for meals at spots like Chester County’s Birchrunville Store Café, a spot for fine dining on chef-owner Francis Trzeciak’s goat cheese soufflé and croissant bread pudding. Four-star chef Alison Barshak practically runs a fan club at her pretty Alison at Blue Bell in bucolic Montgomery County, where she specializes in fresh fish and hugs for customers. Former Le Bec-Fin chef Peter Gilmore runs Gilmore’s, a haute family operation in an elegant West Chester townhouse. Farther into the historic Brandywine Valley, contemporary and popular Sovana Bistro uses local ingredients—especially Kennett Square’s famous mushrooms—in its approachable modern cuisine. Northeast of the city, vegetarians flock to Blue Sage Grille for serious meat-free, California-inspired eats.

Spirited BYOBs:
Those who’d rather mix instead of swirl, sniff and quaff can still enjoy libations at BYOBs catering to non-wine drinkers. Lolita, a hip and happening Center City spot for inventive Mexican cuisine, serves fresh juices in chic pitchers to patrons wishing to mix in their own tequila for margaritas. Both the Jamaican Jerk Hut (South Street) and Geechee Girl Rice Café (Germantown) offer homemade ginger beer that mixes with rum and lime to make island-inspired dark ‘n’ stormies. Down-home joints like Sweet Lucy’s Smokehouse (for the best barbecue in town) and Tacconelli’s Pizzeria (where devoted customers reserve their pizza dough in advance) are perfect for toting along a six-pack of locally brewed Yards beer. Bryn Mawr’s Café Fresko and Lourdas Greek Taverna serve Greek specialties like souvlaki, rack of lamb and Greek-style fish that practically cry out for ouzo.

Other Restaurants Catching onto the BYOB Craze:
As the popularity of BYOBs continues to increase, restaurants with liquor licenses have relaxed their policies for patrons wishing to bring their own libations. On Sunday night at Restaurant Row’s contemporary French Brasserie Perrier, diners can BYOB with no corkage fee. Sunday is also BYOB night at Ambler’s Bridget 8 West. In Northern Liberties, at the pretty Napa-inspired Italian bistro Sovalo, patrons may BYOB for free on Monday nights. On Wednesday night at Old City’s sleek, slow-food emporium Farmicia, diners can bring along the liquid refreshments of their choosing.

The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) makes Philadelphia and The Countryside™ a premier destination through marketing and image building that increases business and promotes the region’s vitality. For more information about travel to Philadelphia, visit or call the Independence Visitor Center, located in Independence National Historical Park, at (800) 537-7676.


  • E-mail
Tagged: BYOBs

Related Releases

Sep 13 2017

What's In The Neighborhood?

South Street

Long known as the edgiest street in Philadelphia, South Street welcomes more than just hippies these days. Shoppers searching for a statement-making look, visitors hungry for a real Philly cheesesteak and music lovers who want to catch an up-and-coming band head to the storied boulevard. Also lining South are ethnically diverse and destination restaurants, bars that keep the party going long after dessert, galleries and performance spaces.

Over the past decade, the development of South Street’s east side has spread west of Broad Street, but the traditional definition of the district (depending on who you ask) spans up to 14

Aug 29 2017

What’s In The Neighborhood?

Graduate Hospital

Graduate Hospital goes by many names (Center City South, South of South, G-Ho), which is fitting for a neighborhood that draws its personality from the people inside it: young transplants, born-and-raised neighbors, hip urban professionals, craft beer crowds and more. In recent years, the area stretching from Lombard Street to Washington Avenue and from Broad Street to Gray’s Ferry Avenue has accumulated a healthy dose of restaurants, bars, cafes, shops and markets that reflect the area’s residential and cool vibe.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) has picked this ’hood for its summertime PHS Pop Up Garden three years in a

Jul 5 2017

Philly 101: The How-Tos For Navigating Philadelphia

Primer On The City’s Layout, Accents & Very Particular Way To Drink At Dinner

Every year, 42 million travelers get to know Philadelphia’s layout, customs, food and dialect during their visits. First-timers may wonder: What’s the best way to get around (walk); why do so many restaurants refuse to serve alcohol (BYOBs); where are all the bagels (soft pretzels for breakfast); is that Ben Franklin on the top of that building (no); and is wooder ice really that big of a deal (yes)?

The reasons to visit the country’s first World Heritage City have been well-covered in U.S. News World Report, The New York Times, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, Lonely Planet and Condé

May 10 2017

What's In Old City And Along The Delaware River Waterfront?

Two Historic District Neighborhoods Offer Restaurants, Art Galleries, Nightlife, Shopping—And History

Located just next to Independence Mall, where the country’s Founding Fathers declared liberty and built a free nation, Old City, part of Philadelphia’s Historic District, boasts charming cobblestone streets and plenty of 18th-century charm—along with an independent streak that’s evident in everything from its owner-operated shops to its edgy art scene.

Its proximity to the Liberty Bell, Penn’s Landing and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge make Old City a favorite for out-of-towners as much as for the residents who call it home. People love the neighborhood for its fashionable boutiques, great restaurants, eclectic galleries, boundary-pushing theaters and vibrant nightlife.

May 10 2017

Recap And Refuel: Philly's Dining Scene Caters To Discerning (And Famished) Night Owls

Plenty Of Options For Late-Night Eats In Philly

As Philadelphia’s dining scene continues to grow, the city’s bistros, gastropubs, brasseries, eateries, diners and fast-food spots are growing by…hours. By law in Philly, last call at the bar happens at 2 a.m. Last call for food, however, is anywhere from 11 p.m. to never. Check out this list of the hottest, coolest and coziest spots to nibble, nosh, gobble and dine well into the early-morning hours.

Until Midnight On Weekends:

  • Alla Spina – A hip and completely original approach to the gastropub, chef Marc Vetri’s bar always feels like the place to be. The crispy pig’s tails, pickled
Apr 19 2017

Philadelphia's New Spring Restaurants Are All Over Its Map

Philly’s Latest Crop Of Neighborhood Spots Serve Local To Global Fare, Indoors And Out

The arrival of spring itself is reason to celebrate, but a fresh list of restaurant openings provides the what and where. Now is the time to try SPAM musubi (like maki) near Rittenhouse Square (Poi Dog), Taiwanese fried squid in Chinatown (Cheers Cut) and quirky beers in Fishtown (Evil Genius). Whether it’s a dining destination in King of Prussia (Mistral) or a burger joint in Manayunk (Napoleon Burger), great eating awaits. Here are some recently launched venues to experience—asterisks (*) mark venues with alfresco dining:

Center City East:

  • Cheers
Mar 21 2017

What's in the Callowhill Neighborhood?

Restuarants, Bars, Galleries, Shops and More

Dubbed the “Loft District” by real estate developers and “The Eraser ’Hood” by locals referencing the once-dark landscape that inspired former resident David Lynch’s cult classic Eraserhead, Callowhill is something between these two extremes. The stylish-yet-still-transforming neighborhood attracts both young professionals who enjoy its high-end condos and close proximity to Center City and artists looking for affordable studio and gallery spaces. The formerly industrial neighborhood charms with a rich stock of large, urban buildings, remnants of cobblestone streets, edgy rock clubs, emerging galleries and hidden cultural gems.

Just north of Center City, Callowhill’s boundaries run from 8th to Broad

Mar 14 2017

Arcades, Museum Parties, Drag Shows & More Alternatives To Nighttime Fun In Philadelphia

Dear Grown-Ups, Plenty Of After-Dark Fun Awaits In Philly

Philadelphia’s famously hip bars, jazz lounges, indie rock haunts and electric dance clubs are worth exploring, but visitors whose after-dark tastes trend toward the less usual can also enjoy bowling, dance lessons, drag shows, museum parties and game nights. To make the nighttime fun continue into the next day, visitors can sleep over and take advantage of the popular Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package—packed with perks, including free hotel parking.

Games For Grown-Ups:

  • Barcade – Childhood dreams come true when grown-up gamers can defeat Donkey Kong and master Marble Madness—all while choosing from a list of a couple
Mar 6 2017

Philadelphia's Top Restaurants And Bars For NFL Draft Media

Spots For Breakfast, Lunch & Late-Night Eats & Drinks

When it comes to dining and drinking, Philly has almost too many choices, especially when it comes to NFL Draft time. Here are a few restaurants and bars recommended for members of the press who don’t have time to read reviews—or have dinner out, for that matter. The list below is organized by neighborhood, and many of the spots are good for groups.

FAIRMOUNT (Center City, Art Museum Area)


  • Mugshots Coffeehouse – The area’s original coffeehouse, serving up locally farmed foods, fairly traded organic coffee and tea, and vegan and gluten-free grub. Wi-Fi. 1925 Fairmount Avenue, (267) 514-7145,
Feb 26 2017

Black-Owned Shops, Restaurants, Day Spas & More Boom In Philadelphia

Visitors To Philly Can Support Independent, Brick-And-Mortar African-American Businesses

Shops, restaurants, galleries and bars owned and operated by African-Americans are abundant in Philadelphia. Among Philly’s destination-worthy black-owned businesses: high-end lingerie boutique Coeur, nerdy-cool hangout Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, healthful juice and açai bowls bar Stripp’d Juice, top-shelf nightclub Reserve, and and West Philadelphia’s inimitable arts space, the Tiberino Museum.

Here’s a traveler-tailored list of some of the city’s standout black-owned businesses.

  • Amazulu Collections – Charita Powell, owner. Seven days a week and for more than 25 years, this popular Reading Terminal Market stand has represented artists from all over the world and lived the motto, “where cultures meet.”