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Secrets of the City: Philly

Revealing all the untold stories of Philly. From all the best local spots to our love for a good parade, check out the stories that make the City of Brotherly Love unique!

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Bring Your Own Brotherly Love

Happy New Year from Philly Crawling! Many of you may have made a resolution to eat and drink better in the New Year. Here in Philadelphia, we’re no different. Our resolution is to eat and drink better – and CHEAPER – in 2024. How will we keep this resolution? We’ll seek out BYOBs!

This very popular, cost-effective way to dine is typically referred to as “a BYO” here in the City of Brotherly Love. What that silent “B” means is up for interpretation. Bring your own Beverage, Bottle, Booze, Beer, or whatever strikes your fancy!

Image from A Mano Instagram account.

Image from A Mano Instagram account.

Philly’s dining scene is a famously diverse, blended culinary landscape! But did you know that Philly is one of the leading cities for BYO dining experiences in the US?

Boasting over 300 locations, Philly’s BYO culture began to gain traction in the 1990s with several popular Center City restaurants leading the way to offer customers inexpensive dining options that showcase exceptional food. Over time, the trend solidified into a defining component of our culinary scene.

The abundance of BYOs is in part thanks to the state’s Quaker roots. Since our founders were not the biggest drinkers, Pennsylvania has a complex, demanding liquor licensing system. The state-run Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, or PLCB, must issue a license to any establishment that wishes to sell beer, wine, or spirits. But the PCLB strictly limits the number of licenses that it hands out, issuing only one per 3,000 residents. This creates high demand and even higher prices, making liquor licenses prohibitively expensive for many aspiring restaurateurs.

The BYO model allows Philly restaurants to skip the cost of obtaining a license and instead focus on creating great food and atmospheres. It empowers chefs to experiment with different cuisines and concepts without playing it safe. This has led to a wide range of dining options, from casual neighborhood spots to upscale fine dining, all embracing our BYO culture.

BYOs also offer significant savings to diners, as they allow restaurants to avoid imposing markups to cover licensure costs. This affordability factor attracts budget-conscious customers and contributes to the popularity of BYOs. And unlike other cities where corkage fees are common, you’ll rarely encounter an uncorking fee in a Philly BYO!

Locals appreciate the communal and intimate atmosphere that BYOs foster. Sharing personal bottles of wine or beer creates a casual, social vibe, one that’s often lacking in licensed restaurants. This focus on food and shared experience contributes to the city’s unique dining culture.

In short, Philly’s abundance of BYOB restaurants isn’t a coincidence. It’s a product of restrictive regulations, a financial incentive for both restaurants and diners, a diverse culinary landscape, and a unique, community-driven dining culture that values affordability and sharing. And while our teetotaling founders might not approve of the booze at the end of BYOB, they might appreciate the freedom that we give everyone to interpret that final letter. After all, that final B could certainly stand for “Brotherly Love!”

While you’re in town, be sure to check out some of Philly Crawling’s favorite BYOs:

Old City
Before or after Philly Crawling’s Liberty Pub Crawl, get some good eats at Radicchio Cafe, Malooga, Olea, Buk Chon, Karma, 3 J’s Cafe, Spasso Italian Grill, or Tomo Sushi & Ramen.

After you conquer the “Rocky Steps” and pay a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, why not grab a bite at Figs, A Mano, Umai Umai, Angelino’s, Sabrina’s, Nine Thai Kitchen, or Babys PHL.

Center City

Visit Philadelphia’s City Hall, shop the Fashion District, or see a show on the Avenue of the Arts, then treat yourself to a meal at Giorgio on Pine, Melograno, Mercato, Bistro La Baia, or Trattoria Carina.

South Philly
Cap off your tour of the Italian Market with a visit to Tabachoy, Hardena, Stina, Bomb Bomb, Burrata, Mawn, Cafe Ynez, or Isot. (Pro Tip: Don’t miss Tabachoy’s “Community Fridge!”)

Northern Liberties/Fishtown
Experience the deliciousness of the fun and funky neighborhoods found northeast of Center City with a stop at Pera, Helm, Apricot Stone, Ellwood, Streetside or Elma.

Written by Jenna, a local expert guide for Philly Crawling. A recent escapee from the corporate world, she enjoys volunteering and spending time with family. She’s a pet lover, self-proclaimed beer geek, travel enthusiast, and aspiring foodie. Join Jenna for history and beer on Philly Crawling’s Liberty Pub Crawl.

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