BYOB – four letters that have grown to define the Philadelphia food and drink scene. Philadelphia historians aren’t sure of the exact origins of the city’s bring-your-own-bottle (BYOB) restaurant genre, but it’s agreed that the phenomenon of laid-back, cozy restaurants built around customers providing their own spirits developed as a reaction to Pennsylvania’s strict liquor laws and high alcohol taxation. The city’s startup restaurant owners decided to forgo expensive liquor licenses and allow patrons to bring their own bottles of wine or beer, in turn allowing the restaurants to lower their overhead and their overall menu prices while focusing on high-quality food. This allows diners to drink exactly what they’d like while enjoying amazing yet inexpensive meals.
While the full history of the BYOB in Philadelphia is murky and up for debate, the popularity of the genre and its expansion in the city is a relatively recent phenomenon. Since the mid-90’s, BYOBs have grown to dominate the Philly restaurant conversation. When Audrey Claire, a popular Mediterranean BYOB located at 20th and Spruce, opened in 1996, it was only one of two fine dining BYOBs in the city. Since then, the number of BYOBs in the city has exploded, with well over 200 restaurants dotting the city map.
While finding a BYOB in most Philadelphia neighborhoods is as easy as walking a block or two in any direction, for your convenience we’ve put together this short list of our favorites to go with our history of the BYOB in Philadelphia:
Laurel – 1617 E. Passyunk Avenue: Food Network Top Chef Winner Nick Elmi’s French tasting menu has certainly made a name for itself since the South Philly restaurant’s debut in November 2013. OpenTable included Laurel on its Top 100 Fit for Foodies Restaurants in America list, and GQ food critic Alan Richman recently listed Laurel at #8 on his list of the 25 Best New Restaurants in the United States, calling out the “elegant” catfish in coconut-clam broth as the most stunning meal on the BYOB’s menu.
Mercato – 1216 Spruce St.: Cozy, romantic, and inviting, Mercato is some of the best Italian food Philadelphia has to offer. Chef Mackenzie Hilton, a winner on Food Network’s Chopped, combines modern, experimental flare and seasonal ingredients with Old World Italian cuisine. Winner of Philadelphia Magazine’s Best New BYOB award in 2006, Mercato is the perfect place to share a bottle of wine and a table for two with someone special.
Pumpkin – 1713 South St.: Owned by husband and wife restaurateurs Ian Moroney and Hillary Bor, Pumpkin was named after the owners’ pet name for one another. A fixture in Philadelphia BYOBs for the past 10 years, Pumpkin prides itself on its constantly-changing menu based on fresh, local, seasonal ingredients. Listed in Philly Magazine’s Top 5 Restaurants in Philadelphia, Pumpkin is the place to be to discover the best delicious yet healthy cuisine the Philadelphia area has to offer.