Here's a general rundown, as I understand it, of the crazy liquor laws in PA:
In PA, wine/spirits may not be sold wholesale in any store that also sells food (i.e., no liquor sold in grocery stores). Beer may not be sold in any store that also sells wine or hard spirits. Beer (malt or brewed beverages) may also only be sold in quantities of a case or larger (24 bottles minimum) UNLESS the store is a deli or a bar, in which case beer may be sold wholesale as single bottles or six-packs. In fact, it is also illegal for a beer distributor to reassemble new cases of beer mixtures, even to salvage partially broken cases; the only way a distributor can salvage broken cases is if the new cases contain 24 of the same beer. By the way a beer distributor, which is one of the few upswings of our bizarre laws, is like a beer warehouse. They're actually quite convenient and not (suprisingly) too expensive. It would just be great if you could buy a six pack at one.
All wholesale wine/liquor stores are owned monopolistically by the PLCB (Pennsylvanian Liquor Control Board). All restaurants with licences must purchase their wine and spirits through the PLCB. Because the PLCB determines what wines and spirits are available, a number of high end restaurants get fined occasionally (world class philly french restaurant Le Bec Fin, for example) for essentially smuggling in high price wines to fill their cellars to satisfy discriminating clientele. My dad, who is somewhat of a oenophile, when he lived in PA, often had to travel to MD to buy wines there where there is a better selection (and, frankly, taxes are less). But you have to be careful - PA police often hang out under cover at liquor stores just over the border and wait for people who buy wine there and try to bring it back into PA. As you are only permitted to bring a few bottles into PA per person, the state issues a lot of tickets to people trying to smuggle "illegal" wine into the PA. All liquor stores are required to be closed on Sundays. This is changing, slowly, as some stores have been open on Sundays recently on a "trial basis".
The PLCB allows only a certain number of licenses to sell on-site and wholesale liquor to be issued. Getting a licence, especially an on-site licence (e.g., for a restaurant) is quite expensive (I believe over $50,000 US, variable depending on location) and because the number of licences issued in an area is restricted by population, there is usually a long waiting list. Also, places wishing to sell liquor must post their intent publically for a given period of time, and local people who want to protest the licence may do so. This discourages local stores from trying to sell booze. The only good thing about this whole licencing system really is that as a result of the paucity and expense of issued licences, a fantastic BYOB scene has arisen in Philadelphia, which is pretty unique to the city.
These laws have their origins I believe in the quaker history of PA and linger from prohibition. There is an 18% tax on liquor in PA that was enacted in 1936 to help clean up a flood in Johnstown that occurred that year. We are still helping to cleam up that flood with an 18% tax. Generally speaking these laws are quite annoying but do have some benefits (such as the BYOs). Also, some people have exploited loopholes. For instance, there is a notorious place around 9th street in Philly that allows you make your own six packs with a great selection of beers. They are able to do this because in the very back of the store they also sell sliced deli meats. Strange. There's been a lot of movement lately to try to get the PA laws modernized and more relaxed, because it's frankly ridiculous that you can't go into a grocery store and buy a bottle of wine or a six pack of good beer like you can in just about every other state of the union, but because the state has monopolistic control over all the liquor sold within its boundaries, liquor is obviously a very large revenue generator here, and so lawmakers drag their feet.
gravyluvr wrote:I also have family in Jersey - but I really haven't been to Philly much. I'd like to go to a Phillies game at the new stadium sometime.
Cheese Steak and cold beer? Does not sound to bad.
The new stadium is great, although I'm not much of a baseball fan. But don't go there for the food, unless you want to pay like 9 dollars for a watered down bud and another 5 for a hot dog. The prices there are just ridiculous. Better to get your beer and steak before the game. I remember the days when you could go to a ball game and a pair of hot dogs and a coke cost a just a few bucks. Those days are long gone.
"What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?" - Richard P. Feynman