There are 35 BYOB restaurants in New York City listed in the 2009 Zagat Guide.
They tend to be small, ethnic and unambitious. And while there are a
few upscale exceptions--Apiary and Tribecca Grill offer BYOB on Monday
nights, and Alto has waived its $60 corkage fee until September, with
a limit of one outside bottle per table--these restaurants are only
making temporary concessions during a time of economic distress, doing
what they can to lure budget-conscious diners.
But most restaurants
have maintained corkage fees to discourage diners from bringing their
own wine. And some ban outside wine altogether: According to
New York Times
, only wine critic Robert Parker is allowed to bring
his own bottles to Daniel, a Michelin two-star French restaurant on
the Upper East Side. More ominously, the New York State Liquor Authority
that many of the state's BYOBs are
operating without the proper licenses, risking fines or closure. (Thankfully,
there seems to have been little subsequent enforcement of these codes.)
Fortunately, it's only a two-hour drive south to the nation's BYOB Mecca--Philadelphia. When I lived there, for a year in the late 90's, there were a handful. Now, there are more than 200, a fact touted in the Greater Tourism Philadelphia Market Corporation's brochures: "Welcome to Philadelphia, the place to
For this, we can thank a long tradition of Quaker teetotalism and its post-Prohibition
institutionalization in the form of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control
Board. More specifically, there's Philadelphia's cap on liquor licenses
and their high cost: $60,000. (Liquor licenses cost $4,500 in New
York.) For serious BYOBers, the only problem with this arrangement is
that they're better off purchasing their wine in another state. The
PLCB maintains a monopoly on wine and liquor distribution, and the state-operated
stores offer the diversity and inspired choices you'd expect of a
Is there hope for BYOB's rise outside Pennsylvania? Perhaps.
years after Thierry Rochard launched Tartine, he opened a bigger, more
ambitious restaurant down the block. Titou had a liquor license and
sold its own wine. Both restaurants were doing well, but then came 9/11,
which pummeled the city's restaurant and hotel industries. Titou limped
along for a few more years before shuttering in 2004. Meanwhile, Tartine
continued to thrive.
had been around longer and had a more loyal following, Rochard told
me not long after Titou closed. He also acknowledged that Tartine's
BYOB policy, which appeals to cost-conscious diners, might have had
something to do with it. I'd go further and say it had everything
to do with it.
it's not only in recessionary times like these that BYOBs can thrive.
On a recent Friday afternoon, I dropped by the BYOB restaurant closest
to my Upper East Side apartment. I spoke with Izmir Rouzyi, who along
with his older brother, Mohammad, owns four Afghan restaurants in New
York. The one nearest me has been open for more than 20 years and had
never sold alcohol. "At this restaurant everyone brings wine with
them, but the one [in the Theater District] gets more of an Indian and
Pakistani clientele and they don't bring alcohol," he said. "We
just concentrate on the food."