Pennsylvania has bizarre liquor laws. We accept it, we understand it (somewhat). However, they are perplexing to outsiders. Why are all the liquor stores state run? Why are there so many BYOBs? Why can't you buy beer in grocery stores?
Some of the best answers we've come across can be found at Chowhound, where they are currently discussing Pennsylvania liquor laws. A large part of it has to do with Pennsylvania's liquor license system: the state has a limited number of liquor licenses based on population. Philadelphia has more restaurants than the licenses it's allocated. New restaurants are forced to buy their liquor licenses on the open market from restaurants that are closingand the price averages $250,000, according to Chowhound user JugglerDave (there are even brokers, such as the Pennsylvania Liquor License Exchange). As a result, many Philly restaurants opt for BYOB.
Meanwhile, restaurants are allowed to give customers complementary glasses of wine or champagne with dinner, as long as they don't charge for itas can be seen at many South Philadelphia establishments.
As for the whole only-buying-beer-at-bars-and-distributors-thing... We're not going to go into too much detail. Far too complicated and legalistic, thanks to PA's Quaker heritage. But the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently discovered a convenience store in Altoona that is allowed to sell beer through a loophole in the liquor laws. Apparently restaurants (and bars) are allowed to sell beer but delis and convenience stores are not. This one particular store built a seperate seating area, meeting the requirement that any establishment selling beer be able to seat at least 30. And now you know.
Can someone please explain the liquor license thing in Philly? [Chowhound]
Pennsylvania Liquor License Exchange [Official Site]
A convenience store to sell beer in Pa. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]