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Philly’s Restaurants and Bars Make the Most of a Botched Thanksgiving Eve

Tonight’s on-site alcohol ban leaves wiggle room for BYOs and to-go sales

Jet Wine Bar’s bottle shop extended its hours until 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving Eve.
Jet Wine Bar/official photo

Pennsylvania officials ordered restaurants and bars to stop pouring on-site this Thanksgiving Eve, but that’s not stopping those in Philly from still trying to make much-needed money on one of the biggest drinking nights of the year.

The one-night suspension of on-site alcohol consumption, designed to stem the further spread of the novel coronavirus, kicks in at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, November 25. Establishments can start serving again on Thanksgiving Day at 8 a.m.

Because Philly’s uniquely classified BYOs don’t sell or dispense alcohol, many such establishments appear to be running with the language loophole in Gov. Tom Wolf’s Thanksgiving Eve order.

“I think those locations that are going to be doing BYOB after 6 p.m. tonight are doing so at their own risk. I’m sure the situation is frustrating for them,” Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association executive director Chuck Moran tells Eater.

An employee at South Street BYO Pumpkin told Eater its reservations for Wednesday night are “looking like we’re going to do well.” Guests have been calling to confirm they can still bring their wine to go along with its daily three-course menu ($45) served across its covered and heated patio. Center City’s rustic Italian eatery Mercato and West Passyunk’s Latin-leaning La Mula Terca also plan to let patrons bring their own booze as usual on Thanksgiving Eve.

Non-BYO Philly bar and restaurants, however, have no choice but to expand to-go alcohol offerings, hours, or both to make up for six hours of lost on-site sales. The governor’s order declined to clarify that to-go alcohol sales at restaurants and bars are still permitted as usual on Wednesday night through 11 p.m. — an omission that left customers generally confused.

“What really is troublesome is these new regulations, but what’s even worse is if the public doesn’t understand what they are,” says Jill Weber, owner of the Sojourn Philly restaurant group (Rex 1516, Jet Wine Bar, Cafe Ynez).

Old Kensington’s Philadelphia Brewing Company, billed as the city’s oldest and largest brewery, wasted no time calling out the governor’s “botched” announcement:

Its popular brews like Kenz O’ Lantern Pumpkin Ale and Joe Coffee Porter are available for on-site purchase and curbside pickup daily — including Thanksgiving Eve — from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Pottstown-based whiskey specialist Manatawny Still Works blasted out an email on Tuesday noting its business hours were just extended this week, “especially on Wednesday.” While on-site drinking will cease at 5 p.m., its Pottstown home base will now stay open until 7 p.m. and its East Passyunk Avenue tasting room will accommodate to-go cocktail and bottle sales and online order pickups until 11 p.m.

Manatawny Still Works will sell pre-batched Thanksgiving Day cocktails at its Pottstown location on Wednesday.
Manatawny Still Works/official photo

Because booze has to stop flowing alongside food by 5 p.m., however, some restaurants opted to shut down entirely on Thanksgiving Eve. Southern staple Rex 1516 doesn’t open until 5 p.m. anyway, so Weber didn’t see the point in operating without alcohol at all.

“We had staff scheduled that evening who now don’t have hours — it snowballs,” says Weber. “It feels like a gut punch but the pandemic is out of control, so there’s perspective, too. This is one of the best nights of the year ... so you have to be creative.”

Her team started prepping early for an anticipated uptick in sales on bottled to-go versions of its popular lineup of cocktails like the Deep South, Horned Lark Hurricane, and Sazerac, available until 9 p.m. ($10-$13).

“Fortunately we do have a strong takeout program already,” says Weber.

Jet Wine Bar on South Street sells large-format boxes — read: four bottles worth — of rosé, house red and white ($40) for curbside pickup at the shop until 9 p.m., along with a Thanksgiving to-go wine package that’s still available. Its attached wine garden will not be open tonight as a result of Wednesday’s restrictions.

Queen Village’s Cry Baby Pasta almost immediately lost half of its reservations for Wednesday right after news of the on-site drinking ban broke.

“It is heartbreaking for our employees who were scheduled for tonight that now won’t have hours to work,” owner Bridget Foy tells Eater.

In a last-minute push to make money on Thanksgiving Eve, Cry Baby Pasta ramped up promotional efforts to let drinkers know it’s very much open for to-go wine sales past the 5 p.m. order.

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