In Philadelphia, heading out to your favorite Thai spot with a bottle of wine in hand feels natural. But going to your favorite bar with a spread of drunken noodles and chicken satay, or other takeout?
Philly has an expansive selection of BYOBs, but it's now developing an underground BYOF scene.
That's Bring Your Own Food.
"With Garage, we wanted to keep our focus on the beer rather than getting invested in a kitchen," said Jason Evenchik, owner of Garage Passyunk, which welcomes BYOFers. "We're right in between Pat's and Geno's, and obviously beer goes really, really well with a cheesesteak — it only made sense to invite people to bring their order to our bar."
Garage Passyunk is among a growing number of spots in Philadelphia that welcome patrons to bring in outside food, or even order delivery straight to their bar stools. With the city's current brewery boom, that list is expected to get longer.
"The idea is less common in Philly, but it fits so well with a brewery — that relaxed vibe you want to have, helping to create a space you can feel comfortable hanging out all day," said Melissa Walter, a cofounder of Love City Brewing Co. "We often have food trucks, but we know people have different dietary preferences."
The trend is a win-win on both sides of the bar. Bartenders say customers with food tend to stick around longer and are likely to order an extra drink or two. For those cracking a cold one, BYOF means a relaxed dining experience where the choices of cuisine, price, and ambience are all within the customer's control.
"It gives people the option to create their own little vibe wherever they might like to drink," Evenchik said. "We even see people throw their own birthday parties — they'll bring in pizza and cake — so that party planning doesn't end up needing to be some elaborate thing."
Britney Lynn, a bartender for 11 years at Druid's Keep, said BYOF is all about staying casual.
"Sometimes, you get off work and you just don't want to go to a restaurant," Lynn said. "We get a lot of regulars and industry people who just want to relax and simply eat on their own terms."
Interested in your own BYOF night? Pull up a bar stool.
"Just a reminder that you're ALWAYS welcome to BYO food to the bar anytime, because let's be honest … it's NEVER a bad time for a spontaneous pizza party with @santuccis_pizza and you get it delivered directly to your bar stool!" reads a Twitter post from @garagephilly.
Garage, which has one of the largest selections of canned beer in the city, is one of the few BYOF establishments to loudly advertise its policy. Both its Fishtown (100 E. Girard Ave.) and Passyunk (1231 E. Passyunk Ave.) locations host food trucks with rotating vendors most nights of the week, but Evenchik says bringing in outside food is equally welcome.
"For Passyunk, it's especially popular in the winter," Evenchik said. "People can grab a cheesesteak and not have to suffer outside, but rather come in to a warm environment — with a bathroom."
Cheesesteaks rank high among the most common BYOF items not only at Garage Passyunk, but also at Garage Fishtown, which is across the street from Joe's Steaks + Soda Shop. Pizza, Evenchik said, also tops the list.
Housed in an old garage on West Passyunk Avenue, Brewery ARS is the ultimate no-frills setting for pairing a casual bite with a beer ripe with complexity. The 10-barrel brewhouse has a continuously evolving lineup, including sudsy options like Lemonsteady, an IPA with Lemondrop and Loral hops and a pinch of lemon zest, and Spirit Speak, an abbey ale spiced with lemongrass and coriander.
"We had a beer background, not a food background. We never wanted to head up a food component, so it was a natural cohabitation to bring in food trucks and also let people order what they please," said Sean Arsenault, who opened Brewery ARS (1927-29 W. Passyunk Ave.) with his brother. "I now know more about pizza places in the area than I ever could've imagined."
Arsenault said pizza — from places such as Santucci's, Uncle Oogie's, and Stoagie Joe's — is the most common delivery item, which he notes makes a good pairing with a spicy saison. Toward the end of each week, a rotating roster of food trucks park outside Brewery ARS, making a convenient option for a BYOF night. The current schedule is Ramble Pizza on Thursdays, Tijuana Burritos & Tacos on Fridays, and a rotating truck on Saturdays,
Want to pair Chinese takeout with a night at the dartboard?
Druid's Keep (49 Brown St.) in Northern Liberties also has a pool table and multiple video games. Out back, an area with beanbag toss platforms keeps a steady flow of friendly competition brewing on warm nights, and a scattering of comfy lawn chairs await those who want to chow down outside.
"Sometimes in the summer, we have a grill people can use, so the bring-your-own-food options here really are endless," Lynn said. Call ahead if you have a group and want to ensure propane is available.
Bar (1309 Sansom St.) doesn't have a kitchen. It does have a lengthy beer list downstairs, foosball and pool tables upstairs, and plenty of takeout menus. Bringing food in with you? Popular nearby options include pizza from Zavino and burgers from Time next door.
Claiming to have created the Citywide Special, Bob & Barbara's (1509 South St.) is known for its $3 PBR and shot of Jim Beam. But if you want to last till the Thursday night drag show or the live jazz concerts every Saturday and Sunday, you'll want to order some food before downing the special on an empty stomach.
Bob & Barbara's does have limited pub fare, but you'll find tastier and more substantial options in the surrounding neighborhood. Popular choices include Indian Restaurant, Govinda's Vegetarian Cuisine, and the Jamaican Jerk Hut.
Love City (1023 Hamilton St.), which opened in April, is Philly's newest BYOF brewery. It serves food daily from a limited snack menu and hosts an on-site food truck Thursday through Sunday, but the owners wanted to ensure everyone's dietary needs and preferences were met.
"Sometimes, we'll have a BBQ truck that serves all meat, and so for vegetarians like me, we didn't want the options to ever feel restricting," Walter said.
Popular spots for grab-and-go food nearby include Wood Street for pizza and El Purepecha for tacos and burritos. Walter said customers will also often swing by Chinatown for takeout on their way to Love City.
The Bottle Shop (1616 E. Passyunk Ave.) serves as a pit stop for those en route to a BYOB, but the East Passyunk beer supplier makes for a great BYOF destination, too. Right in the heart of the foodie paradise that is East Passyunk Avenue, the store is surrounded by to-go options of all kinds. Choose the cuisine of your choice, and then bring your order to one of the Bottle Shop's tables, available inside and out.
As with alcohol, too much caffeine on an empty stomach is never a good thing.
"I wanted the cafe to be as inviting and as comfortable as possible, so if people are hanging and doing work and get hungry, they don't have to leave," said Mat Falco, owner of Herman's Coffee (1313 S. Third St.), a BYOF cafe in Pennsport.