Author: Elizabeth Kimmelman-Schwartz, C’04
When I was a college student, I loved going to BYOBs in Philadelphia. In fact, one summer when I stayed at Penn, two of my girl friends and I would go to a different BYOB every Thursday night and we would bring a bottle (or three) of the finest White Zin that the State Store had to offer. By the end of the summer we had conducted what we considered to be a thorough taste test on all the White Zins in the liquor store and concluded that Gallo was the best. Just FYI.
I tried almost all of the affordable BYOBs in the city when I was at Penn and I loved them. Cheap food, good company, the ability to drink wine no matter what our IDs said*, and it got my friends and I out and exploring downtown Philly. We loved a lot of the small Italian ones and our particular favorite was a Mexican spot that was “BYOT – Bring Your Own Tequila.” We’d always go out to a BYOB with a large group before sorority formals. My senior year, the Greek Honor Society that I was a part of took over a downtown BYOB for our end of year dinner. Every table had it’s own box of Franzia! (Who says Penn students aren’t classy?)
I have such wonderful memories of all of these BYOBs, and I was so excited to move back to Philly in 2007 and go to all of them again. I soon found out that BYOBs are like a lot of college things that seem charming and fun when you are there – things like dorm rooms, sharing bathrooms, having your normal bedtime be 2 AM – that turn out to be horrible ideas in the real world. I wouldn’t go so far as to say my memories have been tarnished, but I will say that they have suffered.
So, that Mexican BYOT place? I last ate there in May 2009. The food and company was great, fun times were had, although my friends and I were the oldest people there by at least five years. I thought all was good. Until my friend wound up in the hospital with a horrible stomach bacteria. People had to wear hazmat suits to visit her! When she told them where she had eaten the doctors and nurses said they were not surprised and that they see a lot of cases of this after people eat at this restaurant. I sadly crossed that one off of my list.
Next up, those little Italian charmers. The last time I went to one of my favorite BYOB brick oven pizza places from college, there was a sign at the entrance stating, “Bottles of wine are limited to one for every two people.” I read this in a panic as I clutched my box of wine, waiting for two of my friends to show up (judge away, but some boxed wine really isn’t bad and it lasts longer). I spoke to the owner and told him, “I’m really sorry but I didn’t know about this policy. If you’d like, I can ask my friends to bring bottles instead.” He looked at me and kindly said, “Oh, ma’am, that isn’t directed to you. That’s directed to the crazy students who come in here.” Color me old, and appalled.
Finally, my FAVORITE Italian place from undergrad is about two blocks away from where I live now. I was so excited to have this be my neighborhood place – you know, that spot you and your husband go to when you are out of dinner ideas or want a quick and easy date night and where the owners know you by name and greet you warmly whenever you come in. What did I find there? Fast and borderline rude service, along with big, rowdy, loud groups of Penn students. As my husband glared at them for ruining our romantic date night, I said, both proud and ashamed, “You know, that used to be me and my friends.” We have since found another neighborhood Italian spot, one that the Penn students haven’t overrun…yet.
So, yes, my Penn go-to BYOBs are now a thing of my recent past, but I do have to give a shout out in general to the BYOB culture of Philadelphia. First, now that I am a “grown up”, I’ve found other, classier BYOBs here that I love going to. I’ve had some of the best meals of my life at BYOBs. A great BYOB is a must-eat-at destination spot for any out of town visitor. And, I’m happy to live in a place that has something for everyone, from your loud Penn student to your almost-thirty something married couple looking for a nice date night spot.
*The former lawyer in me would like to point out three things. One, I do not condone underage drinking. Two, I do not admit to underage drinking in this post. Three, I will not list any of these BYOBs by name so that today’s Penn students can still enjoy them.