'Pop-Up Beer Gardens' Hack Pennsylvania's Alcohol License Restrictions
"A quartet of state lawmakers are pushing back on Philly's pop-up [beer] gardens, taking issue with something called an off-premise catering permit that allows vendors to 'cater' alcohol sales at these pop-up gardens for months at a time," reports Jon Geeting.
The key to the controversy is the Prohibition-era policy of county quotas, according to Geeting. "The state caps R licenses at 1 license per 3,000 people per county, and the number of licenses in Philadelphia has actually been declining as the population has grown, as many have been taken out of circulation due to liens and violations."
Washington D.C.'s liquor licenses sell for $9,000-11,000, so Philadelphia's $85,000 liquor licenses constitute a significant barrier to entry into the bar and restaurant business by comparison.
"That's what makes the pop-up beer gardens so innovative," explains Geeting, "a restaurant with a liquor license can obtain an off-site catering permit for $500 to extend that license to another location, and cater one of these temporary outdoor bars for a few months in the summer and fall. The legality of a single permit holder serving the same beer garden for months at a time is what state lawmakers are contesting…"