Friday, July 3, 2015

The battle over pop-up beer gardens

They exploit a loophole so big you could drive a beer truck through it. But they're probably not going anywhere this summer.

The battle over pop-up beer gardens

Beer gardens like this Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Pop Up are the source of concern for four state legislators.
Beer gardens like this Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Pop Up are the source of concern for four state legislators. Yong Kim / Staff Photographer

Daily News beer columnist Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell has been under fire in some circles for calling attention to the city's so-called pop-up beer gardens.

The beer gardens - operated by such nonprofits as the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the Fairmount Park Conservancy - are fun and popular. No question about that.  

But because Don wrote that they exploit a loophole so big you could drive a beer truck through it, four legislators approached the Liquor Control Board to quibble with its interpretation of the law.

The pop-ups were a side-effect of Act 116 of 2012. The legislation, in part, allows holders of liquor licenses to put their own licenses to work for them. They may put down $500 to apply for 50 catering permits a year so they can sell and serve alcohol at unlicensed locations.

This was intended to allow a restaurant, for example, to cater private parties or weddings off their premises within Pennsylvania - in a fallow field somewhere or at a BYOB restaurant. The one-day permits are each good for five hours and the events must end by midnight.

But a few clever bar owners realized that if they piggybacked permits, they could get a summer's worth of business - without buying a new liquor license for the new location, which costs $85,000 and can take months of red tape.

To add to the controversy, the LCB has been loose with its interpretation of a "private event"; though these pop-ups are technically closed to the general public, if you merely state that you want to drink, you are eligible to attend.

From what I hear, the legislature won't consider addressing the law till fall - in effect, allowing the pop-ups to operate as they are this year on South Street next to Jamaican Jerk Hut, at Eakins Oval on the Parkway, and next door to Fergie's in Center City.

WHYY's Newsworks has a wonderful - dare I say sobering - summation of the issue here.

State Rep. John Taylor told Newsworks that he's gotten more angry calls about pop-ups than any other issue in his almost 30 years in office - "more than education, more than the cigarette tax, more than budgets, more than anything."

The Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus has begun a petition to demand that legislators not touch it.

More coverage
Pop-up beer gardens exploit LCB loophole
Lawmakers target pop-up beer gardens
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About this blog
Michael Klein, the editor/producer of, writes about the local restaurant scene in his Inquirer column "Table Talk." Have a question? Email it! See his Inquirer work here.

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