Not too long ago, everyone was opening a BYOB. Then came the recession, and people realized that restaurants were real businesses designed to generate profits. (Your average BYOB, alas, simply does not make much.) So restaurant operators turned their focus to alcohol, that age-old booster of cash flow and relaxer of inhibitions.
This year saw a bumper crop of bars/restaurants with higher-aiming food and beverage programs.
Here are a couple dozen top yearlings in the Philly region, in alphabetical order.
Civilized. Rittenhouse Square. Lovely selection of wines, served in 3- and 5-ounce pours, plus requisite cocktails and top-flight food; open for breakfast, too.
American Sardine Bar
Fun and funky. Point Breeze. Sixteen beers on tap, bars on two floors. Scott Schroeder's interesting snacks. Blog post
Young and loud. Fishtown. Thirty-five classic video games, and about 35 beers on tap.
Energetic. East Passyunk. TVs, Italian beers to wash down great pizzas and pizza "bowls."
The Blind Pig
Neighborhood hang. Northern Liberties. Warm, welcoming staff. Don't skip the "balls" - deep-fried treats such as turkey with stuffing and potatoes.
Blue Bear Tavern
Happy-hour hot spot. Washington Square West. Want to find a Jefferson doc or nurse, stat?
Lively scene. Chestnut Hill. A bar/restaurant for the masses (plus a great patio) in the heart of Chestnut Hill.
Veddy British. Rittenhouse Square. Fresh-yet-old-school pub. (Yes, it opened Dec. 31, 2010, which means it's not technically a "2011 opening".)
Low-lit hipster-foodie haven. Queen Village. Wine, cocktails, two dozen craft beers. Do not miss the hamachi. Blog post
Modern. Fairmount. Terrific cocktail selection, pairing nicely with a veg-friendly, organic menu.
Rustic. Washington Square West. Insane beer and cocktail selection at separate bars.
Teutonic. Fishtown. Cool German beer hall. You never sausage a thing in Philly.
Interstate Draft House
Revived dive bar. "Inland" Fishtown. Reasonably priced crafts and drafts, and food from the old Azure in Northern Liberties.
Warm neighborhood hang. Fairmount. Brand-new pairing of Supper's Mitch Prensky and the cocktailers of Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co.
Hipster haven. "Inland" Fishtown. L.A.-style Mexican comida in a goofily whimsical former old-man bar.
Suburban scene. Downtown Wayne. Sexy Spanish-Mexican spot does a bang-up after-work business of tequila-sucking locals. If you sit for dinner, get the hot coffee served flaming tableside. (See video.)
McKenzie Brew House
Hops-head haven. Berwyn. The western suburban brewpub's shiny new outpost offers on-premises brewing, decent grub, and a view of traffic on Route 202 north. (Blog post.)
Elegance. Chestnut Hill. Chip Roman's stylish, date-night American, built on inventive tasting menus.
Off the beaten path. (Inside Reading Terminal Market.) Two dozen beers on tap, and the sterling cooking of Bobby Fisher.
Greek chic. Washington Square West. Updated Hellenic specialties and cool cocktails in chill, modern environs.
Main Line chic. Inside Wayne Hotel. Huge cocktail list and a bit of a bar scene in the plush lounge, in addition to the dining room.
Above it all. Avenue of the Arts. What every theatergoer wants: casual focus, and great beers, drinks and food at outstanding prices.
Summer scene. Old City. Hard to beat the roof deck, and its views of the historic district. Pizzas are fine, too.
Urban secret. Market Street West. A happy-hour and late-night haunt with 8 beers on tap.
Rustic chic. Avenue of the Arts. Kevin Sbraga's temple to American cookery, and don't miss the foie gras soup.
Snug. East Passyunk. Great whiskey list and George Sabatino's progressive American menu whose standouts include cured meats and serious cheese plates.
Airy, understated. Washington Square. At the indoor and outdoor bars, sustainable wines and sterling cheese plates rule.
Low-key and intimate. Queen Village. Solid neighborhood bar with a huge beer list and a broad, fair-priced menu that hits all the bases.
Low-lit, dramatic scene. Southern end of the Avenue of the Arts. Tiffin's sexy sibling is a critic's favorite; don't miss the gol gappas, which are wheat puffs into which a mint-cilantro liquid is injected.
Naughty by nature. Loft District/Callowhill. The old go-go bar has been revived as a new go-go bar.
Soul. Society Hill. A Brit's take on a Southern blues and bourbon bar; live music and lots of rooms to unwind.
Rough-hewn elegance. Washington Square West. You will like your vegetables at this vegan paradise for all.
Suburban scene. Downtown Wayne. Tequilas (100-plus) in a modern vibe.