Friday Rant–My Own Personal Hell

It has been a while since I have ranted about my hate-hate relationship with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). It’s a “hate-hate” relationship because the PLCB seems to actively hate customers and, well, as a customer there is plenty to hate about the PLCB, which is the only place that a resident of Pennsylvania is legally allowed to purchase wine.

rantMonday, however, it reached an all-time high (or low, depending on your perspective). It was a couple of days before the latest wine dinner at Fare, and I still had not procured a Cabernet Franc for the event, which was scheduled a scant two days later. I had intended on getting a Chinon, but in perusing the PLCB’s online inventory, I discovered there was not a single store within the city of Philadelphia that had at least a case of any Chinon in stock.

Yes, that is correct, in the country’s eighth largest city, with a population of over a million and a half people, there was not a single wine store with a case of Chinon in stock.

To be fair, there are only nine stores in the entire city whose employees would possibly know what “Chinon” meant, let alone have it in stock. The PLCB has two kinds of stores: The “regular” stores, which are at best, a scary nightmarish vinous purgatory where all bottles have either colored tails or wood bridges. The other type is called a “Premium Collection Store”, which, basically, do not suck quite as much as the regular store (although they really try).

In the end, I was able to find a case of Borgueil at a store that was just outside the city. Yes, not only was there no store in the city with a case of Chinon, but there was only one that had twelve bottles of Borgueil.

If that were the only problem….

First, I called to make sure they had the wine. After assuring the person who answered the phone that they did indeed have the wine (the online inventory is usually pretty accurate, oddly enough), it took her two hours to find it.

If it only ended there….

When you walk in the store, you see the efforts made to showcase products.

When you walk in the store, you see the efforts made to showcase products.

I left work early and swung by the restaurant to pick up Andrew, the manager at Fare, to go get the wine. The store was 20 minutes away, but it is near my son’s school and I have been there countless times.

As a PLCB store, it is not horrendous, but that is an extremely low bar–it would be out of business in a New York minute if it ever faced anything that resembled competition. When we are in other states, I anger my wife because I insist that we stop at Trader Joe’s and Costco just to see what “real wine stores” look like.

I only wish I were kidding….

Restaurants in Pennsylvania are required to buy all their wine through the PLCB. Yup, that’s right. Restaurants have to buy all their wine retail. They do get a really impressive 10% off wine in stock, but they also have to pay tax (and then required to tax the patrons again when they purchase the wine at dinner–Ugh–but I try to take solace in the fact that the PLCB seems to have an incredible disdain for both restaurants and the consumer, so it is not just me they hate).

PLCB merchandizing 101--just stack it on boxes.

PLCB merchandizing 101–just stack it on boxes.

But it keeps going….

At the particular store where we were trying to buy the Borgeuil, Andrew gave the manager (let’s call her Queen Mary) his liquor license number. She promptly told him that he had to have the actual paper (wait, paper still exists?) license since this was not his “home store” (apparently, each restaurant is required to select a “home store” which keeps a copy of the license on file). Since he did not have it with him, he decided to forgo the whopping 10% discount and pay with the company credit card.

Nope. He couldn’t.

In order to do that, he would need to have the license with him. Could he pay with a check (wait, checks still exist?) with the name of the restaurant printed on it? Sorry, still needed the license in order to do that.

Queen Mary talking to the "home" store.

Queen Mary talking to the “home” store.

At this point, Andrew decides to call his home store to see what could be done. The home store manager said he would fax over (wait, fax machines still exist?) a copy of the license that he had on file in the store and we would be good to go. The “home” manager even talked to Queen Mary, letting her know that we were, indeed, “legit.”

Ten minutes later, upon receipt of the fax, Queen Mary told us she could not accept it–the license had recently expired.

The Queen, who was more than perturbed with us by now–it seemed clear that she thought she was doing us a favor–called the “home” store manager and told him that the fax was of no use. After apparently explaining to her yet again that Andrew was indeed the manager of a restaurant with a liquor license, she handed the phone to Andrew.

Their rack of rosé wines. There were three bottles on it.

Their rack of rosé wines. There were three bottles on it.

The manager of the “home” store then told Andrew that he would run over to the restaurant, get the actual liquor license off the wall of the restaurant, run back over to his store, and fax the it over.

If only I were making all of this up….

30 minutes later, with a copy of the license in hand, Queen Mary told us that she would allow the sale even though she needed a copy of the “traveling license” not the actual license. Andrew assured her that he would get a copy from Harrisburg (the capital of Pennsylvania) and mail it to her (wait, mail still exists?).

But before she rang us up, she felt the need to call up the “home” store once more and berate the manager there for not having the proper paper work on file (wait, paper files still exist?), while we waited for another five minutes.

Nearly an hour later, we were back in the Prius, heading to the restaurant with our case of wine.


I know.

Well, at least they had accent marks on rosé....

Well, at least they had accent marks on rosé….




About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Cabernet Franc, Rant, Wine and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

47 Responses to Friday Rant–My Own Personal Hell

  1. All I can say is, “wow.” I knew I hated PA for a reason!!!!!


  2. talkavino says:

    wow wow wow – a terrible system which employs terrible people! I heard from you many times that the system is bad – I had no idea how bad it is, especially if you own a restaurant. No wonder so many restaurants in PA do BYOB… Double taxation? And nobody does anything about it? I truly believe that the queen mary you had at the store should be fired. in today’s day and age she couldn’t verify that the license # was legit? And also, on what grounds she could refuse to let Andrew to pay with the business credit card at no discount? This is mind boggling… Chose your dining theme more carefully next time, Jeff 🙂


    • The manager of the restaurant actually filed a complaint, but it is unlikely that much can be done–one of the main reasons the PLCB still exists is that the employees are represented by a union that has far too much influence.


  3. I have felt that pain… and it hurts.


  4. Funny awkward story!
    Maybe it’ll be quicker this way [just kidding] :

    I had no idea it was so difficult to buy wine for a restaurant.

    This is a post from my blog Lost in Braga about vinho verde:

    “Vinho Verde is only produced in the northwest of Portugal. It is impossible to make it in any other part of the world.
    This wine characterizes by its lightness and softness, freshness, a slight acidity and is lower in alcohol. It is a wine whose best qualities show when it is still young. Unlike the old saying “the older it gets, the better it becomes”.
    It is superb in the Summer, it goes well with fish, seafood, white meat and salads.”


  5. I’ve never understood how or why state employees (DoD, liquor control, tag office, etc.) have to be so rude.


  6. Ack! So sorry that happened. We have the LCBO up here in Ontario and they are horrible too – mainly because of the 50% tax on all booze. UGH. Yay Canada and its taxes! Sigh.


  7. Wow… The whole system is messed up and they add poor people skills on top of it?!? Are they actual government workers? If so, maybe PA could junk te system the next time they swing over to red state status…


  8. This is simply awful! Why do the good people of Pennsylvania tolerate such antiquated buffoonery? I was irate recently because K&L is not allowed to ship to Texas! And because there is a bottle of wine I want in Florida for a wine retailer that also cannot ship to Texas. We as wine lovers need to rise up state by state and demand to be treated like it is 2015! Don’t we live in a capitalist free-market country? What you have described is simply un-American! You should run for local office and start changing your ridiculous wine system!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lignum Draco says:

    Have you thought of moving to a different state?

    Within a 5 minute drive of where I live there are 3 supermarket owned liquor stores, 2 dedicated alcohol megastores, and 3 hotels/bars with their own retail liquor outlets.

    Here, vineyards sell direct at their properties and online too. Not to mention the numerous online liquor clubs. Just saying…


  10. vinoinlove says:

    Double taxation for restaurants? Really? That’s so silly! Heck, the whole system with state-controlled liquor store is a bad concept.
    Why don’t the people of PA do a popular petition against this law? It seems so useless – at least from a European point of view. Cheers!


    • It has become a political issue–the liberals don’t want to do it since they are convinced that it will result in the loss of union jobs (the PLCB employees are unionized). The conservatives want to scrap the system (for the most part), but they have to pander to the religious zealots in the middle of the state who see alcohol as an inherent evil.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. linnetmoss says:

    Someone’s profiting from this entrenched system, and there’s not a critical mass of wine loving citizens to put a stop to it. Very sad, and the consumer loses.


  12. chef mimi says:

    We have similar issues in Oklahoma. Jeff – I can’t find the omega symbol on WordPress. On visual or on text it’s not there. any ideas?


  13. And I think it’s bad when we just have to get drinks for ourselves in PA…


  14. Stefano says:

    What a huge PITA! The triumph of bureaucracy


  15. O.M.G. Really? I know you are there because of your wife’s work, but really, you need to think about making a family move to a wine-friendly state. I’m aghast at that system. SMH…


  16. Nick Katin says:

    That’s just terrible! And I complain about our system here in Oz! We can at least get anything that’s stocked anywhere in Australia (and New Zealand). And If I owned a restaurant i would have more wine wholesalers at my door than than there are PLCB stores in Philadelphia.


  17. Except for they didn’t have the accent mark on the actual wine names, just the title. What an awful experience!


    • I did notice the lack of accents on the individual wines and wondered why the Sharpie was not employed there as well–was it a lack of interest/follow through? Did they figure that people would not notice and/or care? Or did the Sharpie run out of ink?

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I knew it was ridiculous to buy alcohol in Philly as a regular consumer, but it seems even worse as a restaurant. No wonder why there are so many BYOs in the city.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Restaurants regularly charge 300-400% of their cost of the bottle for the wine. In most parts of the country, the restaurant gets the wine at wholesale (30-50% off retail), so the markup is not as painful. In PA, the restaurants have to buy the wine at retail, so that $10 bottle of schlock will cost you $40 and that $20 bottle of Chianti becomes $80. Ridiculous….


  19. boozygirls says:

    And I thought Utah was bad … Hell is an accurate description for this situation!


  20. thevineyardtrail says:

    …….I’m sorry……And you can’t move, why?
    Miki “This is the Life” Winer


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