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.
Monday, 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….
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).
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.
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.
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.