BYOB: Bring your own <insert the B>, be it bottle, booze, or beer. Chicago’s quirky liquor laws have led somewhere around 400 restaurants in the Windy City to implement bring your own policies, saving restaurant proprietors from long waits for expensive liquor licenses. Essentially restaurants can allow you to bring your own and provide glasses, corkscrews, and even rent out lockers for you to store your favorite bottles of wine in. Servers, however, cannot open or pour for you and you’re even supposed to take the empty bottle with you when you leave. I decided to test out Chicago’s BYOB at dinner with my sister-in-law, Heather, the other night by bringing our own bottle of wine.
We were headed for Thai, so decided a white wine would be best. I almost always lean toward red, but I did try a white blend called Conundrum on my trip to Napa Valley that I absolutely fell in love with. We set out on a search for Conundrum on our way to dinner, though were unsuccessful and settled on Evolution as an alternative after visits to 7 liquor stores along our 1/2 mile walk (apparently they like their booze in Chicago).
*By the way, Evolution is a blend of nine white varietals and it was delicious! It has a tropical scent and citrus taste that finishes with a crisp bite. Evolution is actually perfect for pairing with spicy Asian food just like the chicken coconut curry I had. It’s a great white for under $20.
There’s something almost sinister feeling about pulling a brown bag wrapped bottle of wine out of your purse in a restaurant – like the adult version of sneaking candy in to the movie theater. But no sooner had I pulled my bottle out of its wrapping and our server was bringing a corkscrew, glasses, and an ice bucket. We opened and poured our own wine, as expected since restaurants without a liquor license can’t handle liquor at all.
Digging in to the Chicago BYOB culture, I learned that there are actually a variety of different kinds of BYOB restaurants. Some restaurants are simply on the long waiting list for their liquor license while others never intend to get one. And some restaurants do have liquor licenses but will let customers bring their own special bottle of wine (for a corking fee, of course) just to make them happy.
A Few Tips for BYOB
- Most restaurants proudly display their BYOB status with signs, sometimes flashing neon ones, in their windows.
- Many restaurants are only BYOB while they wait for their liquor license, so some restaurant proprietors in Chicago suggest you call ahead and confirm BYOB is okay before heading out to dinner.
- Don’t bring a bottle of wine to a BYOB restaurant that lists it on their wine list; it’s just bad manners.
- Remember to take your empty bottle with you! You don’t want your favorite BYOB to get fined if it looks like they are handing liquor without a liquor license.
- Check out the Chicago BYOB Guide, which lists more than 400 BYOB restaurants in the city and suburbs, liquor stores where you can find the perfect bottle of wine (though apparently not Conundrum!), corkage fees for restaurants that charge them, and more BYOB etiquette tips.
Have you been to a Chicago BYOB?