A Guide to Philadelphia’s “Premium” State Stores

Because where you buy your liquor is the most important decision you’ll make all day.

Walk down Chestnut Street in University City and you lose count of the churches. There seem to be two on every block. There’s even one called the Church of God, at 41st. “A gospel-spreading church.” Keep going and you hit the old church where the steeple collapsed about a decade ago. Across the street is a strip mall. The neon beckons.

FINE WINE AND GOOD SPIRITS.

Yesterday, a fancy new state store (aka, Fine Wine and Good Spirits) store opened at 43rd and Chestnut, in the strip mall location previously occupied by Risque Video. It had been a while: The old state store at 41st and Market closed in January 2012. It was small and dingy. The LCB attempted to open a new location at 43rd and Walnut, but community concerns—general NIMBY anti-drug protests, plus there’s a mosque across the street—derailed the idea. The zoning board rejected the 43rd and Chestnut location in 2012 before reversing itself.

This new store has continued the LCB’s upscaling trend: It’s larger than the old one, features an expanded selection, is clean and even has free bathrooms. When I visited yesterday, I was even offered help without even asking!

Also, like many state stores, it features a hilariously large selection of disgusting flavored vodka.

The state store system is woefully outdated, but the state-run liquor stores have improved. To steal SEPTA’s slogan: “We’re getting there.” Only that’s an insult: To SEPTA, which is much closer to its white rabbit. While I think there are legitimate issues with privatization, especially the plans currently floated, that ought to be an eventual goal. (The current set-up of the LCB is quite strange, with the state opening a liquor store just outside several college campuses a week after giving away $2 million in grants to groups attempting to stop underage drinking.)

Like most people, I’d rather have the more pleasant experience of buying liquor in another state. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s not an option. While the LCB stores are not popular, they’re not so bad: You still end up with wine and liquor afterward. The ones most worth visiting are the premium collection stores. They’re all very similar, but there are some differences. Let’s take a short trip to the ones in downtown and nearby.

12th and Chestnut

Hours: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Mon-Sat; Noon – 5 p.m. Sun
Approximate length of line on New Year’s Eve: Similar to the line to get on the Eagles bandwagon after the Week 1 win
Nearby: The empty Scientology tower, Macy’s, Market East

This is one of the larger premium outlet stores, with an extensive wine section in the back of the store. It hasn’t been remodeled in a while, so it’s not as nice as other locations, but it does feature this:

A wine library! Despite living nearby for years—this is my “home” liquor store—I had no idea this was there until last night. I now have a new dream of becoming a wine expert.

For: Oenophiles, East-of-Broad office workers, Gayborhood residents

21st and Market

Hours: 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. Mon-Sat; Noon – 5 p.m. Sun
Approximate length of the line on New Year’s Eve: This is new! But let’s go with the line outside the Comcast Center plaza during Center City Sips.
Nearby: Murano apartment building, Trader Joe’s

This is the nicest of the new premium outlets. It’s in the old AAA headquarters, which use to look like a mushroom from Super Mario Bros. but now meets street level with apartments on top. It’s way nicer than the old 19th and Chestnut location. This is the closest thing Philadelphia has to a Jersey/Delaware liquor superstore, and it’s brand new.

But, here’s the best part:

You can meet Dan Aykroyd next week at this location! Of course, you have to pay at least $50 for one of his boutique vodka skulls, but, hey, isn’t that worth it?

For: West-of-Broad office workers, people who live on Market west of broad for some reason

Fifth and Delancey

Hours: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Mon-Sat; Noon – 5 p.m. Sun
Approximate length of the line on New Year’s Eve: The line for Jim’s, but double the length
Nearby: Touristy stuff, South Street (so, more touristy stuff)

Like most of Society Hill, this liquor store isn’t as nice as you think it would be, but it has a good wine selection.

For: Society Hill residents, tourists

Second and Girard

Hours: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Mon-Sat; Noon – 5 p.m. Sun
Approximate length of the line on New Year’s Eve: Like how weirdly long the line gets outside Frankford Hall on weekends, but triple it
Nearby: Plenty of great bars so you could in theory be sociable and drink there with people and not need a liquor store, hipsters

The main advantage of this relatively new, clean location: Free parking. And the best Yelp reviews I’ve seen of many any business ever.

For: Hipsters, non-hip people who live where hipsters live

Columbus and Snyder

Hours: 9 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Mon-Sat; Noon – 5 p.m. Sun
Approximate length of the line on New Year’s Eve: Disney World-in-the-’90s length
Nearby: IKEA, Best Buy, Walmart, Target—everything you could ever want!

The problem with businesses on Columbus Boulevard: There’s something about that street that causes them to fall into chaos. Literally every business on the river ends up being a chaotic experience whenever I go: Every club that’s ever been on the street, the movie theater, the Halloween store, the strip clubs, the big box retailers. It must be something in the water. Anyway, this location seemed pretty non-chaotic last night, but I believe that’s a trap: Beware the weird vortex of what you no doubt call “South Delaware Avenue.”

For: Brave adventurers

  • Nick Frontino

    You’ve forgotten the one on South between 7th and 8th, which used to be terrible but after getting the premium treatment is now rather nice

  • samhille

    Western portion of PA has great wine specialists, with years of experience in most stores. Regular clerks have the knowledge to advise & direct. People from eastern PA have no clue at just how many customers come to PA from Ohio, W.Virginia, upstate NY, & parts of Maryland to shop at “Fine Wine & Good Spirits”. Western PA is well served by the PLCB. It’s existence is one of the reasons that western PA appears consistently on the ‘lists’ of most livable regions in the USA. Hope that you folks over in the east enjoy your new store. With these new initiatives, “fine wine & good spirits’ will probably bring many out of state customers to your area as well, for great deals on wine & spirits & TAX FREE CLOTHING & FOOD.