The Guide to Buying Liquor in New Jersey

Breakin' the law! Savin' some money!

A week ago, Pennsylvanians were giddy. The state was poised for a “historic vote” on eliminating the state’s liquor stores. Pennsylvanians would be able to buy beer, wine and liquor all in one place. So futuristic!

To be more accurate, though, only gullible Pennsylvanians were giddy. Privatizing liquor stores is a frequent, fruitless topic of debate in state politics. On cue, the privatization push was shelved on Tuesday. Mike Turzai, the bill’s sponsor, tossed around some metaphors from football (“we can’t get it over the goal line”) and baseball/tennis/acoustics (“to get to the sweet spot to garner the support in the House is going to take additional work”).

Turzai is going to try again once lawmakers are back from summer vacation, but don’t get your hopes up: Pennsylvanians are going to be buying liquor and wine from the state until the end of time.

Well, maybe. Pennsylvanians who live in places like Beavertown will be buying their liquor from the state. But those of us closer to Snyder Avenue than Snyder County have the opportunity to go to New Jersey.

Avert your gaze when entering a New Jersey liquor store; for a Pennsylvania resident it’s like opening the Ark of the Covenant. Wine, liquor and beer are all together under one roof. Also, the streets are paved with gold. Best of all, you can be sure that none of your liquor purchase is paying for judges to go to the gym, the Tire Mart or the Bahamas. Or maybe it is; I don’t know how New Jersey judges are paid or what they do with their free time.

For a Pennsylvanian, going to New Jersey for liquor is like a more patriotic version of Washington crossing the Delaware. Here are some tips for your trip.

Plan ahead. While alcohol is cheaper in New Jersey, you also have to factor in the cost of gas (though you can fill up with cheaper Jersey gas), wear on your car (or PhillyCarShare rental), travel time, et cetera. So find a calculator and get a pad and paper. First, think about what products you’ll be buying, and write them down on the sheet. Then, rip off that page and throw everything else in the trash, because who the hell wants to do all this work? Going to New Jersey for liquor is an adventure. A little lame? Sure. But my Facebook timeline is full of photos of Center City scavenger hunts, so, hey, it could be worse.

Remember that what you’re doing is illegal. It is against the law to buy liquor in Jersey and bring it back into Pennsylvania. Fortunately, the LCB has no enforcement powers; all policing is done by the state cops’ Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement. Occasionally state police patrol the borders and arrest scofflaws, but your chances of getting caught are infinitesimally slim. And, remember, this is an adventure! You’re a modern-day Bill McCoy, outrunning the fuzz thanks to your wits. Go straight from the liquor store to the bridge for that I’m-doing-something-mildly-illegal rush.

If you’re really nervous, avoid going straight from a liquor store back to the bridge. There is plenty to do in New Jersey otherwise! You could, um, visit the Pine Barrens! Pick blueberries! Watch the Flyers practice! Um, I don’t know that much about what to do in Jersey. There is lovely Cherry Hill, the giant strip mall disguised as a township. The Cherry Hill Mall rules, too. There’s a Nordstrom right next to an Urban Outfitters!

Buy what you can’t in Pennsylvania. It’s not hard to find good beer in Pennsylvania, but it’s sometimes hard to find what you want in the package you want. The Foodery will sell you a bottle of pretty much everything, but its six- and 12-pack selections are more limited. Places in New Jersey like Joe Canal’s and Total Wine will sell you a six-pack of one thing, a 12-pack of another and a case of a third. They’ll also sell you liquor you can’t purchase in Pennsylvania: Rittenhouse Rye and Old Overhold Rye are two good, cheap rye whiskeys that are technically available in this state—Southwark serves both—but I have never seen either one in a liquor store. (Yes, Rittenhouse Rye is impossible to get in Pennsylvania.) But in New Jersey both are plentiful.

Also, you can buy Everclear! Wait, what are you, 19? They still card in Jersey.

Ask questions. OK, so the state stores are now branded as Wine and Spirits and some of them have quite good selections of wine, at least. But ask an employee for some help pairing a wine with food or ingredients for a cocktail and you’re likely to get a blank stare in return. (I mean, this is what my friends told me. The only question I’ve ever asked a state store employee is, “I’m not accidentally buying a non-alcoholic version, am I?”) With competition in New Jersey, the employees will usually answer your questions cheerfully! That’s so shocking it gets a blank stare from me in return.

Find a favorite route. I don’t know where you live, and even if I did, I’m not tailoring a specific route just for you. But everyone knows City Hall—it’s the building with the person on top, if you’re new—and I can take you to Cherry Hill. We’ll be making two stops.

Take I-676 to the Ben Franklin Bridge. Stay left! Get on Route 30, and stay left again to get on Route 38 (Kaighns Avenue). Take Route 38 and you’ll eventually see a bright yellow building, Canal’s Discount Liquor Mart. When you’re done there, continue west on 38 and enter the Cherry Hill Mall parking lot; it’s one of those right-hand lane jughandles. (There’s also a Target!) The Cherry Hill Mall parking lot is as confusing as any other mall parking lot, but if you veer right you’ll eventually see Total Wine in a separate shopping center.

An important word of caution: For your return trip, the merge from Route 38 onto Route 30 is the most terrifying thing ever imagined by any traffic engineer. I don’t know who designed the roads in New Jersey—Chris Christie, probably—but cars appear from out of nowhere on this merge, and you need to zip over, I dunno, 450 lanes. My advice on the return trip is to just stay right, zipping back into the center lane when the right lane occasionally disappears. Confusing, I know, it will make that terrifying merge easier.

If you’re not up for my suggested trip, Joe Canal’s and Total Wine have plenty of locations.

Be sure to make lots of jokes about the LCB. Every time you joke about Liquor Control Board CEO Joe Conti getting his daughter a job with Stephen Starr (and free Phillies tickets!) we move a little closer to ending the horrible state store system in Pennsylvania. Actually, we don’t, but it makes you feel a little better. And isn’t that the point of alcohol?