Chester County, Pennsylvania – where I live – and nearby Philadelphia have become famous in recent years for their BYOBs, or bring-your-own-bottle restaurants. One of the reasons for this is the liquor licenses in Pennsylvania are expensive and are also rationed. Not only is it less expensive to drink well at a BYOB, even after some hefty corkage fees, but it’s fun having friends gather with our wine carriers and coolers and decide what the best food pairings are according to our combined stash.
But I first learned about BYOBs on Martha’s Vineyard, where we have a family-owned house and where I have been vacationing for 30 years. I love the Vineyard because it isn’t as stuck up as Nantucket – I feel a limerick coming on – but also because the Vineyard is politically liberal. But in spite of that drink-and-let-drink philosophy, some of the half-dozen island towns forgot to repeal Prohibition. You can drink alcohol at will in these towns, but they have no bars, no retail stores and no wine sales in restaurants. Hence, some great BYOBs have emerged in these Dry Towns.
Now all that is changing. I know the change is good for restaurant owners and for non-clued off-Islanders who show up for dinner without a bottle, but I am nevertheless shedding a tear – one tinted with too much red wine, I fear – for one of my favorite Island institutions.
Recently, Vineyard Haven voted narrowly to allow restaurants there to sell wine, although it did not approve bars, apparently fearing our tranquility would be over-run by young sybarites from Oak Bluffs. OB is a very Wet Town, as is Edgartown. Aquinnah, aka Gay Head, has also allowed its one restaurant to sell wine, although no spirits. West Tisbury is still as dry as a – well, you fill in the comparison.
I was at the Outermost Inn, the Hugh and Jeannie Taylor’s place on the cliffs of Gay Head last night for a delightful dinner and a beautiful incoming rainstorm. I decided to pay the corkage fees and bring my own wines. But I was told by the sommelier cum bartender that the town will soon be having them phase out this duality, once a transition period is over. Sayonara, BYOB at the Outermost, RIP.
At my favorite restaurant in Vineyard Haven, Jean Dupon’s Le Grenier, BYOB has already crossed over into the land of eternal white light. Jean is a talented, devoted, hard-working owner chef who has kept a steadfastly provincial French menu that hasn’t changed substantially in 30 years, and he’s open every night. So I’m happy for him that selling wine will help keep him in business. Howver, although wine sales are allowed, there are no cocktails available.
“It’s funny,” our waitress there told us a couple of nights earlier, “but we may have three or four cars parked along the street downstairs [Le Grenier is in le grenier, or the upstairs] before dinner with the couples having their cocktails in their cars.” A delightful and very adaptive practice, I’m sure.
So I ordered my bottle of Chablis from the wine list for a reasonable $35, but the feeling was the same. In the past, I’ve always sent a glass of a particularly good wine to Jean, slaving away in his hot kitchen. When he had a moment, he would nod and smile from the kitchen door, or come over and talk on a slow night.
I sighed as we finished the last of the bottle. Sorry, Jean, not tonight.