How to run a pop-up beer garden without being shut down immediately

This week, a pair of pop-up beer gardens were shut down by the Department of Licenses & Inspections. First, the somewhat controversial Point Breeze Beer Garden, and then the Uptown Beer Garden at the Mellon Bank Center were both slapped with cease-and-desist notices for failing to obtain the requisite regulatory approvals.

This is surprising, given how smitten Philadelphians of a certain socioeconomic status are with the pop up phenomena, and because the pop-up beer gardens essentially operate by using regulatory loopholes. By definition, exploiting loopholes means there is less paperwork to screw up.

To operate a true “pop-up” beer garden, you will need three specific permits: one from L+I, another from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and a third from the Health Department.


From L&I you need a temporary use permit, which allows for a temporary structure to be built on a property, even if that structures use doesn’t match the zoning. So, for example, you can place a pop up beer garden, i.e. a bar/restaurant that usually needs to be zoned commercial or mixed-use, on a lot zoned purely residential if you have a temporary use permit. Then there is no need for a zoning change or variance. That’s what the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society is doing at its pop-up at 9th and Wharton, where the lot is zoned for single occupancy homes.

Temporary use permits are limited to structures that will stand for less than 180 days. The Philadelphia Building Code itself doesn’t say much about them, leaving plenty of room for L+I to issue them largely as they please.

In practice, the permit seeker usually needs a local community organization or the district councilperson to sign off in order to get the permit. This might be harder for the Point Breeze Pop Up Garden, where proprietor John Longacre has had a testy relationship with his neighbors, to say the least.

At the PHS beer garden at 9th and Wharton, the Passyunk Square Civic Association signed off on the pop-up’s temporary use permit, even as they successfully opposed the property owner’s request for a variance to allow for mixed-use apartments on the lot.


From the PLCB, you will use an off-premises catering permit. These come with rules: they can only be used for 50 “functions” in a calendar year, meaning 50 days. Each “function” can only last five hours, and must end by midnight. Most importantly, the permit holder must already have a liquor license – in other words, a bar has to apply for it, and must do so before March 1st.  It seems like all the pop up gardens have managed to do this properly, with some partnering with multiple bars to get multiple permits, thus allowing some to stay up for 10 hours a day by using two catering permits.


This year, the Health Department created a new license tailored for on-going special events like pop up beer gardens, which was nice of them.


In grand total, this amounts to approximately 13 pages of paperwork – at 10 pages, the Health Department form is kind of long. Admittedly, this does not include the instruction and requirement pages.

You’ll also need a business license and some other back end things (like an actual liquor license, and property owner’s approval), but assuming you’re an upstanding citizen operating a properly licensed Philadelphia bar right now, these are the only additional things you need.

Given the paucity of paperwork required, and the fact that I managed to discern this all by simply asking some nice folks at PHS what they did, it’s kind of surprisingly that a two pop-ups have run afoul of the regulations. Which is a shame because, as PlanPhilly has noted before, pop-up beer gardens can actually spur economic development for existing businesses and help us reimagine uses for spaces, without dumping loads of time, money and energy into obtaining onerous regulatory approvals. 

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