King of the Hill
Bigham Tavern is a gem of a neighborhood bar hidden away on Mount Washington.
Photo courtesy of Bigham Tavern
I’ve been doing a lot of counting lately. See, we just wrapped up the voting for our annual Best of the ’Burgh Readers’ Poll, and as always, yinz are opinionated. Over 2,000 ballots were submitted with tight races in every category — not to mention some awards with over 150 individual nominees. (People are really passionate about their favorite hair salons.) I can’t even calculate the total number of votes we’ve received across the board.
But I have been counting ’em. Over the course of a week or so, our intrepid fact-checker Rebecca Jeskey and I counted every one. I see nothing but a giant Excel spreadsheet whenever I open my eyes.
You’ll have to wait until late June to get the list of winners, but my curiosity was piqued by a neighborhood bar that kept showing up in a lot of ballots. Mount Washington’s Bigham Tavern, reopened and revitalized (with renovations ongoing) in the space formerly occupied by Kaib’s Bigham Street Tavern, has seemingly inspired a passionate following in its first year of business; some voters were listing it for multiple awards. With an empty stomach and a sore tallying hand, it seemed like a fine way to get away from the ballots for a few minutes, so I decided to head up the hill.
If you’re picturing panoramic views and the accompanying high prices, you’re not picturing Bigham Tavern. Set back into the neighborhood, this place is much more corner bar than topside destination; the clientele would seem to match, with regular ’Burghers pulling up bar-stools in the expansive main room. The meat of Bigham Tavern is a huge central bar that could easily seat 30, with room for plenty more to crowd around on game day. And with a flatscreen at every turn, this joint is instantly the best sports bar on the mountain; I’d happily make the trek up the hill to experience a rollicking Steelers game-day crowd.
I paused on the way in to survey the chalkboard draft list; if you need evidence that Pittsburgh is now a serious beer town, the presence of craft microbrews and locally born favorites showing up at a neighborhood joint is Exhibit A. There’s a slight emphasis on the hoppy side of things — although I settled on the robust Southern Tier Milk Stout; in addition to the flexible draft list, there’s an entirely respectable bottle selection for those looking for a bit more variety.
Many of those ballots mentioning Bigham Tavern had submitted the restaurant’s Wing Night for consideration, so I asked for a half-dozen. I was given a menu with a daunting rundown of varieties, from traditional to bold; while every ’Burgh bar is happy to throw some ranch on some chicken, wings are clearly a big deal here. I chose a Cajun sauce; when the waitress presented it (along with a full basket of celery and carrots, a nice add-on), I immediately felt around for a Wet-Nap. These are not wings to be eaten daintily. These are drippy, flavorful, juicy pieces of meat coated in savory sauces. Dig in and worry about what’s on your face later.
I somehow found room for a gigantic fish sandwich and fries after the wings, knowing that after a lunch like this, dinner was completely unnecessary. As I attempted to clean my plate, I surveyed the rest of the place. There’s a separate booth-seating area off of the main bar, perfect for families or anyone looking for a little privacy (the high-backed booths could easily keep you hidden for a few hours.) All the standard corner bar trappings are present, from the Golden Tee machine to the anything-and-everything decor, but the difference at Bigham Tavern might be that all the elements work. Many neighborhood bars are charming for their flaws and drawbacks, but honestly, it doesn’t seem like this place has any. It’s a true Pittsburgh tavern, to be sure, but one where everything is done right.
Again, you’ll have to wait to see if this welcome addition to the mountain can take home any Best of the ’Burgh honors in its rookie season. But in the meantime, drive up the hill and into the neighborhood for a perfect example of the ideal ’Burgh bar. Just don’t make any big plans for afterward. You’ll be walking out with sauce on your face.
321 Bigham St., Mount Washington. Open seven days, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; kitchen closes at 1 a.m. 412/431-9313, bighamtavern.com
>> Want more Mount Washington restaurants and bars? Don't miss City Guide: Mount Washington.