Many Pittsburgh bars have solid beer lists, well-mixed cocktails or a bartender who's handy with a shot and a story. We need more than that. What makes these bars the best?
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photos by cory morton
What makes a bar a “best” bar in one of the best drinking cities in the United States?
Many great bars in Pittsburgh have solid beer lists, serve a well-mixed cocktail or have a bartender or two who’s handy with a shot and a story. We needed more than that.
The more we deliberated which bars should make this list, the more we knew that there wasn’t a simple rubric that would determine the final cut. In a way, that’s what makes us pretty pleased with this group: Whatever you’re looking for on a particular night, there is a best bar for you.
Every bar here has an energetic bar staff that, whether high-end cocktail bar or neighborhood watering hole, looks after its clientele. Pittsburgh boasts one of the largest chapters of the United States Bartenders Guild, an organization dedicated to the ongoing education of hospitality staff; you’ll find bars such as Butcher and the Rye and täkō staffed with these top-flight bartenders. Neighborhood spots such as Dish Osteria and Piper’s Pub quickly make newcomers feel like regulars thanks to the experienced staff behind their bars.
We like a bar that embraces its history in the way that Nied’s Hotel, the legendary Upper Lawrenceville neighborhood spot that opened in 1941, does. Alternately, we favor bars that feel as though they’re going to age into classics — as is the case with some of the newer bars on this list, such as Apteka.
Inclusivity is important. Bars such as Blue Moon and Mixtape create safe spaces where guests feel empowered to express themselves in a judgment-free atmosphere. We’d like to see even more bars like this in Pittsburgh.
And some bars, frankly, are too fun to ignore. Hidden Harbor — just a year old — feels like a classic spot to experience whimsical tiki cocktail culture. There’s often a dance party (and a pizza party) at Spirit. And Hambone’s takes bar-based entertainment to new heights with comedy jams, trivia nights and burlesque shows.
One bar — The Allegheny Wine Mixer — does all of the above, and it does it all remarkably well.
These are Pittsburgh Magazine’s 23 Best Bars in Pittsburgh right now.
The Best Bar in Pittsburgh Right Now
Allegheny Wine Mixer
A wall is lined with portraits of creepy cats and ghoulish, big-eyed children at the Allegheny Wine Mixer in Upper Lawrenceville. A framed photo of Vincent Price oversees the bar. A samurai sword balanced on Incredible Hulk gloves stands ready to saber a bottle of Champagne. A jar of potato sticks sits at the ready near the panini maker pressing “Toasty” sandwiches. Regulars perch at bar stools discussing Pittsburgh restaurants (where many of them work), and first dates are getting to know each other at high-top tables or on comfy chairs in the dimly lit back section of the bar room.
Owner Jamie Patten is a certified sommelier with an eye for quirky-yet-tasty wines from popular global wine regions and a curiosity which drives her to dive deeper into lesser-known varietals and geographies, such as rhoditis, a pink-skinned grape from Greece. There often is a focus on a specific wine region, too. This winter the spotlight is on “natural wines.”
AWM is a destination for cocktail lovers, too. Sean Rosenkrans for years has flown under the radar as one of the best bartenders in Pittsburgh. His cocktail list of classics, spins and originals stacks up against that of any bar in the city. A small but mighty selection of beer also is available.
Patten, Rosenkrans, Lisa Walter and the rest of AWM’s bar team are quick to make first-time visitors feel welcome. It’s rather easy to begin to feel like a regular (and then become one) here.
Food- and beverage-industry workers are given a 20 percent discount on Sunday nights (you’ll find many of our other Best Bar bartenders visiting on Sunday); every last Sunday is Sabbath Sunday, when Black Sabbath graces the speakers. There’s Tuesday fondue night, Wednesday pie day and a monthly crafts night hosted by the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse.
And yes, that’s an old headshot of PM dining critic Hal B. Klein next to the Vincent Price photograph. No, that’s not why we are honoring AWM.
It all adds up to an experience that blends of-the-moment bar culture with a timeless neighborhood watering hole. And it’s Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best Bar in Pittsburgh Right Now.
5326 Butler St., Lawrenceville, alleghenywinemixer.com
Best Downtown Bar
Butcher and the Rye
You step away from the bustle of Sixth Street, pass through a narrow entryway and nearly walk smack into a humongous wall of whiskey. More than 600 bottles of bourbon, Scotch and other varietals of top-shelf brown stuff tower two floors above you, back-lit and ready to check off your bucket list. Remain downstairs to order a flight or try a special-occasion rare whiskey unavailable anywhere else in Pittsburgh. Or venture upstairs to the semi-private Rye Bar, where Butcher’s team of top-notch bartenders is crafting both classic and contemporary cocktails in an upscale setting.
212 Sixth Street., Downtown, butcherandtherye.com