20 Best Bars in Pittsburgh
Your guide to the cocktail lounges, brew pubs, wine bars and dives that make Pittsburgh more than a "shot and a beer" town.
Natives may lovingly refer to Pittsburgh as a “shot and a beer” town, but we are so much more. From quaint, oak-paneled neighborhood joints and lively brew pubs to candle-lit wine bars and cozy cocktail lounges, we selected some of our favorite toasts of the town.
If you want to try a new brew but aren't sure where to start, simply find your mainstream beer of choice, and we'll match it with a superb local microbrew. We filtered through the masses of local brews and selected five of our favorites that offer in-house selections to share with you. (Check out the gallery.)
Complaint: My place is dull, and I need to entertain. Solution: Take your party to AVA Lounge, which is basically a much nicer apartment than yours—comfortable, immaculately decorated, perfectly lit. Complaint: Every bar in town plays the same songs every night. Solution: Go to AVA Lounge—global beats, hip-hop performances, dancehall, reggae … you name it. Complaint: Everywhere I want to dance has a line into the frozen Strip District night. Solution: Make tracks to AVA Lounge, walk right in the front door and dance the night away. Again, the music is better here anyway.
126 S. Highland Ave., East Liberty. Info: 412/363-8277, avapgh.net
BOCKTOWN BEER AND GRILL
Perhaps no local bar is more of an oasis. To find Bocktown, you’ll have to navigate the interminable, winding maze that is The Pointe at North Fayette. You’ll find it—eventually—tucked behind Target in something unimaginably titled Pool City Plaza. The segment of strip mall it’s attached to is abandoned. In every direction is a monument to the downfall of the behemoth shopping plaza in a struggling economy, and in the middle of it, there’s a beer paradise. A constantly rotating selection of drafts, a tantalizing wall of distinct bottles and a bar comfortable enough to spend a long night in await you. No one should ever venture to The Pointe without ending the night here.
690 Chauvet Drive, Robinson. Info: 412/788-2333, bocktown.com
BRAVO FRANCO RISTORANTE
Known primarily for its excellent cuisine, Bravo Franco also deserves attention as a bar. The signs in the lobbies of Benedum Center, Heinz Hall and O’Reilly Theater might point you to the Cultural District-owned Backstage Bar, but the best place to go for your post-show drink is this intimate, welcoming spot. The service is perfect; the cocktails are excellent, and if you’re feeling a bit hungry after the show, you can get some of that unbelievable food. Not thrilled with the play/opera/ballet/whatever? Sneak out at intermission, grab a martini and watch the Pens instead.
613 Penn Ave., downtown. Info: 412/642-6677, bravofranco.com
If you’re anywhere near my socio-economic class, you’ll walk into Casbah and immediately think, This place is too nice for me. Don’t run. Sit at the comfortable wine bar, and you’ll find the most welcoming, attentive service and laid-back atmosphere of any top-tier establishment in town. The wine list is like none other in the county, and the cocktails are just as good. Grab a low table across from the bar, order the mixed olives (only $4!) and go through a few bottles. There are plenty of bars in town where you can feel like a kid, but this is the bar where you can feel like an adult.
229 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside. Info: 412/661-5656, bigburrito.com/casbah
D’S SIX PAX & DOGZ
Want to mess with a beer snob? Take him to D’s, lead him back to the apartment-sized, refrigerated room full of cool bottles ready for the picking, and tell him he has only 60 seconds to decide. This snob will run frantically in a circle before he collapses in front of the Dogfish Heads. Aside from having thousands of beers to choose from (seriously) and the best hot dogs in Pittsburgh, it’s a great place for families—kids love hot dogs with crazy toppings on them; parents love beer. Bars in a long row on Braddock in Regent Square vie for your attention, but D’s should always be your first stop.
1118 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square. Info: 412/241-4666, ds6pax.com
It’s bizarre and busy in the way that every out-of-the-way bar should be. Three sections segregate the place into a small, calm front bar; a main dining room (inside an old railroad car); and a raucous, entertainment-focused back bar (with the railroad car running through it). There’s plenty to do at Duke’s: enough TVs to qualify as a proper sports bar, karaoke every night of the week, live stand-up comedy, game machines and more. But the bar’s big secret is the oddly serene outdoor patio hiding behind the back bar, framed by the remains of a beautiful, graffiti-covered concrete wall. It’s a pleasant, secluded spot and more than worth the trip.
5891 Baptist Road, Bethel Park. Info: 412/835-0697
Tucked underneath Firehouse Lounge is this Prohibition-style gem, with a new list of amazing cocktails on an almost nightly basis. The mixologists can recommend a drink, or you can pick one off the board. There’s no such thing as a bad drink at Embury, named after late barman David Embury. I randomly selected one called Faust Pact and received a spicy, eminently drinkable cocktail; later, I learned that it contained, among other things, jalapeño and cayenne pepper. I never would’ve ordered this if I had known what was in it—but I loved every drop. For the truly adventurous, try the absinthe cocktails.
2216 Penn Ave., Strip District. Info: 412/434-1230, firehouse-lounge.com
Here’s what you should do: Put on a concert T-shirt you bought in 1992. Find three or four friends. Wander in, grab the big booth by the window and buy the first round for everyone (pick some reliable microbrew from the ample lineup displayed behind the bar). Let the conversation flow. After a few minutes, saunter over to the jukebox and pick a lineup of songs by The Clash, The Jam and Johnny Cash. Later, challenge someone in the group to pingpong (the table’s in the back). At this moment, you'll feel like the coolest person in Pittsburgh—because you are.
3117 Brereton St., Polish Hill. Info: 412/681-1658
THE GRANDVIEW SALOON
If you have the impression that you need to drop a mortgage payment to drink with a view, clearly you haven’t been to the Grandview (formerly Coal Hill Steakhouse—watch out, the sign hasn’t changed). The restaurant is lovely, but the bar is a small miracle—a friendly little joint that just happens to have the most perfect view of downtown. Within the next month or so, you’ll be winding down a romantic evening in search of a bar. Skip the expected usual downtown suspects and take your sweetie to the top of the world. If there’s a more ideal spot for a drink and a date, I haven’t found it.
1212 Grandview Ave., Mount Washington. Info: 412/431-1400, thegrandviewsaloon.com
THE HOP HOUSE
This watering hole went through several (dive) incarnations, including the excellently named but utterly forgettable Barking Shark, before picking a winning setup. All of the ideal suburban bar hallmarks are here: perfect setup for sports, pool tables in the back, hilarious karaoke nights and staff that’ll learn your name by the second visit. But most bars outside the city limits can’t touch The Hop House’s beer selection, which is affordable and as good as any in town. Which is to say nothing of the wood-fired food. Chase the specials, and you’ll be full and tipsy for a song.
5510 Babcock Blvd., Ross Township. Info: 412/366-3606, thehophouse.com
The South Side identity crisis remains in full swing. First, it was the hard-drinking steelworkers district, then it became the undisputed nightlife mecca of Allegheny County, and now, you’ll find the endless parade of undergrads clogging Carson Street every night. Many of the bars scramble to find a niche crowd—hipsters, hippies, the young, the old—and most fail spectacularly, trying too hard and falling flat. Jack’s, however, aims to appeal to no one in particular, and thus, works for everyone. Enjoy cold beer, cheap food and rock ’n’ roll on the jukebox. Look for the sign that proclaims Jack’s to be “the official bar of Pittsburgh, Pa.” It might be right.
1117 E. Carson St., South Side. Info: 412/431-3644
JERNIGAN'S TOBACCO VILLAGE SCOTH & CIGAR BAR
The name may be a mouthful, and this place might be innocuously hidden in a corner of the Galleria, but here’s one of the most understated, classy spots in town. Whiskey is the main course, with everything from Jack, Jim and Johnny to the 25-year offerings from Glenlivet and MacAllan’s. And I’m certainly no cigar expert—the bartender had to remind me to cut the end off—but the selection is impressive, with a walk-in humidor larger than my first college dorm. If you need smoky drinks in smoky rooms, this is the dimly lit haunt for you.
1500 Washington Road, Mount Lebanon. Info: 412/531-5881, jerniganstobacco.com
KELLY'S BAR & LOUNGE
Despite what the people with the clever T-shirts tell you, the hippest bar in Pittsburgh is not in Lawrenceville. Kelly’s in East Liberty boasts the best parts of every trendy bar in town in one location: an awesome jukebox, perfect cocktails, a patio and delicious ’Burgh-style grub. Order one of the drinks designed by the fine folks at LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails) and hang out all night. Gentlemen, this is the place to unabashedly order what you would normally consider a “girlie” drink. I had a Mary Pickford. It even had a woman’s name. It was awesome.
6012 Penn Circle South, East Liberty. Info: 412/363-6012
PAPA J'S CENTRO
This one’s simple. It comes down to two words: haunted ex-brothel. Nowhere else in town can you drink at a place making this claim. Moreover, this building allegedly housed the first brothel in Pittsburgh history, according to a plaque in the bar. (Although that might be believable, the plaque also claims this to be the first building in Pittsburgh, which is more dubious. I’m pretty sure Fort Pitt came first.) Servers and bartenders will tell you about the bumps in the night, but pay more attention to the beautiful old wooden bar and cozy room after cozy room—from the front bar to the oddly quiet outdoor deck upstairs.
212 Blvd. of the Allies, downtown. Info: 412/391-7272, notabrothel.com
Here’s how important authenticity is with Irish fare: The centerpiece of the Guinness Storehouse tour in Dublin is an exhibit demonstrating the difficult and precise method of pouring a Guinness. In the name of authenticity, simply putting it into the glass has to be perfect. Despite the name, referring to its location in the Mexican War Streets neighborhood, this is an undeniably authentic Irish pub. It looks like Ireland. It smells like Ireland. It tastes like Ireland (especially the bangers and mash). The Guinness and Harp on draft are just right. It’s the only bar in Pittsburgh that truly makes me feel as if I’m back in old Galway.
1227 Monterey St., North Side. Info: 412/322-6535, montereypub.com
The world’s most unassuming landmark doesn’t look like much in the early evening. Wander in around 6 p.m., and you’ll find a couple of regulars at the large bar and a small, empty stage in the corner. Come back four hours later, and that stage will have the hottest blues and rock bands of any bar in Pittsburgh. Everyone from your cousin’s high-school punk band to Warren Zevon has played here, and it’s your best bet for those nights when you just want to hear something awesome while you throw back a pint.
378 Freeport Road, Blawnox. Info: 412/828-2040, moondogs.us
POINT BRUGGE CAFÉ
There are many bars in town (and on this list) with wooden booths, low lighting and a certain beer-y charm. That’s all well and good, but variety is necessary in your imbibing, and sometimes there’s just too much bar in your bar. This is why a reprieve at Point Brugge Café is necessary. A neighborhood spot hidden in a beautiful corner of Point Breeze, this bar is mostly known for its (fan-freaking-tastic) food. But the cocktail list is intriguing, the beer list exciting and the wine list as good as any you’ll find in town. Go in the evening or order a Pimm’s Cup at 11 a.m. This is a bar for all occasions.
401 Hastings St., Point Breeze. Info: 412/441-3334, pointbrugge.com
There is exactly one place to get anything to eat or drink on Washington’s Landing; fortunately, Redfin Blues, a grill and raw bar, is the only one you’ll ever need. The food is great and the wine list impressive (even the house selections are perfect), but the location is the star. Order a chardonnay or a cold bottle of beer and get a table on the deck, gazing down the river toward the city—rowers and party boats floating by, the 31st Street Bridge towering overhead. On a cool summer night, this may be the most beautiful place in Pittsburgh to sit and sip. The evening will quickly sail away.
100 Waterfront Drive, Washington's Landing. Info: 412/322-5837, redfinblues.com
ROUND CORNER CANTINA
This Butler Street haven succeeds as everything to everyone—there’s outdoor seating for those looking to see and be seen, a cozy (yet beautiful) corner bar up front, a cut-off room with a giant screen for Sunday afternoons and an expansive patio out back. The reason to show up, though, is the excellent list of margaritas, Mexican beers and unbelievable south-of-the-border grub. (I shouldn’t be focusing on the cuisine in a nightlife column, but seriously, they roll fresh corn on the cob in queso. It’s a revelation.) Ignore the rest of Butler Street—this is the only Lawrenceville joint you need.
3720 Butler St., Lawrenceville. Info: 412/904-2279, roundcornercantina.com
This Belgian-beer paradise has five homes around the region, and they all have a unique charm while sharing the features that make Sharp Edge an essential stop: the ultra-affordable and enigmatic daily Mystery Brew, mind-blowing appetizers (especially the chicken bites), the perfect array of Belgians on tap and the hundreds of bottles from around the world. You’ll also enjoy the variety of seating areas at every spot: At the bar? Private table? Sports-bar booth? Table by the jukebox? Wherever you want. If this list were numbered, Sharp Edge would be at the top.
Sharp Edge Bistro, 922 Penn Ave., downtown; Sharp Edge Beer Emporium, 302 S. St. Clair St., Friendship; Sharp Edge Creekhouse, 288 W. Steuben St., Crafton; Sharp Edge Brasserie, 102 Gallery Drive, McMurray; Sharp Edge Bistro Sewickley, 510 Beaver St., Sewickley. Info: sharpedgebeer.com