The Best New Bars in Pittsburgh in 2018
Our columnist Celine Roberts is big on Alpine escapes, Downtown cocktails and Soju.
photos by Tom O'Connor
A lover of both adventure and boozy delights, I’ve crisscrossed the city in 2018 for new openings, sampling drinks around town. While many were lovely stand-alone experiences, there were only a few spots I felt compelled to return to again and again to soak up the atmosphere, to try just one more cocktail or to bring out-of-town friends for a quick drink. Great bars come in many shapes, but for me the ones that stand apart are the places that you find yourself plotting when you’ll next return. These are the three Best New Bar Openings of 2018.
The owners of Independent Brewing Company and Hidden Harbor in Squirrel Hill made a move to East Liberty in July. Lorelei, named for the mythical siren and rock formation on the bank of the Rhine River, brings a distinctly European flair and a wealth of experienced bar and kitchen staff. The bar is divided into two distinct spaces. The corner space, headed by Cecil Usher, formerly of the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group, features a menu of lesser-known liqueurs, many from the Alpine regions of Switzerland and France. The wine list, created by Max Stein, a recently certified sommelier and manager at Hidden Harbor, is similarly niche. The attached beer hall, headed by Lizzie Fistel, is a more casual space; here you’ll find a communal atmosphere that simultaneously offers elegant and focused touches such as lambic service and a menu of mostly Czech and German styles. Executive Chef Jamilka Borges and pastry chef Diane DeStefano run the kitchen, focusing on simple but well-executed breads, pastries, pretzels and hand pies. The space is simple and modern but still carries classic, warm touches that make settling into your seat just a little bit more enjoyable. (124 S. Highland Ave., East Liberty; loreleipgh.com)
photo by Hal B. Klein
The Warren Bar and Burrow
Veteran bartenders Carrie Clayton and Spencer Warren founded the cocktail consulting company, Subversive Cocktails, in 2016. In February, the duo opened The Warren Bar and Burrow Downtown. It quickly became a popular spot for everyone from the 9-to-5 after-work crowd to bartenders looking for a post-shift drink (the bar is open every night until 2 a.m.). I love that they stock a veritable riot of liquors while providing a carefully crafted selection of cocktails developed by its veteran bartenders. The “mule of the day” changes according to season, and a nice beer selection is available. The bar itself is made from pieces of an old bowling alley Warren and Clayton found in the building, and I challenge anyone to find a bar stool more comfortable than the captains seats that run its length. The Warren’s partnership with Penn Cove Eatery gives customers option for snacks or dinner and the attached bottle shop offers a selection of wines to pick up on your way out. (245 7th St., Downtown; 412/201-5888, thewarrenpgh.com)
Some of the best bars in Pittsburgh are tucked inside restaurants, perfect places for an aperitif or a relaxing night cap. Soju in Garfield opened in April and takes its name from a popular South Korean clear liquor traditionally distilled from rice, although modern soju is also made from other starches such as sweet potatoes, wheat and tapioca. Soju was created to be paired with food, and so I like to grab one of chef/owner Simon Chough’s small plates such as kimchijeon, a savory pancake, and pair it with a nip. The bar staff is welcoming, attentive and talented. Soju has a creative cocktail program featuring herbal infusions and unusual ingredients such as yogurt, all with a distinctly Korean flair. I’m particularly fond of the Purple Rain, a cocktail that pays homage to two of my favorite things: Prince and gin; the drink also introduced me to a new love, lavender pea-flower soju. The back bar includes something for everyone; in addition to the selection of soju, there also is craft beer from sought-after breweries such as Stillwater and Evil Twin. (4923 Penn Ave., Garfield; 412/956-7699, simonchough.wixsite.com/sojupgh)