Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

What Defines a Pittsburgh Bar?

Is it a spot for a beer and a shot or one of our nationally lauded establishments on the cutting edge of craft cocktails?




photo by CORY MORTON
 

More than eight years ago, I was asked to write a feature for this magazine on the best bars in the city. Unbeknownst to me then, it was a fitting time for such an article. A sea change was upon us as the notion of what, exactly, defines a “Pittsburgh bar,” and I spent the ensuing decade writing this column and our nightlife blog, After Dark.

The old definition of that phrase was championed by a commenter on the original story, who scoffed at the majority of the list, arguing that anything more fancy than a large Moose Club was of no use to Pittsburghers. To his credit, that was the prototypical Pittsburgh bar for nearly a century: cheap, unremarkable beer; clouds of smoke lolling above the room; some kind of numbers game quietly being run; the nightly news on an ailing television.

Then — as Lawrenceville rolled over into a nationally known hipster haven and the South Side started pushing the regulars onto the backstreets to make way for the college kids — something changed. I asked my colleague, Hal B. Klein, about this; not only has he traced the evolution of the city’s bar culture, but he also arrived just in time to witness the shift.

“When I moved here, it was a place called Embury and a couple of other places, like Round Corner Cantina, that were a little bit more cocktail-focused,” Klein remembers. “But it was mostly shot-and-beer places.” Now, he says, there are a great many places with good, carefully constructed cocktails. “The bigger question for the future is ... will those shot-and-beer places remain?”

So far, the better ones are hanging in there. Only two bars appeared on both the 2010 list and the updated feature Klein and I wrote in 2017: Gooski’s, the punk-heaven Polish Hill destination, and Kelly’s, the retro-futuristic East Liberty neighborhood favorite.

The 2017 list also added a woeful oversight that I should’ve included seven years earlier: Nied’s Hotel, the deep-Lawrenceville standard-bearer for the traditional definition of the Pittsburgh bar.

I stopped into Nied’s and talked to Jimmy Nied (pictured), the gregarious owner of the stalwart. Over a gigantic fish sandwich, I asked him what a Pittsburgh bar was. “My frame of reference is 5438 Butler St.,” he says, rattling off his own bar’s address. “I can’t change it. It’s not in me.” Clearly, he’s happy to fly the flag and maintain a certain character; at one point, he tells me, he calculated that the average service time of his employees was 35 years.

Still, he’s more than happy with the evolution he sees up the street. “Different strokes for different folks,” he says. “Some people are comfortable here, some people are comfortable there. People want to go where they’re comfortable.”

If you thread the needle, you can do both; Spirit, only a few blocks from Nied’s, leads the charge as an exemplar, where millennial craft is effortlessly married to boomer authenticity. (Klein cites the nascent Tina’s, in Bloomfield, as another such example.)

But as the decade rolls over, perhaps the new definition of a Pittsburgh bar won’t be one smoky corner watering hole or one urbane nexus of mixology. Perhaps it will be both of those places, side by side, each with dedicated customers but sharing more than a few regulars who drift back and forth.

And both will have cheap Pabst.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

‘Ring’-ing in the Holiday Season with Festive Proposals

Twinkling lights wrapped around tree trunks and draped across windows weren’t the only things glittering during the holidays for these couples.

The 400-Word Review: Aquaman

DC's latest superhero flick is ridiculous and over-the-top, but it just barely comes together.

Cuteness Overload: Newborns Given Their First Ugly Sweater

In reality, the Christmas sweaters were far from ugly on these adorable babies.

The 400-Word Review: Mary Poppins Returns

The belated Disney sequel is a waste of a practically perfect character, even in its winning moments.

Will the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Bring Home Another Grammy?

The 2018 winners are up again for three potential wins in the 2019 awards.

Adda Coffee and Tea Expands to a Second Location

The coffee house brings its international focus and welcoming atmosphere to the North Side.

Do You Know Uber's Top 10 Pittsburgh Destinations in 2018?

The rideshare company collects data on just about every aspect of the rider experience, including the most frequently visited locations.

Steelers’ Finishing Stretch Smells Like a Tomlin Referendum

In a season that remarkably could still go either way as Christmas approaches, we’re about to find out if Mike Tomlin still has the coaching chops that have allowed him to succeed at such a high level for so long.

The 400-Word Review: The Favourite

The quirky period drama starring Emma Stone is one of the year's best films.

My Favorite Room with Heather Abraham

Each issue, HOME goes inside the room of one of our favorite Pittsburghers.

Look Inside a Home That's a True Gateway to Pittsburgh

After 50 years away, Dick and Vicki Mallary returned to Pittsburgh and spent years painstakingly remodeling a condo in the heart of Downtown.

This Old Pittsburgh House: A Ghost in the Library

It's said that the mischievous spirit of Amanda Bayne Balph still haunts the red brick Victorian home in Bellevue.

“Trocking” Along: Living the Art-Filled Life in Pittsburgh

Patricia Sheahan’s home in the Brewhouse Art Lofts on the South side doubles as a gallery space showcasing her collection of art, antique finds and roadside treasures.

Down to Earth is the Hottest Trend at High Point Market

Get the scoop on the furnishing and decor trends to come out of the influential High Point Market trade show, including a return to natural materials.

Winter 2019: Things We Love

Here are the local gems worth obsessing over.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Cuteness Overload: Newborns Given Their First Ugly Sweater

Cuteness Overload: Newborns Given Their First Ugly Sweater

In reality, the Christmas sweaters were far from ugly on these adorable babies.

Comments

Will the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Bring Home Another Grammy?

Will the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Bring Home Another Grammy?

The 2018 winners are up again for three potential wins in the 2019 awards.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Adda Coffee and Tea Expands to a Second Location

Adda Coffee and Tea Expands to a Second Location

The coffee house brings its international focus and welcoming atmosphere to the North Side.

Comments

First Look: Seasons in Etna

First Look: Seasons in Etna

David Bulman’s hyper-local, 12-seat restaurant has the potential to become a dining destination.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Don’t resign yourself to the gym treadmills just yet – fall is one of the best times of the year to get outside and pound the pavement, surrounded by falling leaves and the possibility of grabbing a hot latte on the way home.

Comments

Love Sourdough? Find the Best There Is at These Five Bake Shops

Love Sourdough? Find the Best There Is at These Five Bake Shops

We dove into the local artisan bread scene to find the best places that bake naturally leavened bread in Pittsburgh.

Comments


A Guide to Under-21 College Nightlife in Pittsburgh

A Guide to Under-21 College Nightlife in Pittsburgh

Guest blogger Sarah Connor helps college kids head out at night, whatever their birth year.

Comments

At Jergel's, It's Beers and Grub Near Some Rock and Roll

At Jergel's, It's Beers and Grub Near Some Rock and Roll

The Warrendale venue makes seeing a show feel like an easygoing night out.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Steelers’ Finishing Stretch Smells Like a Tomlin Referendum

Steelers’ Finishing Stretch Smells Like a Tomlin Referendum

In a season that remarkably could still go either way as Christmas approaches, we’re about to find out if Mike Tomlin still has the coaching chops that have allowed him to succeed at such a high level for so long.

Comments

When I Realized the True Meaning of the Army-Navy Game

When I Realized the True Meaning of the Army-Navy Game

As Army veteran and Pittsburgh Steeler Alejandro Villanueva sees it, Army-Navy is football at its core in a setting that transcends the sport.​

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Aquaman

The 400-Word Review: Aquaman

DC's latest superhero flick is ridiculous and over-the-top, but it just barely comes together.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Mary Poppins Returns

The 400-Word Review: Mary Poppins Returns

The belated Disney sequel is a waste of a practically perfect character, even in its winning moments.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
‘Ring’-ing in the Holiday Season with Festive Proposals

‘Ring’-ing in the Holiday Season with Festive Proposals

Twinkling lights wrapped around tree trunks and draped across windows weren’t the only things glittering during the holidays for these couples.

Comments

Overseas Adventures Lead to Pittsburgh Weddings

Overseas Adventures Lead to Pittsburgh Weddings

These couples made the trip that would take them from dating to engaged.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Historic Larimer Schoolhouse Will Graduate to Apartment Complex

Historic Larimer Schoolhouse Will Graduate to Apartment Complex

Federal funds will be used to turn to the vacant Romanesque-style building into 35 mixed-income apartments.

Comments

Allegheny County Could Pay You to Convert Your Wood Burning Fireplace

Allegheny County Could Pay You to Convert Your Wood Burning Fireplace

In the hopes of reducing air pollution and improving indoor air quality — particularly for those with asthma — the county health department is conducting a program to convert open-hearth fireplaces into vented gas-burning appliances.

Comments