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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Best Classic Dive
It’s Tuesday night. You’re already a little bit heady. You’re not quite ready to go home (but your car already is parked for the night). Where to? Gooski’s, of course. There are no-frills, inexpensive drinks. It’s smoky and often loud, especially when local punk, rock and metal bands are raging in the back room; when there aren’t, there’s a Ping-Pong table and a killer jukebox to keep you amused. Gooski’s has a seemingly gruff but extraordinarily hospitable bar staff. A good number of Pittsburghers name the wings at Gooski’s as the best in town, and the pierogi aren’t too shabby, either. Gooski’s is the perfect dive bar.
3117 Brereton St., Polish Hill, 412/681-1658
Best Getaway/Best New Bar
“What’s fun?,” you’re thinking. “As in, what’s ‘Let’s-get-bonkers’ fun?” The answer is Hidden Harbor. Crush your old-time notions that tiki bars are made of kitsch and serve crappy cocktails. The tiki resurgence is here, and Hidden Harbor is a destination bar that’s leading the charge. The drinks menu includes modern takes on tiki classics such as the warmly spiced Ishmael and the punchy, potent Curse of Pele. Classic tiki lovers will be thrilled with the weekly Tuesday night Tiki Time Machine and futurists will foam for Weird Science Wednesdays. Warning: These drinks are potent; pace yourself and consider ordering a few items from the bar’s very good food menu.
1708 Shady Ave., Squirrel Hill, hiddenharborpgh.com
While Pittsburgh Magazine recognizes the work of the bar owners and bartenders featured in this package, we also recognize that celebrating a party also must include a note of social responsibility. Alcohol isn’t for everyone.
This package is intended for readers 21 and older and despite some fun prompting, should not be considered a suggestion to over-consume alcoholic beverages. The legal limit for driving in Pennsylvania is a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent, but don’t even take it that far. Arrange for a designated driver, or take a taxi or rideshare home. Getting home in your own car isn’t worth receiving a DUI citation, or worse, taking your life or someone else’s because you were driving while intoxicated.
If you’re feeling unsafe at a bar because a fellow customer or a staff member is behaving inappropriately toward you, talk to a manager or bartender. If he or she is unwilling to assist you, talk to the police. Nobody should feel harassed or threatened while out drinking. Ever. If you believe that you or someone you love has a problem with alcohol abuse, seek help. Alcoholics Anonymous (900 Fifth Ave #500, Uptown; 412/471-7472, pghaa.org) and other organizations are there to aid in your recovery.
Best Complete Bar Program
photos by laura petrilla
We could have dubbed Spoon as the best contemporary cocktail bar for the absurdly tasty and ever-rotating selection of cocktails. Or the best gin bar for its 60-plus bottle (and growing) gin list. Or best wine bar for its levels-deep wine program and savvy sommeliers. Or best bar service for its attentive, engaging bartenders and waitstaff. Or best restaurant bar program because Spoon’s drink list is a companion to its exceptional restaurant menu. All of this adds up to Spoon building the most complete bar program in Pittsburgh. So that’s what we’re calling it.
134 S. Highland Ave., East Liberty, spoonpgh.com
Best Bar for the Proletariat
You’ll see a broad cross-section of Pittsburghers hanging out at Apteka, drinking crafted cocktails thoughtfully infused with house-made syrups and cordials. Bartenders and guest DJs at this vegan eatery spin tunes ranging from funky disco to experimental electronica. The flavor profiles of both the cocktails and the cuisine are deeply rooted in the local and eastern European heritage of the owners, but they are made with contemporary sensibilities. Cocktails cost the same ($6-9) as at many ho-hum bars yet rank among the most delicious in Pittsburgh. Apteka is proof that the semi-recent revival of cocktail menus built from handcrafted, considered ingredients is something that everyone can enjoy.
4606 Penn Ave., Bloomfield, aptekapgh.com