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 Beer Bar
Photo by hal b. klein
Independent Brewing Company
The Independent Brewing Company doesn’t brew any beer. Rather, the taproom is named for a consortium of pre-Prohibition Pittsburgh brewers; here all 16 taps pour western Pennsylvania-brewed beer. A good number of bars in Pittsburgh have significantly longer beer lists than the one at the Independent Brewing Company, but we appreciate how carefully the list is curated here. Ownership has longstanding relationships with most of the region’s brewers, meaning it’s quite likely you’ll find at least one rare, one-off or collaboration beer on tap. IBC bartenders also have good taste in tunes; music comes from the staff’s deep selection of vinyl records.
1704 Shady Ave., Squirrel Hill, independentpgh.com
photo by Evan Custer
Best Hidden-Gem Bar
photos by cory morton
Maggie’s Farm Rum Room
There are under-the-radar drinking spots, and then there’s Maggie’s Farm Rum Room. Distiller Tim Russell and his Allegheny Distilling team craft some of the most acclaimed rum in the United States on a lonesome, post-industrial stretch of Smallman Street in the liminal zone between the Strip District and Lower Lawrenceville. You’ll feel as though you’re part of a secret drinking society when you visit the distillery during its limited weekend cocktail-bar hours. Enjoy glasses of refreshing Harry Nilsson (Maggie’s Farm white rum, coconut cream, lime juice), a rum-based Old Fashioned or other craft- and tiki-influenced cocktails on the list.
3212A Smallman St., Strip District, maggiesfarmrum.com
Best Maturation of a Bar
photos by Hal B. Klein
When Brillobox opened in 2005, it was the go-to destination for members of Pittsburgh’s socially progressive crowd who were looking to avoid the typical meathead bar. Craft beer flowed from the taps, trivia night attracted the nerds and the-floor-might-collapse dance parties and alt-rock touring acts were a draw in the upstairs room. Several forward-thinking bars have opened in the last decade, but Brillo — particularly under the new ownership of longtime bartenders Lou Ickes and Janessa Walter — remains relevant. A breezy aesthetic redesign and a concise, vegetarian-friendly bar menu give the space a fresh feel. The dance floor still is bumping, trivia night remains a top draw and new, radically inclusive events such as the “Best. Joke. Period. Contest.” spark community dialogue.
4101 Penn Ave., Bloomfield, brilloboxpgh.com
Best Classic Cocktail Bar
photos by laura petrilla
Tender Bar + Kitchen [Closed]
Tender had the requisite vested and mustachioed bartenders crafting bijou cocktails to 1920s-era jazz tunes when we hit speakeasy-chic cocktail-bar peak a few years ago. The Lawrenceville bar always managed to float above cliché, however, and it now has outlasted the trend by morphing into something a bit more timeless. At Tender, there is craftsmanship in the bespoke cocktails such as Black Leaf (New Holland barrel-aged gin, Bonal, scotch, Joseph Cartron Thé Noir Fumé) and the Banker’s List of expertly executed classics. It is a destination for those drinkers still dipping their toes in craft-cocktail culture but also a location where experienced imbibers are satisfied.