After Dark Hall of Fame: Spirit
The lauded Lawrenceville hotspot is the latest inductee in the After Dark Hall of Fame.
Photo by Cory Morton
A couple of weeks ago, I went to Spirit for brunch. The bar is the standard-bearer for Lawrenceville cool, so I’d been a dozen times for a dozen different reasons; this was my first morning visit, however, since brunch service was added.
Now, I’ve been to plenty of brunches. There are few positions in which I am more comfortable than hunched over a plate of eggs. But I realized something unusual at this particular brunch: I didn’t want to leave.
I know that’s the goal of any such outing; every brunch aims to be the kind of thing where you and your friends linger for hours. But few of them, in practice, are; after the last bits of mixed grill are eaten and all the coffee one can manage is sipped, you start figuring out how to get out and get on with your Sunday. Not at this brunch, however. I was there for three hours — and I only left then because half of my party had to get to a show.
There’s something about Spirit’s brunch that will make you want to stay. It could be the drinks (order the Coffee Buzz), it could be the atmosphere, it could be the DJ — yes, a live DJ at brunch — but you will want to stay.
Spirit makes you want to stay.
Throughout the 2010s, plenty of bars have opened or reopened with an attempt to perfect either the neighborhood-bar aesthetic or the hipster-haven thing. Most are a mixed bag; as ubiquitous as those styles are, they’re hard to get right. Spirit, however, somehow nails both. It is at once a classic-Pittsburgh bit of community (being housed in a former Moose Lodge certainly helps) and, thanks to great programming of music and events, at the vanguard of the city’s most idenitifiably hip pocket.
The outdoor area is just right. The pizza (among the city’s best bar pizza) is just right. The cocktails are thoughtful and good, never busy or showy. The parties are right, the bands are right. And the programming could be anything at all — deep-cut DJ sessions, curated entertainment, pudding wrestling that is somehow forward-thinking, bingo (great bingo), who knows what else.
Still, I’m not sure what the magic formula is — how they’re able to nail authenticity and innovation. I asked my fellow associate editor, Hal B. Klein, for some perspective. “They don’t rest on the things that they’ve done,” he says. “They’re not afraid to take chances in expanding and moving forward.
“A lot of places throw ideas out for newness; they think things through before they do anything.”
I’m always happy to visit Spirit. Curmudgeon that I am, I usually find that most bars are a little too … something. This is doubly true in Lawrenceville, which went through an unpleasant round of try-hard in the early ’10s, both in terms of renovations and new openings: New Amsterdam is fine, but a little too noisy; The Abbey is fine, but a little too polished; Belvedere’s is fine, but a little too grunge.
Spirit hits the bullseye, effortlessly. This is the bar that shows by not showing off.