Bar Exam: Acacia
South Side’s speakeasy-style bar is the perfect spot to catch up with old friends over old cocktails.
Photos by Adam Milliron
Among the list of go-to bars — the game bar, the alone bar, the dinner bar, the party bar and whatever others you need — is a very specific subcategory: the catching-up-with-friends bar. This is its own distinct type, which requires some specifics different from all others.
There must be good drinks, built for sipping. The overall volume of the room must fall somewhere between hushed and average. There must be seats, and they must be around tables. Most of all, there must be little to no chance of anything ridiculous happening. You’re trying to have a conversation, here.
That last rule in particular knocks out much of East Carson Street when it comes time to invite those people you haven’t seen in a while for drinks. But I’ve found that the last few times I’ve been in this position, I’ve been proposing that we all meet at Acacia. The slightly rebranded, vaguely updated and confusingly related progeny of bygone Strip speakeasy Embury passes every item on the above list — and happens to offer many of Pittsburgh’s finest cocktails.
The Prohibition-era theme is in full effect before you enter the small bar; if you’re not looking carefully for Acacia, you’ll walk right past it without noticing the elegant logo stamped in front of newspaper-sealed windows. Inside, you’ll find the joint’s master bartenders busy behind the loaded bar to your right while a row of tables hugs the wall to your left. At all but the busiest times, you should be able to snag one for your group. (If it’s too packed, head to the back room; it’s more sparsely decorated and almost a bit sinister in its dimness, but I’m pretty sure that’s part of the fun.)
The beer drinker will be pleased, as Acacia offers a carefully curated list of draft brews from local and national producers. While the list may not be as exhaustive as those at some beer-focused establishments, Acacia is careful to avoid the hop-obsessed trap of many smaller joints; there are beers for every palate on this list. Whiskey aficionados, too, will find a fine selection.
But the main event — and the reason for Acacia’s existence — is its ever-changing and detailed cocktail list. You’d have to be a bartender to recognize every ingredient on the menu and a seasoned mixer to know what to do with them.
Given the frequency of turnover on the menu — other than the draft cocktails, one of which we featured in print last year — I won’t list any specifics; instead, I’d recommend that you go in with no preconceived notions, and let whatever strikes your fancy reign for the evening — even if it’s not the kind of drink you’d ordinarily order. If you feel like trying more than one blend, feel free; the drinks generally are balanced and palatable enough that switching won’t throw you for a loop. (I’d caution against driving home after more than one Acacia cocktail, though.)
There are plenty of reasons to go to Acacia; drop by once, and you’ll find your own. But go in a small group with plenty to talk about, and you’ll leave vowing to come back — and to see your old friends more. Not every bar can make you want to become a more social person. Acacia, though, is up to the task.