Bar Exam: Kelly’s Bar & Lounge
We head to the East Liberty stalwart and find the comfort bar in its perfect form.
Photo by Joseph A. on Flickr
It’s not uncommon for a code of sorts to develop among close friends. There are short phrases that come to stand for so much else — one-word questions that say it all.
Among my trusted friends, one of the essential questions is: “Kelly’s?” The answer is always yes.
Kelly’s Bar & Lounge, which sits tucked away on Centre Avenue between hordes of construction projects, has been a staple of the East Liberty bar scene since before East Liberty really had a bar scene to speak of. With its dim, mid-century-styled neon lighting, cozy leather booths and a single bar that extends nearly the length of the place (leaving just enough room for the old jukebox in the corner), Kelly’s has a feel that might be described as “pleasantly dingy.” It’s the type of spot that East Enders flock to — not to make new friends, but to catch up on the lives of old ones. Alongside the consumption of plenty of $4 cocktails and mac and cheese bowls, of course.
What’s amazing about Kelly’s, though, is that even a newcomer to the place will feel a strange sense of familiarity with the joint. Perhaps that’s because Kelly’s is, in many ways, a kind of distillation of what we find most comfortable in a neighborhood bar: Anyone and everyone who comes in is treated like they’re a part of the everyday crowd by the staff, who give customers their space and manage to deliver drinks with dizzying speed.
When you and your friends reach a lull in conversation, the silence is immediately filled by music blaring throughout the room, usually from a DJ who specializes in playing throwback tracks — sometimes swing music, sometimes deep cuts from the likes of Iggy and the Stooges.
But Kelly’s biggest draw by far has to be the drink offerings — which aren’t only cheap, but damn good, too. Along with a reasonably priced draft that offers a nice spread of different options, Kelly’s has a daily $4 cocktail special. It won’t be your standard vodka-cranberry, either. Each day of the week finds the place offering up a flavorful change of pace, whether it’s Paloma Tuesday or Moscow Mule Thursday. Not only is this a great excuse to drag your pals to the bar on a Wednesday night, but it allows cocktail newbies to get a little adventurous (even while they’re saving a couple bucks).
The real gem in Kelly’s crown, though, is their almost too-good-to-be-true mac and cheese. Served sizzling out of the oven with just enough kick to make it interesting, it is for my money the best macaroni and cheese in the ’Burgh, and yet another example of how keeping it low key and doing it well works brilliantly for Kelly’s Bar.
Locals who’ve been flocking to the spot on weeknights will find all of this to be no surprise, but for those who haven’t enjoyed the comforts of Kelly’s, it’s time to get a hold of an old friend and pop the question.
A plate of Mac and Cheese with a Moscow Mule