Cocktails & Dreams: 9 Boozy Bars That Opened During the Pandemic

During the pandemic, bar owners pivoted to offer to-go cocktails and establish mocktail menus for sober-curious customers, ushering in a new wave of hotspots.
Bocadillos Purpleh


In Pittsburgh, beer flows like the three rivers — but, for every brewery in town, there’s a cocktail lounge slinging boozier options.

From beloved institutions such as Kelly’s Bar & Lounge in East Liberty to hidden gems such as The Monk’s Bar inside the Priory Hotel on the North Side (it’s the smallest watering hole in Pennsylvania!) there are plenty of places to get your drink on.

Feeling like a Zombie? Head to Hidden Harbor in Squirrel Hill for the classic Tiki drink. Dig a retro vibe? Bloomfield boasts Tina’s Bar & Bottleshop. Veteran Mixologist Spencer Warren, the man behind seasonal pop-ups such as Miracle and Cocktails from the Crypt, creates a buzz year-round at Downtown’s The Warren Bar & Burrow.

During the pandemic, bar owners pivoted to offer to-go cocktails and establish mocktail menus for sober-curious customers, ushering in a new wave of hotspots. Here are nine places that, despite debuting in the COVID era, always see the rocks glass as half full.

Cadence Cellars


CADENCE+ Cellars Speakeasy
Strip District, 2400 Smallman St., Suite 100

If you want a taste of Strip District history, head to the basement of a new bicycle shop.

Since 1825, the building at the corner of 24th and Smallman streets has been a hotbed of activity — some of it illegal in the speakeasy era. Originally constructed as the Phoenix Steam Cotton Factory, the structure housed several breweries over the years.

Now, the property is known as CADENCE+ At The Strip, a venue with a 350-seat, cityview event space, a Pro Bike+Run store and a windowless, speakeasy-style restaurant and bar that doubles as a time machine to the Prohibition Era.

The cavernous venue, which includes several private event rooms, also features a tunnel that runs under Smallman Street to Wigle Whiskey Distillery. Bootleggers used the passageway to transport bathtub gin. Since the homemade hooch didn’t taste good, enterprising bartenders added fruit juices and other ingredients to mask the flavor, inadvertently launching America’s craft cocktail movement.

CADENCE+ Cellars Speakeasy embraces its somewhat seedy past by serving classic cocktails such as the Sidecar and Sazerac. The site also offers beer-, wine- and spirit-tasting events hosted by alcohol experts.

Aside from the glow of the backbar and images of roaring fireplaces on the TVs, the lighting is dim. Vintage black-and-white photographs of flappers, mustachioed bartenders and barrel-busting law enforcement agents hang on the rough, concrete walls.

I enjoyed sipping a rye Old Fashioned in an upscale dungeon — a dungeon that held me captive with its food menu. Local company Common Plea Catering dishes out modern American fare, from grazing boards and burgers to filet mignon and weekend brunch.

CADENCE+ Cellars Speakeasy is a great place for a stiff drink and a satisfying snack in an atmosphere that’s filled with spirits of the past — and not all of them come in a bottle.

Bitter End
Etna, 409 Butler St.

People have bellied up to the bar at 409 Butler St. in Etna since Prohibition ended in 1933 (and it’s probable there was some illegal imbibing going on before that).

Long known as Nooch’s Bar, it reopened as Bitter End in June 2022. If the green light above the front door is on, it’s cocktail time!

General Manager Michael Hammer created a menu of bourbon-, rye- and gin-based Speakeasy Classics infused with fresh, house-made ingredients, while the space itself was inspired by “The Great Gatsby.” The dark room seems plucked from the pages of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. (Co-owner Mike Rios was a literature major in college.)

If you enjoy a turn-of-the-20th-century drinking experience, Bitter End delivers on aesthetics. The small space is big on exposed brickwork and boasts a tin ceiling, original terrazzo floor, a beautiful back bar and even an old Cruikshank Brothers ketchup mural that the modern-day construction crew discovered behind the drywall.

Order a Southside, a mix of gin, lemon and mint that was Chicago crime boss Al Capone’s favorite beverage. Light snacks such as a hummus bowl with veggies and pita dippers, a cheese-and-crackers plate, housemade malt vinegar chips, mixed olives and sesame sticks will help you soak up the alcohol — or you can walk down the street to Bitter End’s sister businesses, Rear End Gastropub & Garage and Pie Hole Pizza.

Jay Gatsby believed in the green light, and so should you.



Soluna PGH
Strip District, 1601 Penn Ave.

If it’s been a while since you visited Cafetano in the Strip District, the difference is night and day.

Rebranded in late-2022 as Soluna (a combination of the Spanish words for “sun” and “moon”), it still serves Honduran coffee, pastries and sandwiches during the day, but its offerings are more potent Thursday through Sunday evenings.

The rear of the building has a 13-foot bar loaded with beer, wine and spirits; you’ll find more than 100 types of mezcal, an agave-based libation known as The Mother of Tequila, on the menu.

Don’t expect to see bottom-shelf booze or run-of-the-mill margaritas at Soluna. Owner Carl Allison, a local businessman who frequents Central and South America, features products from family-owned mezcal distilleries, where the production of the liquid is an ancestral artform centered around clay pot stills.

A veteran mixologist from Chicago’s booming cocktail scene, John Hess manages the bar program. His fascination with agave spirits led him to Soluna, one of the few places in Pittsburgh to grab a mezcal-based beverage.

Hess has formulated 12 cocktails, including the El Gigante, a Mexican-style Old Fashioned with Espadin mezcal, a dash of reposado tequila, lavender bitters, a house-made, faux tobacco essence and smoked tea syrup. Complement the offering with a selection from the traditional tapas menu.

Eventually, Hess hopes to use the second-floor Global Coffee School — one of two educational coffee centers in the United States — as a mezcal classroom, where attendees can sip the elixir from traditional clay cups. If you overindulged in Jose Cuervo in college, maybe it’s time to go back to school.



Goodlander Cocktail Brewery
Larimer, 6614 Hamilton Ave.

A few years ago, Wes Shonk had a big question: Why wasn’t anyone in Pittsburgh — or the world, for that matter — making cocktails in big batches like beer?

When the skilled bartender, who made a splash at Butcher & The Rye and Hidden Harbor, couldn’t find an answer, he decided to take the challenge upon himself.

In May 2021, Shonk opened the first-of-its-kind Goodlander Cocktail Brewery. Inside the 3,400-square-foot building, his team zests, juices, measures, filters, chills and carbonates ingredients in a 200-gallon tank using 1,000-liter totes of nationally known brands of gin, vodka and rum. (Goodlander is licensed as a distillery, so in-house spirit-making is one of Shonk’s goals.)

Ready-to-serve, effervescent beverages such as mojitos, highballs and seasonal offerings are then kegged and poured straight from the tap. The business sells between 3,000 and 4,000 cocktails a week, with ABVs hovering between 10% and 13% alcohol.

Enjoy samples or a 6-ounce pour on-site during retail hours, or get a returnable 32- or 16-ounce growler filled to go. Beers from nearby East End Brewing are always on tap. Folks (including kids) who like bubbly beverages without the booze can order non-alcoholic varieties, including oolong seltzer and cold-brewed Taiwanese “milky” oolong tea.

Unlike the speakeasy-type establishments on this list, Goodlander is the perfect location for upbeat day-drinking. It’s bright and inviting, bursting with plants and positive vibes. There’s a foosball table and other games in the back production area. The dog-friendly tasting room has 14 seats.

Goodlander sells kegs — which keep the liquid fizzy for at least two weeks — to about 20 area restaurants and shot-and-a-beer bars that want to beef-up their cocktail programs.

For Shonk, it’s all about being a good neighbor.

Bocadillos Mangov


De Pan Y Queso Bocadillos Bar
Brighton Heights, 2827 California Ave.

Tom Hanks is a fan of Bocadillos Bar.

Last year, while filming “A Man Called Otto,” the actor — whose word is gold around here — dropped by the cozy spot for a drink and some bocadillos. Although the bar is named for the Spanish word for “snacks,” the California Avenue watering hole’s menu spans the globe, from Korea to Norway to owner Tzveti Gintcheva’s native Bulgaria.

The beverages, made with Pennsylvania-distilled spirits, will take your taste buds on an adventure, too.

In 2021, after two decades in Pittsburgh’s service industry, Gintcheva refurbished the Stone Front Witch Way Inn into an eclectic hangout with potions to suit any mood. No broom or black cat needed!

Warm up with a Hot Naughty, made with fig, burnt orange bourbon, dark agave, mint and citrus served in a glass rimmed with brown sugar. Hangover? The Bloody Maria will get you back on your feet once you leave the bar stool thanks to a kick from spicy agave spirit, vodka, paella shrimp, Iberico Spanish chorizo, anchovy and olive-cured olive.

During warm weather, Gintcheva hosts pig roasts and barbecues in her side lot, allowing patrons to sip a summery cocktail — such as Lindsay’s Gin and Juice Martini made with cucumber gin, triple sec and fresh-squeezed clementine — while taking in a unique view of the city.

Despite the gloomy winter weather, Gintcheva is thinking of fun in the sun and promises more pop-ups and live music in 2023.

Give (t)Hanks now.

St. Clair Social
Friendship, 302 S. St. Clair St.

Cat Cannon and Cecil Usher didn’t let COVID-19 dash their dream of owning a bar.

Taking a cue from Tom Cruise in the movie “Cocktail,” they hung a sign in their establishment with the words “Cocktails & Dreams” illuminated in pink-and-blue neon. That’s the lifestyle they’ve been living since opening the doors to St. Clair Social in 2020.

The enormous corner bar is located in Friendship, a fitting neighborhood for a gathering place frequented by local residents and outsiders looking for a “Cheers”-type vibe.

Cannon and Usher probably know your name. Entrenched in Pittsburgh’s service industry for years, the pair runs Mindful Hospitality Group, a consulting firm that designs bar programs for local restaurants and nightlife venues.

They pour their expertise (and love) into each glass.

The come-as-you-are bar offers a little something for everyone, starting with classic cocktails such as the El Diablo, which has been heating up the scene since 1946. It’s a fiery mix of Teremana Blanco Tequila, ginger, lime juice, Natrona Bottling Co.’s Hot Hot Hot Ginger Beer and ginger bitters.

St. Clair’s “Social Cocktails” are inspired by beverages from the 1950s through the early-2000s. Nix your usual rum and coke and spring for a French Connection No. 2, a concoction of Hennessy, cocoa nib-infused Grand Marnier and salt.

The Steel City’s blue-collar heritage is celebrated through boilermakers, a shot of liquor chased with a pint of beer. St. Clair has a variety of combos, such as Jagermeister and I.C. Light Mango, Evan Williams Bourbon and Yuengling or El Jimador and Prosecco.

The same amount of love goes into the upscale grub. Yeah, you’ll find pub favorites such as wings and burgers, but St. Clair standouts include their seitan chili, Parmesan truffle fries and the crispy chicken sandwich.

I ordered a spicy version of the buttermilk-soaked, floured and fried bird with lettuce, house pickles and roasted garlic aioli on a brioche bun. Partnered with an El Diablo, it’ll light a fire in your belly. Now that’s the ultimate boilermaker.

Harold’s Haunt 
Millvale, 142 Grant Ave.

Everyone is welcome at Harold’s Haunt — even if you don’t have a pulse.

The idea for the “they bar” — a hangout where members of the LGBTQIA+ community can commune over cocktails — was conjured by the owners of nearby Maude’s Paperwing Gallery in 2022. The metaphysical gift shop has a resident spirit named Harold who likes to play tricks on the staff. His ghostly vibes spill over into the watering hole a few doors down.

The signature drink menu, including mocktails, changes monthly. Among January’s potions and elixirs was Waffle’s Revenge, an eye-opening mix of tequila, maple syrup, chocolate bitters and orange peel. A Silver Bullet shot of gin, whiskey and lemon juice was a popular extract during the full moon. If you’re a Capricorn, your spirit guides probably told you to order the Astrology Special: tequila, blueberry puree, pomegranate juice and lime juice in a sugar-rimmed glass.

In addition to hosting regular events such as Stitch Witchery Wednesdays, where you can sip and sew, Harold’s Haunt promotes Sober Sundays by banishing booze and offering a full lineup of mocktails.

Whether you put the “boo” in booze or opt for something from the NA cauldron, you’ll have so much fun it’s scary.

Co-Sign Speakeasy
Homestead, 145 E. Eighth Ave., Fourth Floor

When Joe Deasy and his son Joe Deasy Jr. purchased the historical Monongahela Trust Co. building in Homestead, they banked on housing several businesses inside.

Their investment is paying off.

The Munhall natives operate Escape Room Pittsburgh, Ace Axe Throwing and their latest venture, Co-Sign Speakeasy, which opened in 2021.

Located on the fourth floor of the 30,000-square-foot structure, the bar is open 6 p.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday. There’s no outside signage, but sleuths should keep an eye open for a green light.

Online reservations, and a knack for problem-solving, are encouraged. First-timers will have to figure out how to get into the intimate space, where the Roaring ‘20s are alive and well — with some tech-savvy surprises.

Head bartender Eva Kobylar crafts prohibition-inspired cocktails and seasonal specialties with care (and sometimes fire!) at the dark main bar, which is decorated with vintage bank notes the construction crew found in the basement during renovations.

A tiny, ethereal cloud rises from a Smoked Old Fashioned; paired with a comfy arm chair and a fireplace, it’s the perfect winter sipper. Another bourbon beverage, Zelda, is a combo of tangerine, sage, lemon, egg white and Angostura bitters. The It Girl is a delicate and feminine concoction of lavender- and lemon-infused Crater Lake Vodka, Lazzaroni Amaretto, lavender tea, lemon and honey.

Guests can try and find a secret door to a separate room, which is decorated like a study. The Deasys plan to open a third, red-hued space soon — to help them stay in the black.



East Liberty, 5947 Penn Ave.

If you’re looking for a first-date destination, gaux to East Liberty.

During the day, Margaux is a relaxing place for lattes and yogurt parfaits. When the sun goes down, it morphs into a swanky lounge with Champagne cocktails and Spanish Chorizo Croquettes.

Opened in the summer of 2021, the 3,200-square-foot former department store has the chic cafe-to-cocktail lounge trend down to a science. Owner Michael Sanders, who also helms Opus One Productions and Club Cafe on the South Side, named the place after the wine region of France, so there are plenty of vino varietals to choose from as well as a stellar beer list. During the week, the bar opens at 3 p.m. On weekends, you can grab a cocktail from the brunch menu starting at 10 a.m.

Despite the high-end beverages, fancy snacks and European-inspired decor, Margaux isn’t stuffy. You can kick back on a comfy couch for a more intimate experience or make new friends at the large, U-shaped bar. Order the Grace Kelly, a Miller High Life pony bottle and a shot of green chartreuse, and maybe you’ll score that second date.

Categories: Eat + Drink Features, Hot Reads