My Stanley Cup Bars
In honor of the 2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins, Sean Collier reviews the two bars in which he's watched the Pens hoist the cup.
Pittsburgh is lucky. While some cities have the opportunity to celebrate championship victories only once or twice in a lifetime, most of us can recall reveling during the closing moments of multiple games. Many of us have staked out a piece of Downtown real estate to see victors parade down the city streets on more than one occasion.
Fortunately, we don’t seem to take winning for granted. Every title claimed is marked with jubilant and heartfelt joy. The love affair between Pittsburgh and its teams is well-documented but no less remarkable for its notoriety. From where the individual players hail is irrelevant; they are our champions, and we will embrace them as a part of our shared history and character.
On the day that the Stanley Cup was once again carried through the Golden Triangle, I thought it fit to review a pair of bars where I was fortunate enough to watch the Penguins win that prize. (Of course, I was alive for two previous championships, but my whereabouts on those occasions was either my family living room or perhaps my grandmother’s basement, neither of which bear much editorial comment.)
June 12, 2009 — Cousin’s Lounge, Millvale
As Max Talbot scored two goals in a furious game seven matchup with the Detroit Red Wings, I was sipping Pabst in one of Millvale’s favorite neighborhood bars. The crowd assembled was focused and hopeful, but nervous. In my experience, there’s no such thing as momentum or smart money in a game seven.
The lone voice of reason was a woman parked at a novelty slots game in the front corner of the bar. Whenever she heard anyone express anything resembling doubt — regardless of whether she knew the person — she’d swivel around in her chair and largely exclaim, “They’re gonna win! All right? They’re gonna win.” She said it in the way you assure an impatient child that the drive to Kennywood will soon be over.
Cousins, a neighborhood staple since 1975, is a prototypical Millvale bar — locals of all ages saddled at the bar or positioned around old-school kitchen tables, pouring draft beer from (remarkably affordable) pitchers into plastic cups. If you’re in the mood for a cocktail, they’ll happily make you a stiff vodka tonic or Jack and coke. Otherwise, have a few rounds of Iron City. It’s the kind of working-class bar that connects you to the city’s past — sporting and otherwise.
When Marc-Andre Fleury clinched the cup with a desperate sideways dive in the final seconds, I high-fived strangers and friends alike and downed a beer. I had watched one of Pittsburgh’s teams rise to the mountaintop in a bar that’s as Pittsburgh as any can get.
June 12, 2016 — Redbeard’s Bar & Grille, Downtown
Three days ago, I joined my brother and several of his coworkers at their regular after-work hangout, the Downtown chapter of Redbeard’s (which is perhaps better-known for its Mount Washington location). The bar was crowded; we stood three-deep behind it and stared at the many flat-screens, rapt, from the opening face-off through the final horn.
Redbeard’s is one of the rare Downtown bars that feels like it could be in New York, or San Francisco, or any major metro area. That’s not to say that there’s not plenty of Pittsburgh in it; rather, this is simply a bar that says “Downtown” first and “Pittsburgh” second. A long, thin main room balances a handsome bar against a series of high-top tables. A small section of outdoor seating lets guests sip wine and beer as they watch crowds ebb and flow through the Cultural District. The food is satisfying and, while you’ll spend a good bit more here than you will at Cousin’s, you can also buy a round without going broke.
This time, I could feel the heart of Pittsburgh speed up as the game wore on. Even as the Penguins held the lead and maintained a ferocious offensive presence for most of the game, the group at Redbeard’s held its collective breath; the lesson of game five, when every living soul in the city had assumed a clinching victory was imminent only to be sternly corrected, had been learned.
But the celebration began the moment Patric Hornqvist scored an empty-net goal to put the game, and the series, out of the reach of the San Jose Sharks. The dense crowd around the bar turned into a flailing mass of raised arms, beer spilling to the floor. I found myself locked in hugs with total strangers. I was glad to be so close to the Point, so near to where the city had been born.
Where will I be the next time the Cup is raised? Either of these bars would be fine choices. But the city tends to seep into most of its gathering places; I imagine wherever I end up will be perfect.