Some of Our Favorite Pittsburgh Eateries and Bars With Eye-Catching Art

From glassware and sconces to logos and taplists, these folks are adding extra flavor to the city’s dining scene. 
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To seasoned chefs, food is an art form. But a beautifully plated meal can be enhanced by its surroundings.

The next time you enjoy a masterpiece on a plate, take a look around; many local bars and restaurants partner with artists to make their aesthetic as eye-catching as their cuisine.

“One of the things we always talk about is that the restaurant experience is a confluence of food and beverage service and the environment, the look-feel,” says Bill Fuller, president of big Burrito Restaurant Group. “When you put them all together as a cohesive whole it makes for the best experience.”

In 1994, Fuller moved from California to join big Burrito, which was gearing up to open its second restaurant, Kaya, in the Strip District. It was a cold, dreary December; a far cry from sunny, West Coast beaches.

But then Fuller walked into Kaya and was uplifted by the island aesthetic.

“The founders, Tom Baron and Juno Yoon, what they put together at Mad Mex and Kaya was this high level of design and art, with a lot of attention paid to detail,” he says. “It was a transition point for Pittsburgh dining.”

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Morgan Christman

Chalked N Loaded

Morgan Christman spends hours — sometimes days — creating art for a bevy of Pittsburgh businesses.

From Bridgeville Beer Warehouse and Big Sewickley Creek Brewery to Alexion’s Bar & Grille and multiple Caliente Pizza & Drafthouse locations, her work attracts thirsty customers.

It disappears in the time it takes to kick a few kegs.

Christman is a self-taught chalk artist who uses pastels, homemade calcium sulfite sticks and even the kid-friendly Crayola brand to add touches of whimsy to blackboard and sandwich boards. She draws inspiration from a love of nature and bad puns to make run-of-the-mill advertisements pop.

Her Instagram page, @chalkednloaded, serves as a permanent gallery of her temporary work.

You can also follow her by the trail of colorful dust left behind each time she wipes the slate clean.

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Tony Canepa

If you’ve ever sipped a cocktail at Hidden Harbor in Squirrel Hill or a pint at Homestead’s Golden Age Beer, you’ve “met” Tony Canepa.

The Colorado artist designs glassware, swizzle sticks, matchbooks, menus, postcards, to-go packaging and decor for the two boozy businesses. Pete Kurzweg runs the spots, along with Independent Brewing Company and Lorelei.

Creating a tropical vibe in overcast Pittsburgh is tough, but Canepa’s mind operates on island time when he’s dreaming up new concepts. Hidden Harbor was a no-brainer: Zombies and the Steel City go together like Maggie’s Farm Rum and pineapple juice.

Canepa got his start in the arts through sports. While attending film school at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he served as the Running Rebels mascot, which led to a gig creating fliers for minor league baseball teams.

Through these athletic projects, the self-taught artist added a different skill set to his resume.

Canepa tapped into the tiki world at Seattle’s Rumba rum bar. I guess he likes gray clouds with his cocktails. The folks at Hidden Harbor purchased one of his prints to hang in the bar. Six years later, customers are still going coconuts over his creations.

At Golden Age, a brewery that specializes in easy-drinking German lagers, he spent six months building the brand from scratch. The new business opened in 2021 with a visual history that, due to the retro-inspired art, seemed to span decades.

“A modern take on a classic sensibility has always been my wheelhouse,” he says. “I really struggle with stuff that is inherently disposable.”

The drinks might go fast, but thanks to Canepa’s collectible contributions, the memories remain.

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Dak Singletary

When a baby is born, folks raise a beer in honor of the new life. Dak Singletary goes a step further and designs a beer label.

Each time the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium welcomes another resident, Larimer’s Arboretum Trail Brewing will release a beer dedicated to the critter. Singletary, who has been Arbo’s artist since the company was born in a Pleasant Hills garage in 2021, has about 40 labels under his belt, including one for Oh Baby! Blonde Ale, commemorating the birth of Charlotte the gorilla earlier this year.

The Meadville native, who is excited to immortalize more infants on aluminum, grew up doodling and never lost his playful style.

“A general rule I have going into each project is that I always try to have a fun time with my illustrations and I hope that’s reflected in my work,” he says. “I’ve also gotten a good bit of influence from some really fantastic animated shows over the years such as ‘Adventure Time’ or really any of the classic Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon cartoons of the ’90s.”

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Rick Bach

Rick Bach leaves a punk rock impression on everything he touches, including burritos.

The Cranberry native is responsible for the maximalist look and feel of many local restaurants, including spots in big Burrito’s Mad Mex chain.

His skeletal sconces, sculptures and murals started a trend of taco joints and cantinas decked out in sugar skull-heavy decor. Bach also made the massive iron horse outside of the North Hills Mad Mex. Years ago, a McKnight Road driver lost control of her vehicle and smashed into it. Her car was totaled but the metal mustang only suffered a scratch.

Bach, who describes his artistic style as “Johnny Cash on acid in a blender,” is a lot like that horse. He’s taken a beating, but continues to stand strong.

His art career started in elementary school. He airbrushed his friends’ model cars for 25 cents an hour using the skills he learned from his dad, who painted full-sized vehicles. Bach eventually took over the family air-brushing business before heading to California to study animation.

He soon left school to play in punk bands. Upon his return to Pittsburgh, he put his trippy, Man-in-Black spin on Zythos on the South Side and began displaying his art in local galleries.

The folks at big Burrito bought a bunch of his pieces to decorate their funky fresh Cal-Mex eateries. In time, they just gave him the keys to a location and allowed him to let his imagination climb the walls. He’s currently working on a logo to coincide with Mad Mex’s 30th anniversary celebrations this fall.

“Meeting the big Burrito Group has kept me from getting a real job for the last 20 years,” he says.

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Fabrizio Gerbino

Many Pittsburghers get their daily bread from Mancini’s Bakery in McKees Rocks.

Across the street from the carbohydrate house of worship is a desanctified church the company purchased from the Chartiers Temple Association in 1997.

For years, the Woodward Avenue building has served as Fabrizio Gerbino’s art studio.

The Italian painter married Stowe native Cynthia Lutz and came to the city in 2003. He became enamored by our urban landscape and the culinary institutions that give Pittsburgh a distinct flavor.

Gerbino began showcasing pieces at local galleries and shows. Drawn to his realistic style, businesses such as La Prima Espresso Company in the Strip District and Gibsonia’s La Casa Narcisi Winery commissioned him to add a little fine art to their decor and ad campaigns. I have a beautiful print of Gerbino’s Mancini’s bread hoagie hanging in my office.

Next to Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” it’s my favorite work of art.

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Ted Zahn

Studio Zahn

Ted Zahn was just a kid the first time he came to Pittsburgh, but it turned him into a bonafide yinzer.

During that 1983 trip, he attended a Penguins game, rode the Incline and admired the view from Mount Washington, dined at Max’s Allegheny Tavern on the North Side and spotted then-Pittsburgh Panthers Quarterback Dan Marino strutting through Oakland.

Each time he visits, the Oregon-based illustrator and photographer packs a little more of Pittsburgh’s pop culture and natural beauty into his brainpan.

When he’s not ogling the local landscape, Zahn’s transfixed by local watering holes. Not the booze inside of them, mind you, but the facades.

His Historic Pittsburgh Taverns Print Collection is an artistic ode to shot-and-a-beer bars that have stood the test of time, as well as beloved institutions that are now fuzzy memories: Dee’s Cafe on the South Side, Kelly’s Bar & Lounge in East Liberty, Gooski’s in Polish Hill and Deutschtown’s Park House (which could be making a comeback).

While Zahn admires the architecture, he is even more impressed by the employees who keep the taverns running. That’s why he donates 5% of the profits from any print to the Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid fund.

Somebody buy this guy a boilermaker.

Categories: PGHeats