Veteran Mixologist Sean Enright Is Putting Poetry In Motion In Millvale
The cocktail lounge will feature classic drinks, live music and spoken word performances.
Poetry is only ever published by the brave or famous.
Sean Enright wrote that in one of his published poetry books, “This Ideal Town for Burning Bridges”. So, is he brave or famous?
Around Pittsburgh, Enright is known as the Grandfather of Craft Cocktails, a moniker he doesn’t necessarily like but appreciates.
“I’m more like the Neil Young of Craft Cocktails,” he says with a laugh.
Now the author, who has managed many prestigious restaurants in the city and founded the local chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, is opening a bar called Poetry Lounge in Millvale. He plans to bring the buzz back to 313 North Ave., the former home of Whisper Nest, by mid-September.
Poetry’s been in the planning stages for roughly two decades. Enright is being backed by Andy Tepper of Spork, a popular Bloomfield restaurant he managed for six years. His last day there was Aug. 12, but it will continue to serve as his HQ while he gets the new spot up and running.
For nearly 30 years, he’s been hustling and bustling on Pittsburgh’s dining scene. His resume reads like a “Best Of” list: Spoon, Andora, Bar Marco, Carmella’s Plates & Pints, Lava Lounge, 1947 Tavern and big Burrito Restaurant Group.
With Poetry he’s aiming for a more laid-back environment that functions as a second home for creatives. In addition to thoughtfully crafted cocktails and mocktails, there will be a curated selection of local beer, wine, cider and spirits and a small food menu.
Customers will be able to hear live music and spoken word performances, spin vinyl records or take a chance on an open mic night. General Manager James Morrow, an industry veteran who recently helmed the bar at Tiki Lounge on the South Side and used to book acts for Club Laga, the Upstage and The Decade upstage, will highlight the tropical elixirs every Sunday.
Poetry is slated to operate daily from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.
The owners of the short-lived Whisper Nest left a strong foundation for Enright and his partners to build upon.
“It’s got a great vibe and customer base,” he says. “It’s the perfect spot for what I want to do”
Art, poetry, music, food and booze have been a big part of Enright’s life. He grew up in Massachusetts and studied photography at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He worked as a newspaper photographer, but the gig wasn’t enough to support his growing family.
When he moved to Pittsburgh in the late-1990s, he got a job bussing tables at Cafe Allegro on the South Side. He worked his way up to general manager before taking the reins as bar manager and wine director at Eleven. That’s when he started researching classic cocktails.
He became a regular at Embury, a tiny cocktail bar beneath what is now Bar Marco in the Strip District. There, pouring boozy beverages was considered an art form. Enright joined the Embury team and started blazing his own trail.
You can say he wrote the book on local booze — because he did. Together with journalist Cody McDevitt, he published “Pittsburgh Drinks: A History of Cocktails, Nightlife & Bartending Tradition.” The 2017 tome is like a textbook for the next generation of bartenders.
At Poetry, Enright will dip into his deep well of cocktail knowledge, serving classics, modern favorites, his own concoctions and non-alcoholic varieties.
His favorite drink is the Ramos Gin Fizz. It’s comprised of gin, egg white, cream, simple syrup, vanilla, and orange flower water that’s poured into a Collins glass and topped with soda. Sounds deliciously simple, right?
Enright smiles and informs me that it must be shaken for 10 to 15 minutes to create a light and fluffy foam on top. Spork installed two motorized shakers to give their bartenders’ arms a rest. James Bond would be pleased.
He believes Pittsburgh is on the cusp of another cocktail revolution, but assures no-frills drinkers they won’t be left out. Several Boilermakers will be on the menu. He’s looking to procure large amounts of Imperial Whiskey so folks can order an “Imp and Iron” and chase their shot with a cold Iron City Beer.
“During the pandemic, people learned how to make classic cocktails at home, and that’s still a very popular thing to do, but I think people are looking for other options. They want a different kind of experience when they go to a bar.”