A fella once told us that many of Pittsburgh’s stately, hand-carved bars went the way of the local workforce when the steel economy cratered in the 1980s: They packed up and they skipped town. Entire bars and their adjoining backbars were carefully dismantled, stuffed into crates and then shipped to buyers in New York, the West Coast, and who knows where else. Pittsburgh’s loss was the gain of imbibers across the country.
True? Apocryphal? Probably a bit of both. Even absent an economic cataclysm, the bar business is an unforgiving one, and most don’t stay in one place for too long. And even the stalwarts that survive the decades eventually, unceremoniously, fade away.
Take the lovely, dark-wood Brunswick Corp. backbar at Tasca Navarre, a tapas restaurant that opened in 2004 at 2623 Penn Ave. in the Strip District. With four carved columns, three mirrored panels and a floor-to-ceiling headboard made of red English oak, it was a striking specimen of woodwork.
Before it became Tasca Navarre, it was Charlie Bly’s for 22 years. Before that, it was called Nevros, a bar and sandwich shop, for 38 years. For nearly 66 years, the backbar had resided in the same spot.
“It was spectacular,” said former owner Charles Bly. On “the mirrors, the silvering was bad, but that just added a lot of character.” The 25-foot front bar, made of mahogany, was not part of a set, but the front and backbars complemented each other well.
Mr. Bly said he was told that the backbar, before it came to Nevros, resided elsewhere in the Strip District, perhaps a few blocks away at a long-defunct hotel. The backbar, he said, is probably more than a century old, and spent almost all of its life in the Strip.
“Froggy came out one time and took a look at it.” That would be Steve “Froggy” Morris, the late owner of the legendary, late Downtown nightspot known as Froggy’s, on Market Street. Mr. Morris was knowledgeable about bars and their histories, and he told Mr. Bly that he’d buy the Brunswick backbar for a few thousand — then he’d pack it up, take it to the West Coast and sell it for 10 times that amount.
Mr. Bly declined the offer, and the backbar remained in situ for years. But in 2010, after Tasca Navarre closed, the bar and backbar were sold to antique dealer (last he heard, the backbar is sitting in a Canonsburg warehouse).
“It was just a beautiful piece of the furniture,” Mr. Bly said. “I was almost heartbroken when they told me they were gonna come in and tear it up.”
Many of Pittsburgh’s most ornate bars are long gone, or have been substantially renovated. But some remain. And they’ve been complemented by a new crop of high-end, high-concept cocktail bars and restaurants as Pittsburgh’s dining scene reinvents itself with challenging, contemporary menus and million-dollar build-outs.
Here are 15 of our picks for some of Pittsburgh’s prettiest bars — a mix of new and old, that are open to the general public (no private clubs) and are not in any particular order.
Dorothy 6 Blast Furnace Cafe, Homestead
The recent narrative of Greater Pittsburgh is that of a region bounding toward the future, having long turned the page on its industrial past. But nostalgia is never far from the mind’s eye around here, and they do it well at the Dorothy 6 Blast Furnace Cafe in Homestead, where the slogan is, “If we can’t pour steel, we’ll pour beer.”
Named for the massive fire-belching hearth at the U.S. Steel Duquesne Works, the bar is a contemporary homage to the smoky days of yore.
The poured-concrete surface is inlaid with the company logos of five mills where owner Tom Kazar’s family members once toiled: U.S. Steel, Mesta Machine, Dravo, Jones & Laughlin and Levinson. The bar’s edge and foot rail are fitted with rails from the U.S. Steel Homestead Works that once stood nearby. The shelving is made from the gears of a 19th-century machine from Lima, Ohio, cut up by Mr. Kazar, who also fashioned the tap handles from railroad spikes and chain links. — Dan Gigler
• 224 E. 8th Ave. • 412-205-2131 • dorothy6.com •
Others on the list included:
Butcher and the Rye, Downtown
NOLA on the Square, Market Square
Gandy Dancer Saloon, Station Square
Blue Dust, Homestead
Max’s Allegheny Tavern, North Side
James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy, North Side
Dish Osteria, South Side
Tender Bar + Kitchen, Lawrenceville
Carmella’s Plates & Pints, South Side
Grit and Grace, Downtown
South Side Barbecue Co., South Side
Pints on Penn, Lawrenceville
Mallorca, South Side
By Dan Gigler & John Allison/ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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1: Detail of the metalwork on the tap system at Dorothy 6 Blast Furnace Cafe in Homestead.