No, the circus isn’t in town. That tent at 1700 Penn Ave., in the Strip District is a boozy pop-up shop.
Before opening a permanent bar/taproom/retail store this spring, Pennsylvania Libations and Helltown Brewing wanted to give customers a taste of what’s to come. The temporary business operates the last two weekends of December: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
Patrons can visit the 2,400-square-foot heated tent to buy bottles of Pennsylvania-made wine and cider and six-packs and cases of Helltown and Rivertowne beer. There’s an area with tables for folks to stand and sip glasses of beer and wine while they watch sporting events and listen to music.
“It’s really a backyard-tailgate-farmer’s market feel,” says Christian Simmons, founder and president of Pennsylvania Libations. “We implore people to keep shopping in the Strip District and visit all the other businesses, especially PA Libations Craft Spirits store on 21st Street.”
Once the businesses debuts in 2020, Simmons says they’ll utilize the parking lot for a dog-friendly, outdoor beer garden.
The big, white building at 1700 Penn Ave. in the Strip District is about to get a makeover: By the end of the year, the 6,000-square-foot space will open as a shared spot featuring a Pennsylvania Libations retail store along with a full-service bar and taproom serving Helltown beer and much more.
At 1700 Penn — the umbrella name for the two businesses — the store will sell bottles and cans from more than 25 of the state’s top wineries, cideries and meaderies, with the option to taste before you buy. The 90-seat taproom will sell growlers and cans of Helltown and Rivertowne beer, and customers can sit down for a pint.
This full-service bar area will be run by Pennsylvania Libations. Along with beer, cider and mead, it will be stocked with more than 150 different spirits and 200 wines from across the Commonwealth, which are also available at the Pennsylvania Libations store down the street at 2103 Penn Ave.
And when the weather is good, the property’s 7,500-square-foot outdoor space will accommodate 250 seats. The owners hope to host concerts and other large events in this dog-friendly area.
On the food front, Pennsylvania Libations is teaming up with Chicago-based startup 2ndKitchen, which helps businesses outsource their food service by partnering with nearby restaurants. When customers get hungry, they can place orders using their phones or a kiosk to have food from nearby eateries delivered to their table.
The partnership with Helltown formed when Christian Simmons, president and owner of Pennsylvania Libations, decided to expand his business. Since 2017, he’s run the nearby retail store, selling spirits from 17 local distilleries and assisting them with marketing and distribution.
Jeremy Noah, Pennsylvania Libations’ director of operations and a former buyer and sommelier at local dining spots including fl.2 at the Fairmont Hotel, is the resident expert on wine.
He used his knowledge to begin talks with wine, cider and mead producers from around the state, while Simmons used his business background to seal those deals. Together, they were able to negotiate with more than 20 wine, cider and mead producers to have their products included at 1700 Penn.
The Penn Ave. building is owned by the Sunseri family, longtime Strip District business owners. The property was a perfect fit for Simmons’ vision, and the former produce market was large to include a brewery.
Last year, Helltown Brewing acquired Rivertowne — boosting its barrel capacity and making it the largest craft brewery in Western Pa. Helltown President Shawn Gentry launched his company in 2011 and has always dreamed of opening a taproom in Pittsburgh.
Gentry considered spots in East Liberty and Garfield before Simmons contacted him seven months ago. It was a perfect match for selling and serving together and for educating customers about libations they’ve never tried before.
“What makes the whole thing come together is the education that will be available to every patron,” Simmons says. “The PA Libations staff that will be working behind the bar and on the floor will be able to work to educate you on all the spirits, wine and beer served. It will be a full-on educational experience.”