Christian Simmons, Pittsburgh’s Baron of Booze, is going full throttle post-pandemic.
His company, Pennsylvania Libations, will be slinging canned cocktails and Helltown Brewing and Butler Brew Works beers throughout the summer from the Bar Car, a refurbished 1972 Airstream trailer. The vintage vehicle-turned-party machine — a trend that’s rolling through town — is owned by SouthSide Works and will be parked at the site’s new 33,000-square-foot outdoor venue and green space, The North Lot.
Folks can spread out a blanket on the lawn, sip adult beverages and patronize a rotating lineup of food trucks while they attend Music on the Mon, a free weekly concert series that kicks off on Friday, July 2, and Movies on the Mon, an outdoor cinema experience that starts on Wednesday, July 7. Check out the full entertainment schedule online.
Simmons is excited to help put the pulse back in Pittsburgh’s nightlife and keep his growing staff busy.
Right before Covid hit, Simmons employed eight people at Strip District-based Pennsylvania Libations, the state’s only privately owned liquor store. Since then, he’s amassed a 40-member team to promote, sell and distribute Pennsylvania-made beer, wine and spirits … including his own soon-to-be-released brand.
Bonafide Beer Co.
Simmons also partnered with Travis Tuttle, head brewer at Butler Brew Works, to start Bonafide Beer Co. The brewery is expected to open this summer or fall on 21st Street, across from Pamela’s Diner in the Strip. Tuttle, whose Butler County company recently opened a retail store in Oakmont, will work his magic on a two-barrel system at Bonafide.
The beers, Tuttle says, are going to be affordable, easy-drinking lagers and IPAs — the kind of beverages you take to a tailgate party or picnic. Since Simmons is the manufacturer, distributor and retailer, he can sell the beers at a low price point.
Bonafide’s 1,600-square-foot taproom will showcase a décor that the owners describe as retro swank, an opulent lounge reminiscent of The Garrison Pub in “Peaky Blinders.” There will be bench seating as well as cast iron clawfoot bathtubs that have been bisected and turned into comfy couches and chairs. In addition to house-made beer, the bar will serve more than 60 varieties of Pennsylvania bourbon and whiskey.
The food menu will feature charcuterie, other small bites and a weekend brunch complemented by Bloody Marys and mimosas. The owners hope to partner with neighborhood restaurants since the Strip is basically one giant food court.
Bonafide’s Strip site will serve as a billboard of sorts for its larger production facility. The company is in talks to be one of three breweries making beers out of a four-story, 20,000-square-foot building on Lytle Street in Hazelwood.
Each brewery will have its own ground-floor bay accessible via garage doors that will house separate, 10-barrel brewing systems. The equipment will be owned by The Progress Fund and leased to the brewers. The businesses will share a third-floor tasting room, rooftop deck and a half-acre beer garden. Another structure on the property will eventually house a distillery.
An opening date for the Hazelwood project has yet to be determined, although David Kahley, CEO of The Progress Fund, says the project is advancing.
Simmons, a former minority shareholder in Latrobe’s Four Seasons Brewing Co., sees Bonafide as a way to get another foot back into the craft beer world. In addition to Hazelwood, the company plans to have several satellite locations throughout the Pittsburgh region, each one with its own aesthetic.
1700 Penn and beyond
In the meantime, Simmons already has one foot planted in the suds industry at 1700 Penn, yet another boozy operation he runs in the Strip. The 6,000-square-foot space serves as a Helltown Brewing taproom, full-service bar and PA Libations Wine Shop with pizza provided by Aviva Brick Oven. Customers are welcome to bring their own food, too. Dartboards, foosball games and other diversions will soon be added to the mix.
1700 Penn hosts live music in its spacious beer garden Thursday through Sunday. Simmons is looking for food trucks willing to post up outside the place on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays so he can offer shows seven days a week.
As his businesses have grown, so has his need for more storage space. In just over five years, Simmons has gone from a 300-square-foot garage in McKees Rocks to an 11,000-square-foot warehouse in the Strip. PA Libations recently opened a space in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market and, this fall, the company will add a storefront on Walnut Street in Shadyside.
Simmons says he’s working on even more alcohol-centric projects in Mt. Washington and the Strip.
“We aren’t just trying to promote my brand or Travis’s brand,” Simmons says. “When you come to PA Libations, we’ll get you the best of what local has to offer.”