The afternoon sun bathes revelers in a soft glow as they sit and talk at long, wooden tables and hoist glasses of pilsner beer. A large, white castle looms in the background.
This isn’t Oktoberfest in Germany; it’s a summer afternoon at Lorelei in East Liberty.
Located in the historic Werner Building on the corner of S. Highland Avenue and Baum Boulevard, the space houses a beer hall and a cocktail bar that combine modern, American style with subtle nods to the Old World in both the décor and the food and beverage options.
“It feels inherently European on this block,” co-owner and beer director Pete Kurzweg says. “We’ve got this Gothic revival church across the street, high ceilings, stained glass transoms above floor-to-ceiling windows and a mural of the Rhine River. There’s more to European dining culture than lederhosen and Germanic chanting.”
Lorelei, named for the mythical siren who sits atop a rock abutting the Rhine, is the latest offering from the folks behind a pair of Squirrel Hill hotspots: Independent Brewing Company, a craft beer bar specializing in local offerings, and the Tiki-inspired Hidden Harbor.
When the dual concept spot officially opens on Friday, visitors will get a dose of Alpine culture. The 18 taps are mostly European (or European-inspired) favorites such as pilsners, lagers and Kolsch beers; light, crisp and quaffable. During Friday’s grand opening celebration, there will be fresh, unfiltered gravity kegs of Kolsch on tap.
In the adjacent room, head bartender Cecil Usher, former beverage director for the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group, crafts cocktails that, like the beers, are more about flavor, aromatics and refreshment than total inebriation.
The Friesling, an aperitif made from apricot, elderflower, agave, lemon and Riesling, is meant to soothe the stomach before a meal, a popular drinking concept on the other side of the pond. The Pink Squirrel, however, is more of a dessert mixture of bourbon, noyaux, Maurin, cacao, cream, ice cream and sea salt.
In the back bar at Lorelei, Fireball and Jack Daniel’s have been replaced by more herbal selections such as Campari and Bärenjäger.
But, says co-owner and cocktail director Adam Henry, they are presented in easily approachable and tasty beverages. Wine and bottled beers — from countries such as Germany, Switzerland, France and Austria — also are available on the cocktail side, which has more of a bistro atmosphere.
Because the décor throughout the space is intentionally minimalist, the artfully served food and drinks are the real decorations.
Between the two sides of Lorelei sits a small kitchen where Executive Chef Jamilka Borges and Pastry Chef Dianne DeStefano create casual, shareable goodness such as a pretzel with mustard sabayon and a bacon-sauerkraut cheese spread, savory, braised lamb hand pies and desserts such as malted chocolate mousse.
Kurzweg says he’s been in love with the space since it was known as the Shadow Lounge, a venue that operated from 2000 to 2013 and was later followed by The Livermore and The Pines.
He hopes Lorelei can continue to serve as a community hub.
“We want you to walk in without a reservation, sit down, spread out and enjoy yourself,” he says.