It’s been a sweltering summer so far, and I don’t know about you, but I’ll look for any excuse to leave my oven switched off. Plenty of bars and restaurants have opened their doors during the last few months, and I can’t wait to visit them all. East Liberty is home to these newbies, including the highly-anticipated Penn Plaza Whole Foods, which of course isn’t a bar or restaurant, but you can eat there all the same.
This roundup isn’t comprehensive, so let me know if your favorite new place isn’t listed.
The Bridge Music Bar is ready to rock
The Bridge Music Bar launched with a grand opening last weekend featuring musical performances by Dejah Monea, Clara Kent, Bonnie & the Mere Mortals and more. The live music venue, bar and restaurant is a new venture from Susan Coe, the owner of Howlers in Bloomfield, which closed in spring 2020 after pandemic-related losses. The property features three distinct spaces — the main music venue and bar, an outdoor seating area (you can still hear the music from here) and the downstairs River Lounge. The downstairs area will act as a more low-key space, “for the customer who maybe wants things a little bit quieter,” says Coe. Hang by the jukebox, throw some darts or have a conversation with a friend.
The classic drinks are named after musicians and songs: a gin fizz is now a “Kid Ory – Muskrat Ramble” while a mojito is a “Buena Vista Social Club – El Cuarto De Tula.” They’re made with local products such as Maggie’s Farm Rum and Boyd & Blair white rum. Food offerings include a charcuterie board, mezze platter, sandwiches, salads and sides such as roasted Brussels sprouts. The food menu is not yet available online, but Coe says an updated version will be up soon.
The Bridge Music Bar is located at 6018 Broad St., which had been vacant since 2005 when Walsh’s Lounge & Bar closed. The bar, floor and some of the outside signage date back to when the property was built in the 1950s as a way to pay homage to its history. Coe also owns Peace, Love & Zen Holistic Wellness Center across the street, and says she had been eyeing up the place for a decade.
“The people in the neighborhood are super excited about it and super excited about having live music in East Liberty,” she says.
All of the bar’s grand opening musical acts were women solo acts or bands fronted by women, a conscious decision by Coe.
“I try to focus on supporting women,” she says. “I know what a challenge it is to be a woman in business.”
Proceeds from ticket sales for the grand opening event went to the artists themselves, and a 50/50 raffle benefitted the Sojourner House, a local nonprofit that offers housing and rehabilitation to mothers working through addiction issues.
The Bridge Music Bar is open weekdays from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. and on weekends from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Learn Spanish, get tacos at Duo’s Taquería
Duo’s Taqueria, the small taco shop owned by tech unicorn Duolingo and named after its green owl mascot, opened at the end of June in East Liberty. The walk-up window at 5906 Penn Ave. is in the same building as the language learning app’s headquarters and has a few tables set up outside if you’d rather dine al fresco than take it to go. The concept for the taqueria, “aprende Español, get tacos,” encourages patrons to participate in a test of their Spanish skills to receive a discount on their order. You don’t have to order in Spanish or do the challenge, but that’s kind of the point. The discounts vary by the day, so you could end up with half off a beverage or something else on a different day.
View this post on Instagram
The website is simultaneously available in Spanish and English — hover over an English word to see it in Spanish — and so is the menu at the window. The food is brought to life by executive chef Marcella Ogrodnik and includes “Mexico City-style tacos served on fresh tortillas made in-house with 100% Nixtamal corn.” The menu features seven different kinds of tacos from brisket (suadero) to cactus and avocado (nopales), along with tortilla chips, guacamole, beans, crispy pork rinds and flan for dessert. Drinks include the classic horchata de coco, avocado lemonade and Mexican Coke.
Soak up the sun at Blue Sky Kitchen
East Liberty is apparently the hot spot for restaurant openings right now. Blue Sky Kitchen at 211 N. Whitfield St. is a classic American restaurant serving seasonal dishes from a variety of influences. There’s the Caribbean salad with jerk seasoned grilled shrimp and fried plantains, Bahn Mi with roast pork and jalapeno, Peruvian Crispy Shrimp, and a Pittsburgh salad with fries and ranch. They’re really covering all their bases here.
The new restaurant from Matt Turbiner, owner of Shady Grove in Shadyside, opened in mid-July. The name comes from the large outdoor patio, which happens to be pet-friendly.
The doors open soon at the Penn Plaza Whole Foods
The new Whole Foods location at Penn Plaza opens Wednesday, Aug. 10. If you stop in on opening morning you’ll get a complimentary Steel Cup coffee and snacks from Zaza’s Gourmet Biscotti. The first 400 customers will receive a gift card valued between $5 and $100 and a Whole Foods Market East Liberty tote bag.
The 54,667-square-foot store is a relocation of the chain’s Centre Avenue location. The new “City of Bridges” themed store will have everything you know and love about Whole Foods — organic produce, full-service meat and seafood counters, a solid bakery and a prepared foods section featuring hot and cold food bars.
Perhaps as a way to ease tension after the contentious announcement of the store and its effect on Penn Plaza and East Liberty residents, this Whole Foods will focus on local vendors, farmers and artisans. The meat counter has chicken from LaBelle Patrimoine, pork from Pennbrook Acres Farms and chicken from Bell & Evans. Local specialty and bakery options include candy from The Toffee House, bread from Mediterra, macarons from Gaby et Jules and biscotti from Zaza’s Gourmet Biscotti.
The store will also partner with 412 Food Rescue to host a food donation event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on opening day.