Millvale is definitely a hot place to do business right now, as odd as that might have sounded even 10 years ago. (Want to bet which neighborhood is up next? I say Etna or Blawnox.)
As for Millvale: Burgh’ers is planning a mid-2024 opening of what will be its flagship location, taking up most of the 300 block of Grant Avenue. Sprezzatura Cafe will reopen this month. There’s Mr. Smalls, and the Millvale Music Festival – and now, maybe the buzziest place yet: Sean Enright’s Poetry Lounge.
Enright, a longtime veteran of the local dining scene, recalls that as he considered a location for his first solo venture, “I didn’t want to go anywhere near the South Side, and Lawrenceville’s getting overpriced.” But in Millvale, “the best part has been the acceptance we’ve gotten from the community.”
Enright was one of Pittsburgh’s earliest prophets of craft cocktails. They were a tough sell at first, he says. He’d encourage diners to order one, “but back then, wine was king.”
Once Pittsburgh caught up with the coasts, Enright became known for his concoctions. Some of the best are on offer at the Poetry Lounge, including Galeophobia (meaning “fear of sharks”), which features Maggie’s Farm blueberry-infused rum, housemade sangria syrup, citrus juices and Trader Vic’s macadamia liqueur, served in a shark’s head mug. A Murder of Goth Chicks is a bourbon-based cocktail featuring Guinness and Averna Amaro liqueur. (Enright, a published poet, has a way with drink names.)
There are a few mocktails, along with ciders, wine, a small draft beer list and canned beer. Here, the cocktail, not wine, is king. (And at $6 to $12, royalty comes cheap.)
But customers won’t starve. For now, they have hot dogs. Soon, there’ll be small plates prepared by local caterer Monica Ruvolo. Once the Spork Island Trading Company settles in at the old Double Wide Grill on Carson Street, its smoked meats and tropical dishes will join the menu.
The Poetry Lounge hours for both food and drink are 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day except Sunday, when it opens at 5 p.m. In this post-pandemic era, when even Eat’n Park closes at 11 p.m., it will almost certainly be the only place in town to get a sandwich and cocktail at 1:30 a.m. on a Monday night. As someone who has worked a lot of late nights, Enright knows how valuable this is.
All that and events such as Surf’s Up Sundays with Dick Dale, reggae and “anything sunshiny” on the turntables; Punk Rock Wednesdays, occasionally with live bands; open mic nights, poetry readings and more. Eventually, Enright and general manager James Morrow hope to have events scheduled every night.
“I’m glad we waited this long to open. I think we’ve got a really nice place,” Enright says. “It’s amazing to see what Pittsburghers can do.”
Maggie’s Farm finds a second home in Upper St. Clair
Maggie’s Farm Rum has been a part of the Strip District for almost 10 years now. It is probably Pittsburgh’s most-awarded distillery, winning over 100 medals in national and international competitions. Its products are distributed in 14 states and the District of Columbia.
Maggie’s Farm’s rum selections have expanded to include a pineapple version and one aged in sherry casks. Liqueurs include pumpkin spiced coffee and falernum, a Barbadian mixer with allspice and lime zest added. And it crafts wine into pear and blueberry brandies.
All that distilling can crowd a 3,300-square-foot space. So Maggie’s Farm is moving tanks and stills to a former wig warehouse at 1387 McLaughlin Run Road in Upper St. Clair.
“We’ll have five times the space we have now,” Tim Russell, owner and chief distiller, says.
The first level will house production, bottling and canning of cocktails and Personal Day Hard Seltzer. A full-service restaurant and bar, with a Caribbean-influenced menu, will take over the second floor.
The Smallman Street location will remain open; no tanks means more room for the cocktail bar and retail space.
Despite inevitable construction delays, Russell says the bar and retail sales will open in Upper St. Clair in December. A small food menu will be offered. For now, bottles and canned cocktails can be purchased onsite during limited weekend hours. Check the Maggie’s Farm Instagram for specifics.
Magnetar Brewing is now part of the local beer galaxy
Sometimes the intrepid reporter gene kicks in. That happened recently when I scouted out Magnetar Brewing, located in the XFactory, a light industrial and co-working space in Point Breeze North.
Down a long second-floor hallway and only open Friday and Saturday afternoons, Magnetar offers a small selection of canned beers to go, including Red Giant, a cherry-wheat beer, and Fire, a New England double IPA.
Though the business is new, owner John Mattson of Wexford has been home brewing for 30 years. Festivalgoers may have seen him at the Big Pour and North Park’s Pour in the Park in October.
“Everybody liked the cherry wheat,” Mattson says.
A magnetar is a neutron star with a very powerful magnetic field, and Mattson’s beer names also reflect his interest in astronomy: In addition to Red Giant and Fire, there are Betelgeuse, Orange Dwarf and Sagittarius A*, a coffee stout named after a black hole.
Despite the limited retail hours, Mattson says he’s at the XFactory most weekdays, brewing and experimenting. His next release is Triton, a Scottish ale, followed by a smoked lager named Eagle Nebula. He brewed a Finnish sahti, a farmhouse ale made with juniper, but he found that juniper berries don’t pass on enough flavor.
“Now I have to find some juniper branches,” he says.
Update on Midnight Whistler Pub, Trace Echo and Pittsburgh Beer Choir
According to Mindy Heisler, general manager of the Midnight Whistler Pub in Greenfield, they will be open for business in the next few weeks. The pub occupies the site of the former Hough’s, and is an offshoot of Necromancer Brewing. Heisler and her husband, Hart Johnson, worked at Piper’s Pub, and established Mindy’s Take & Bake. Johnson is the Midnight Whistler bar manager. They’ll open at 8 a.m. every day, for coffee, homemade biscuits and breakfast sandwiches. Later in the day, the menu includes homemade sausages, smashburgers, salads and vegetarian options. At the bar, look for cocktails, mocktails and of course, Necromancer drafts.
Renovations continue at Trace Echo, Trace Brewing’s Uptown location. It’s now looking at an opening date sometime in February. Expect an announcement of a food partner in the next few weeks.
Pittsburgh Beer Choir will lead a holiday singalong as part of Verona’s annual Jolly Jamboree on Nov. 18. That night’s Brewery Bonfire at Railroad Park will feature beers from Inner Groove, Cellar Works and Acclamation Brewing. Acclamation will be introducing several new beers at the event, including Ring-A-Round Pumpkin Cheesecake Sour, Nuclear Nectaron Cold IPA and Cosmo Fruited Wheat Beer.
The grand opening of Harkins Mills Wines‘ Ambridge storefront is later this week. Their wine, previously only available in select Beaver locations, moves closer to the city and joins Altered Genius Brewing Company and Fermata Brewing Company along Ambridge’s Merchant Street. Harkins Mills opens on Friday, Nov. 10, at 4 p.m.