Spirit Lawrenceville
Spirit Lawrenceville

You might think lodges and halls are a dying breed. And let’s face it: VFWs and social clubs don’t always scream youthful energy. Nonetheless, large, flexible spaces are essential to the fabric of any neighborhood, giving residents a place to meet and eat, drink and celebrate. Now, Lawrenceville’s Spirit is bringing that community-driven ethos to a different generation—no membership required.

When owner Tom Barr started looking at buildings in Pittsburgh, he never imagined ending up with a two-level, 10,000-square-foot former Moose Lodge. A Pittsburgh native, Barr had been away from his hometown for years, earning a degree in hospitality in California and working at the celebrated Roberta’s Pizza in Brooklyn. Last year, Barr started looking for real estate in Pittsburgh for a venture of his own, and when the Moose Lodge closed its doors in May, Barr pounced. After 11 months of non-stop work, which enlisted the help of tons of friends and neighbors, Spirit was open.

Spirit is actually three different spaces. The first floor, called Spirit Lodge, features a full bar with a locally focused tap list. On the second floor is Spirit Hall, a spacious ballroom that will soon host parties, weddings and other large events. Both floors boast stages and top-notch sound systems, adding two more spots to catch shows and DJ sets in Lawrenceville. Plus, the large spaces mean plenty of room for less traditional events, like Monster Trike Night and Hungry Hungry Humans, a full-size version of the classic kids’ game (think skateboards, bungee cords and laundry baskets).

The third piece of the puzzle is Slice Island, a pizza parlor run by Jeff Ryan of the Pizza Boat. Slice Island offers thin-crust pizza by the slice or pie, with meat and veggie options that change weekly. Even the basic cheese pizza is outstanding, with a crispy yet chewy crust and mozzarella that’s made in house daily. The menu also includes a rotating sandwich option, and they plan to add more items and start delivering pies in the coming months.

Speaking of plans, Spirit has plenty of them. They will be starting brunch by the end of June, which will include an unlimited buffet and live music. The day I stopped by, Ryan was building planters for a garden, where they’ll grow tomatoes, herbs and other produce for the restaurant. Next month, Spirit Hall will host its first wedding, and the calendar for summer is quickly filling with all sorts of shows and events.

Barr chose the name as a tribute to the spirit of what the place once was (in fact, he recently learned that his great-grandfather was a member at that Moose Lodge years ago). To that end, the team at Spirit kept the feel of the original lodge, and added touches that enhanced the homey, welcoming vibe. And like the fraternal organization that came before it, Spirit is focused on the community. The night I was there, everyone was gearing up for 80s Night, which Spirit is temporarily hosting as Belvedere’s continues to recover from a fire last year.

“The people that hang out here are what make this place special,” remarked bartender Nicole Battle. And the spirit that Spirit has captured is remarkable: comforting and familiar, but full of possibilities.

In other news…

täkō, the new Downtown restaurant from Richard DeShantz and Tolga Sevdik, launched a new late-night menu this weekend. The “Old-School Tacos” menu, which will be available after 11 PM on Fridays and Saturdays, includes classic tacos and chips with arbol salsa.

Wigle Whiskey is releasing their bourbon—the first bourbon made in Pennsylvania in over 40 years—this Friday. Get tickets for the release party, which includes cake, cocktails and music, here.

Celebrate the beautiful weather with beautiful produce. Tons of farmers’ markets are already up and running throughout the city, and more will get going in the next couple weeks. Check our guide to all of them here.

Drew Cranisky is a writer, bartender and recent graduate of Chatham University's Food Studies program. He enjoys cats, pinball and fancy burgers.