If you want to have a beer at Shadyside’s William Penn Tavern, you’ll have to go to Lawrenceville.
The longtime Bellefonte Street establishment closed its doors on May 31 and reopened in the former Franktuary space at 3810 Butler St. on June 3. Hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. The kitchen is open until 11 p.m. seven days a week.
The interior of the original bar was lovingly recreated, right down to the bobblehead collection. The menu still offers oversized pub fare, including cheesesteaks, hoagies, wings and grilled chicken salads with a mountain of fries and cheese on top. Pair it with a beer poured by one of the veteran employees who tagged along and it’s like you never left Shadyside.
After 20 years in business, Richard Rattner hasn’t changed a thing about William Penn Tavern … except its location.
In May, the doors to the popular Shadyside bar at 739 Bellefonte St. will close. They’ll reopen in June at 3810 Butler St. in Lawrenceville. William Penn’s capacity will increase from 110 to 138 and there will be an outdoor seating area in the back with a carport-style area.
Other than that, it’s business as usual.
“If it’s not broken, why fix it?” Rattner says. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel and there aren’t many places to go to get American pub fare and watch the game.”
When his Shadyside landlord, nearby Henne Jewelers, decided to expand into the space, Rattner’s longtime lease wasn’t renewed.
Unwilling to call it quits or pay high rent prices, the “unofficial Mayor of Shadyside” — as he’s known around the neighborhood — started looking for other areas in need of an old-fashioned watering hole. Franktuary announced the closure of its Butler Street storefront around the same time and Rattner didn’t hesitate to say so long to Shadyside.
Meanwhile, the hot dog joint will continue to operate its food truck. Co-owner Tim Tobitsch says he’s willing to sell the truck to someone who wants to carry on the brand or start a new concept. He’ll be slinging franks from the storefront for a few more weeks.
William Penn Tavern employees — three of whom have been there for 18 years — are making the move as well, bringing with them the trademark red paint for the walls, beer signs, sports memorabilia, eight televisions, the restaurant’s 400 bobbleheads and a large, Pittsburgh-centric Calvin and Hobbes comic strip that has hung above the bar since day one. Rattner went to Ohio’s Kenyon College with reclusive cartoonist Bill Watterson, who gave him his blessing to hang the beloved comic.
The menu will still feature wings, cheesesteaks, mac bites and other affordably priced items, along with some top-secret offerings that Rattner will announce closer to reopening day. He plans to hold a celebration on Bellefonte Street before packing up, complete with commemorative T-shirts and a liquidation sale. (Someone already bought the men’s room door for $250.)
Rattner knows how to throw a party. He was an active member of the Shadyside Chamber of Commerce and organized Jam on Walnut and other neighborhood festivities for years.
He hopes to generate the same kind of community spirit in Lawrenceville with William Penn Tavern, which was named after William Penn Hat and Gown, a Shadyside boutique the Rattner family ran from 1970 to 2001.
Last week, he shared his business plan with Lawrenceville United during a Facebook Live meeting that allowed residents to show support, ask questions and raise concerns. William Penn was issued just one citation in 20 years when a minor got in and ordered a beer during a raucous St. Patrick’s Day bash in 2015.
The Butler Street venue is in good hands with Rattner, who prides himself on creating a welcoming, family-friendly atmosphere, complete with crayons for the kids.
He recalls a day in 2004 — two years after William Penn Tavern opened — when a middle-aged couple stopped by for drinks. The husband looked around the bar with a nostalgic glint in his eye and told his wife, “Yep, 20 years ago, this was my college bar. I came here all the time.”
Rattner didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth. He hopes customers old and new will feel the same way about the Lawrenceville space.