You can now party like it’s 1933 in Etna.
Bitter End, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar, opened on May 13 at 409 Butler St. in Etna. Folks have been knocking back booze at the site since Prohibition ended (and probably before).
Co-owner Mike Rios says the borough was a destination for illegal alcohol back in the day. Bitter End is a time capsule of that era, specializing in bourbon-, rye- and gin-based drinks with a modern twist, along with charcuterie and upscale snacks.
The bar opens at 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. If the green light is on above the front door, the libations are flowing. Rios was a literature major in college, so the electric pop of color is a nod to “The Great Gatsby.”
Grab The Green Light cocktail, which is a mix of cucumber-infused gin, lemon juice and soda. The Polynesian Mojito contains rum, lime, mint, pineapple and pink peppercorn. Bitter End also offers the classics, from Manhattans to Martinis, and four taps pouring Iron City along with a rotating selection of other local beers. Barrel-aged cocktails are on the horizon.
Food options include snacks such as malt vinegar chips, smoked beef sticks and roasted garlic hummus, plus some larger items. The Dixieland sandwich is stacked with peanut, bacon, mayo, lettuce, tomato and onion.
Everything that can be made in-house is done so with locally sourced ingredients. The staff juices ginger for the Moscow Mule instead of using ginger beer. The bar is stocked with products from nearby Lucky Sign Spirits and other Pennsylvania-based distilleries.
Rios, who runs Bitter End with his dad Joe Rios and business partner Keith Svitek, grew up in the area. He wants the bar to showcase Etna’s history. The dark interior harkens back to the 1900s, with a tin ceiling, exposed brick, original terrazzo floor and an ornate back bar. During renovations, the construction crew found an old mural advertising Cruikshank Brothers ketchup behind the drywall. A small portion of it is still visible.
Even the menu is a history lesson. It’s located on the flipside of newspaper reproduction heralding the repeal of the 18th Amendment, which prohibited alcohol sales nationwide from 1919 to 1933.
The Rios family also owns Rear End Gastropub & Garage with Maria Paterra, who serves on the board of the Etna Economic Development Corp. The restaurant, which was a longtime service station, opened last July at 399 Butler St. It’s a way to experience a bunch of different roadside cuisine from across the country without leaving Pittsburgh.
Rios says he wants to create a cocktail called the End to End, which will be served at both locations.
“With the playful names we choose, we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” he says. “Our biggest selling point — besides the quality of the ingredients we use — is the fun atmosphere we’ve been able to create.”
The team also operates a pizza shop with an amusing moniker. Pie Hole Pizza at 376 Butler St. (the former Amato’s Pizza space) is in a soft opening phase right now. Pizza is takeout only Wednesday through Saturday starting at 5 p.m. They are also working on an event space in the former bank building adjacent to Bitter End.
Rios says there are more developments in store for Etna, drawing comparisons to Lawrenceville’s business boom.
He wants to preserve the character of his hometown while giving motorists a reason to take the exit instead of bypassing the borough.
“I want Etna to be a destination,” Rios says.