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Working to restart the music at James Street

 

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Craft beer still flows at the 80-year-old mahogany bar. The kitchen still turns out meatloaf with sweet cream corn sauce. But can James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy still be James street without live music?

It’s hard to imagine, but that’s been the case since earlier this month, when Kevin Saftner, the pub’s general manager, was forced to shut down shows in the upstairs ballroom because of noise complaints. The pub, at 422 Foreland St. in the North Side, was warned, but a citation — it would be the second in less than a year — could mean a fine, a nuisance-bar designation or even closure, Mr. Saftner said.

Here’s the problem. The building, which is approaching 140 years old, has no air conditioning, so the only way to cool the upstairs ballroom is to turn on fans and open up the windows … and that has led to complaints about the noise, Mr. Saftner said. The solution? Electrical work, air conditioning, sound proofing, all with a price tag that has yet to be determined and a fairly tight schedule before the losses associated with keeping the ballroom closed become too great.

There are bright spots, however. A #SaveJamesStreet hashtag appeared not long after Mr. Saftner had to shut down shows in the middle of the Deutschtown Music Festival, one of the pub’s busiest days of the year. An Indiegogo campaign intended to raise $5,000 in the next month — enough to cover the costs of the initial electrical work — hit its mark in just over two days and is still rolling. And there are several promising fundraiser events coming up on the calendar.

Shows continue in the smaller basement speakeasy and, of course, the restaurant and main bar are still in business. But even with those, Mr. Saftner said renovations to the ballroom must be completed by the beginning of September to keep losses to a manageable level.

And in the meantime, he’s eyeing a more optimistic date: an Aug. 19 show, in the ballroom, with The Jauntee. If all goes well, he said. that’s when James Street will be complete again.

Post-Gazette coverage of James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy:

Category: Allegheny County | Tags:

East End finds a new home in the Strip

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When the original Pittsburgh Public Market opened in the Smallman Street produce terminal in 2010, East End Brewing was there. And when the market moved to a larger space on Penn Avenue three years later, East End went along for the ride.

But even before that iteration of the market shut down earlier this year, East End’s Scott Smith had started to poke around the Strip District for a space better suited to what his presence in the market had become. Originally conceived as a spot to fill growlers with fresh East End beer, the Penn Avenue version became a de facto taproom, especially once the state’s rules governing breweries and retail sales of pints changed a couple years ago. On weekends in particular, the corner of the market occupied by the “growler shop” turned into something that looked an awful lot like a bar.

“It was a great spot to fill growlers,” Mr. Smith said of the Penn Avenue spot. “It wasn’t a great taproom.”

With the move to 102 19th St., Mr. Smith has a great tap room. East End is one of three Pittsburgh Public Market expats to occupy the building — Jonathan Moran Woodworks and The Olive Tap are the others — and it looks at home in the warm space with its brick, wood … and the hop-cone lights hanging over the bar. It’s easy to get excited about the potential for the space, too — there’s a 6,000 square-foot plaza behind the tap room that can host food purveyors, artists and events once it’s done.

And let’s not forget the beer. East End’s space was home to another bar in a previous life, and Mr. Smith said he hoped that the leftover tap system would be sufficient for his needs. That wasn’t the case, which meant building an entirely new system for the tap room. That system includes 11 taps and a nitro line, but there is also a full line of canned and bottled East End liquids, as well as a crowler machine that Mr. Smith said has already been busy. Want food? Customers have the entire Strip to choose from, as the new taproom is BYOF.

Moving twice couldn’t have been easy. But from my side of the bar at least, it looks like it will be worth it.

Post-Gazette coverage of East End Brewing’s Taproom in the Strip:

Category: Pittsburgh | Tags: ,

Bonus Beer Me: Rivertowne’s Hala Kahiki — ‘Pineapple in your face’

Rivertowne’s Hala Kahiki is pineapple-flavored phenomenon. And you’ll be surprised to hear Rivertowne CEO Christian Fyke and brewmaster Andrew Maxwell describe how it was born.

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Getting bigger but thinking small at Rivertowne

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I recall my first visit to Rivertowne Pour House in Monroeville about a decade ago; I was impressed that they were able to keep 18 taps pouring their own beer, brewed on a small, in-house system.

The hard work it took to keep all that beer flowing back then was a precursor to Rivertowne Brewing’s position now: distributing its staples in six states while still being nimble enough to experiment … and come up with great results.

The growth that came with the startup of its production brewery in Murrysville — Rivertowne sells beer in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, North Carolina and Florida, where the brand is especially popular in Bradenton, the spring home of the Pirates — has given brewmaster Andrew Maxwell, who gave up a job as a chemist with a pharmaceutical company to follow his passion for brewing, a chance to continue tinkering while maintaining an almost-obsessive watch over the liquids he’s in charge of making; talk to Mr. Maxwell for 30 minutes, and the words “quality control” will come up at least a half-dozen times.

Much of the tinkering comes on the system in the Monroeville Pour House, which Mr. Maxwell said has practically become an extension of his body. Need an amber that features honey and chamomile? That’s where it would start. Turning a one-off pineapple beer into a year-round sensation? Here’s a spoiler for a bonus video to be released next week: it happened in Monroeville as well.

Rivertowne grew up in Pittsburgh, and even as the brand has grown, Mr. Maxwell and founder Christian Fyke still acknowledge the brewery’s roots. Rivertowne’s annual Rhythm and Brews party is scheduled for Aug. 27 at Tall Trees Amphitheater in Monroeville. Proceeds raised from the event will result in a hefty donation to local charities; the brewery’s other annual events — haunted brewery tours in October, the Hibernation party in January and the Jahla party in April all do the same.

You can now find Rivertowne beers in five other states. You can drink Old Wylie’s IPA in the the Hall of Fame Club at PNC Park. But you can still find the experiments of Mr. Maxwell and the other staff brewers at Rivertowne’s four restaurants or at its brewery tap room — it will never be too big for that.

B-ing (even more) local at Bocktown

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Since she opened the first Bocktown Beer and Grill in late 2006, Chris Dilla has emphasized local. Locally sources meats, veggies and breads were found up and down the food menu. And when it was possible, locally brewed beer showed up on the tap list and in the coolers that made up the Beer Library.

The trouble was that back then, there were just a handful of Pittsburgh-area breweries … and not many more on the other side of the state.

But now, as Ms. Dilla prepares to celebrate the 10th anniversary of her Beer and Grills, she’s having a much easier time filling those tap lists with beers brewed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania or neighboring states. When I visited this week, the 16 taps at B1, the original location in Robinson, all were pouring Pennsylvania-made beers; at B2, in the Beaver Valley Mall in Monaca, just three taps were occupied by handles from out of state.

And that suits Ms. Dilla just fine. She’s happy to serve beer made by people she knows in breweries that are a short drive away. She likes that the money she’s spending on beer is often staying in the region.

And, best of all, she says that stocking local beer hasn’t meant sacrificing in the name of variety … or quality.

“There’s a great range of styles being produced here, and that makes it easy for us to keep a good variety on tap … and they’re great beers as well,” she said. “The idea of local has always been a big thing for us, so I love that we’re able to do it with the beer we serve.”