Food & Drink

The Absolute Best Cocktail Bars in Pittsburgh

Published On 07/12/2016 Published On 07/12/2016
Tako cocktail Pittsburgh
Tako | TJ Florentine

täkō

Downtown

täkō is primarily a place to binge on carnitas tacos and guac. But as with its sister bar/restaurant Butcher and the Rye, the staff are skilled at preparing a creative list of margaritas, like aloe and elderflower, and twists on classics libations. Try the Neville Island Tea, a Pittsburgh (and arguably improved) take on the famous Long Island blend, made with Appleton rum, mezcal, Pimm's, blood orange, and pisco.

Smallman Galley

Strip District

Smallman Galley doesn’t stay open later than 10pm on the weekdays, but now we have until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays to drink (and eat). In this restaurant incubator, the bar features cocktails made with local spirits like Maggie’s Farm Rum, and pays homage to local sports with Pittsburgh Pirate-themed drinks during the baseball season. The Dock LSD -- a tip of the hat to Dock Ellis and his drug-infused no-hitter -- is a balanced combo of gin and Chartreuse.

Courtesy of Hidden Harbor

Hidden Harbor

Squirrel Hill

Kitsch is king at this deliciously delightful Tiki bar in Squirrel Hill. Swirl your Kokomo (vodka, lime, and ginger beer) or any of the other potent themed creations with a shark swizzle stick, and sip from a colorful straw. Each cocktail will transport you to island living, and you might very well need a vacation after conquering one of the shareable drinks, the Krakatoa (three kinds of rum, lime, honey, falernum, pineapple, bitters, and nutmeg) and the Poko-Lulu Bowl (rum, bourbon, lemon, orange, pawpaw, and orgeat), with friends.

Butterjoint

Oakland

A cozy spot that's equal parts sophisticated and casual, Butterjoint features a menu that focuses as much attention on age-old classics like a Sazerac as on new concoctions like the Get Off My Lawn, a bourbon paired with cold brew coffee. Don’t know what to order? Trust your drink designer and order up a Mercy of the Bartender, and take your chances with whatever they feel like mixing up.

Courtesy of Tender Bar + Kitchen

Tender Bar + Kitchen

Lawrenceville

A 1920s vibe radiates from this rehabbed bank-turned-restaurant. A visit to the bar, with plush stools and a beautiful backdrop of liquor bottles accessed by ladder, is as close to time travel as you can get in 2016. It's truly a "menu that celebrates the entire history of American cocktails," as Tender Bar promises, while breaking out of classic cocktail devices in its house cocktails. Once you’ve been knocked out from trying great choices, grab a final Corpse Reviver with gin, lemon, and absinthe.

Grapperia

Lawrenceville

Grapperia celebrates the not-oft-celebrated-in-Pittsburgh grappa, an Italian grape liquor usually sipped as a digestif. Here, it's featured in drinks like the Italian 75, with grappa, balsamic vinegar, and prosecco, or the Blackberry Smash with grappa, blackberries, prosecco, lemon, and maraschino. Grappa-less cocktails are also on the menu, along with extensive amari and wine lists.

Courtesy of The Summit

The Summit

Mount Washington

Good vibes and fun times are shaken together here with themed nights like Bingo Tuesday and Name That Tune Wednesday. But the drinks are serious business at this darling spot on Pittsburgh’s most scenic hill. Beautifully crafted cocktails like a Leora, made with blackberry, basil, and strawberry vodka, show off the skills from behind the bar. Too fancy? Order a boilermaker while shouting out "I Wanna Dance With Somebody!"

Ace Hotel

East Liberty

Be prepared to run into every hip person in town as you wade through the impossibly cool Ace to score a drink at the lobby bar. The prices aren’t terribly outrageous, with cocktails clocking in at $10, and the well-curated list, though short, has a drink for all of the vodka, gin, bourbon, and rum lovers. The Fourth River Mule, named for the 412’s fourth river legend, is a star, featuring local Boyd & Blair vodka, ginger, turmeric, honey, and a touch of lime. If you aren’t a cocktail fan, you can always score a big old can of Narragansett.

Acacia

Acacia

South Side

If you don’t know Acacia is on E Carson St, you will miss it. The windows along the sidewalk are boarded up, with just the glow of single lightbulbs to gently signal, "Hey, there's a great secret inside." The secret, or the fact, is that Acacia cocktails are the shit. With a menu of artful cocktails that rotates seasonally, and experts behind the bar, Acacia offers a nice respite from the busy street outside.

Butcher and the Rye

Downtown

There is not one, but two bars at Butcher and the Rye. Downstairs features a wall of whiskey as its showpiece, and upstairs' low-lighting lounge vibe is a haven for cocktail sipping. Since opening in 2013, the bar program has been recognized twice as a semifinalist for a James Beard award. So what does that mean? Go get your drink on here, and down the modern takes on classic beverages. You can't go wrong with any of the barrel-aged draft cocktails, a six-month aged negroni, or… really anything on this extensive menu.

Bar Marco

Strip District

Bar Marco braved the early days of Pittsburgh's aforementioned cocktail boom to become one of the city's (and country's) stalwart purveyors of quality cocktails -- we just can't really tell you what those drinks are exactly, since it doesn't have a menu. Just tell your bartender what kind of spirits you like, what sort of flavors you're feeling, and he or she will mix you an expertly crafted, impromptu boozy beverage.

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1. täkō 214 6th St, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Think you know tacos? You haven't tried the Asian-Mexican fusion versions coming out of täkō, serving up modern street food with a global bent. The namesake octopus (täkō is octopus in Japanese) is the must-order: coming grilled and folded into a tortilla adorned with harissa aioli, preserved lemon, greens, and pickled onion. The lineup ranges from unexpected to familiar, with a Korean-inspired taco (with Wagyu short rib, peanuts, and fermented cucumber) balanced by more safe Mexican choices like chorizo or carnitas. Whatever you do, try one of the eight margaritas, which can be spiked with lychee & pepper or sweetened with Thai coconut milk.

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2. Smallman Galley 54 21st St, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 (Strip District)

A self-described "restaurant incubator," Smallman Gallery offers kitchen space to four local chefs, each with their own menus. The result is an expansive space with a full bar area and communal seating, where restaurant concepts differ from each other and rotate often. Past concepts include a vegetable-forward restaurant, a toast-based menu, and a home-style American bistro. Far from competitive, Smallman chooses chefs whose menus complement each other, ultimately giving a platform to rising Pittsburgh talent.

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3. Hidden Harbor 1708 Shady Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217 (Squirrel Hill North)

Kitschy reigns supreme at Hidden Harbor in Squirrel Hill, a tiki bar where you can order your drinks in insanely large tiki glasses. Pair it with a shark swizzle stick and a colorful straw, and you're practically on the beach. The best part of this lively bar are the sharable drinks such as the Krakatoa or the Poko-Lulu Bowl, each of which have enormous amounts of alcohol and fruit juice.

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4. Butterjoint 214 N Craig St, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 (North Oakland)

This cozy cocktail spot offers draft beers, ciders, wines and all kinds of spirits from around Philadelphia along with tasty bar bites like pierogies, sausage and cheese plates and one of the best burgers in the city (made with Western PA ground beef, charred just a touch and placed on a hearty, crisped bun). If you want the full culinary experience (and you show up before 9pm), you can have your pick from next-door neighbor Legume's menu, which changes daily and is chock full of vegetable-centric dishes.

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5. Tender Bar + Kitchen 4300 Butler Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15201 (Central Lawrenceville)

Although it no longer tenders money, Tender Bar + Kitchen provides reputable craft cocktails, upscale American comfort foods, and a casual yet swanky atmosphere out of this vintage bank-turned-speakeasy location. The Kitchen offers mostly small plates like mac and cheese, potato skins, and buffalo chicken dip, but it also turns out a wicked challah bun burger marinated in Worcestershire and stacked with gourmet fixings like pickled fennel and black truffle aioli. The Bar serves an unending list of creative libations inspired and organized by spirit, but the laborious house specialties are what draw the crowds: The Sheriff of Pitkin County packs a flavor wallop with two types of rum, allspice, minty BrancaMenta, grapefruit, egg white, nutmeg, and aromatic coffee bitters.

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6. Grapperia 3801 Butler St Rear, Pittsburgh, PA 15201 (Central Lawrenceville)

Grapperia in Lawrenceville is extremely true to its name, as it focuses on grappa. Grappa is an Italian brandy made from the skin of grapes used in winemaking -- and it packs a punch. This Italian bar centers around the liqueur and also offers other Italian beverages, including amari, limoncello, and grappa cocktails like the LaVanda -- lavender-infused grappa, green pepper honey, and lemon juice.

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7. The Summit 200 Shiloh St, Pittsburgh, PA 15211 (Mount Washington)

Boasting skyline views and craft cocktails, The Summit is worth the the steep drive or incline ride to the top of Mount Washington. And once the drinks are flowing, pick out a few of its board games to pass the time while enjoying terrific views of the city. During the week, The Summit will host Bingo or Name That Tune nights. For a truly beautiful cocktail experience, order the signature cocktail Leora, made with blackberry, basil, and strawberry vodka.

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8. Ace Hotel Pittsburgh 120 S Whitfield St, Pittsburgh, PA 15206 (East Liberty)

The charming Ace Hotel is located in a century-old former YMCA building, and is equipped with an updated original gym, quaint lounge furniture from the Strip District, and an American restaurant with a hearty menu. The Whitfield tavern, located right in the lobby, serves craft cocktails and locally-sourced food honoring the varied culinary traditions of Pittsburgh. But the greatest draw to Ace is its surrounding community: the neighborly district hosts several events per month. Whether you’re a local or out-of-towner, you’ll feel right at home.

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9. Acacia 2108 E Carson St, Pittsburgh, PA 15203 (South Side Flats)

Acacia on the South Side is a bit hard to spot unless you know it's on East Carson Street. Look for windows that are boarded up with the glow of single lightbulbs. Once you head in, the cocktails are worth the sketchy facade of the restaurant. Artful cocktails constantly rotate the menu and experts are always behind the bar. Even though it's in a busy part of town, you'll feel relaxed and satisfied once you're sipping a cocktail.

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10. Butcher and the Rye 212 6th St, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 (Central Business District)

It's hard to miss Butcher and the Rye's emphasis once you enter: a huge two-story wall lined with some 600 whiskeys makes it very clear that this New American restaurant is mostly about the amber elixir. And people have noticed: the mixology program earned a James Beard Award semi-finalist assignation for two consecutive years. Oil lamps and antler chandeliers gesture to a rustic Americana past here, while a meat-heavy menu sings to carnivores, featuring dishes like dry-aged steaks, duck broth, bone marrow with oxtail jam, and smoked lamb neck with mint chimichurri. The spot's proximity to the theater district makes it an obvious pre- and post-show visit, and also served as a suitably dark cocktail den with a lineup that would impress even Holden Caulfield.

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11. Bar Marco 2216 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Bar Marco, an elegant European-inflected Strip District destination, doesn't just make waves with it's food (which is nothing to scoff at). The restaurant has disposed of the traditional tipping policy, instead offering employees substantial salaries and stake in the business instead. That means servers are all the more enthusiastic to serve your pigs' head croquettes with dollops of grain mustard aioli, discuss the buckwheat fettuccine with a nutmeg-spiced pork ragu blanket that you just ordered, or take extra care that the kitchen cooks your filet mignon to the right temperature. A subterranean Wine Room offers ticketed meals which require reservations, but you can stop by the main dining room anytime for a meal and a glass of wine from small producers.