There’s something deliciously luxurious about having a great cocktail lounge in your hotel. The crowd is usually a mix of locals and out-of-towners and a good conversation can often be a simple head turn away. There’s a delight in being able to have that one last cocktail. If you’re pleasantly tipsy, you only need to head upstairs for the night. And there are no worries about cutting out early to get home at a reasonable time because ‘home’ is an elevator ride away.
Lately, Pittsburgh has been upping its cocktail scene and some of the best bars in the city can be found at three of Steeltown’s newest, or most recently renovated, hotels. Here are our fave three that are all cooler than cool.
Fairmont Pittsburgh, Andys
The Fairmont Pittsburgh opened in 2010 in the downtown cultural district. A marble-clad soaring lobby with modern furniture, a corner fireplace and original artwork fill the space with tasteful color. Follow the lobby to its end and you’ll find Andys, named after Andrew Carnegie and Andy Warhol, both native Pittsburghers. Here, bar manager Erika Clark works her mixology magic.
The drinks menu at Andys changes with each solstice and equinox. The current astrology-themed cocktail menu came to Clark from a book written by Warhol—Horoscopes for the Cocktail Hour. To create the cocktails, she polled staff by asking two questions that, granted, sound like ‘70s pick-up lines: ‘What’s your sign?’ and ‘What’s your favorite drink?’ Taureans, for example, proved to like both gin and sparkly bubble beverages. The Taurus cocktail, then, is a tasty gin sour-type beverage with some added depth from black walnut bitters and vanilla, and lightened with some Asian pear sparkling wine made in Pennsylvania. The spicy Aquarius cocktail has Stoli, cranberry, clove, orange bitters and is finished with ginger beer made by local company, Natrona Bottling.
You can sip on the designated beverage for your sign in the intimate, casual lounge, which almost demands that you sit at the bar and have a chat with the friendly barkeeps. Or you can drink a toast to the dawning of the age of Aquarius at a corner table with a friend or loved one.
The cost of having a posh spot to lay your head at the end of the night at the Fairmont Pittsburgh is around US$245.
Renaissance Pittsburgh, Braddock’s Bar
When you walk into the lobby of the Renaissance Pittsburgh, you are struck by the grandeur of the high ceiling and the muted silver and deep purple tones that decorate this historic building. It’s not disco-era flashy. It is—quite frankly—pretty sexy.
As you turn to the left, you enter Braddock’s Street Side Bar. This more industrial-looking space—set to be renovated in the coming weeks—is inspired by the great Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 , which predominantly took place in Pennsylvania, and is, not coincidently, the home of Pittsburgh’s largest bourbon bar. Lead bartender Michael Marts uses his serious skills to concoct flavorful combos in a cup using yes, whiskey, but give him any spirit to play with and he’ll whip something up. Regulars go for his more herbal and aromatic version of a Clover Club cocktail; The Braddock’s Club contains juniper-enriched gin, fresh lemon juice, a house-made raspberry rosemary syrup and egg white for a rich mouth feel.
In the early evenings in the hotel’s lobby, you can sample the drink of the day and then head to the bar to order the full version, if it’s to your liking. Look for the intimate lush red nook just outside the bar, perfect for couples whispering sweet nothings or friends dishing the dirt.
To bed down for the night at the Renaissance Pittsburgh, expect to spend an average of around US$215.
Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh, The Commoner
The lobby of the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh is fairly small, giving way to stairs that lead up to a Kimpton signature, the Living Room, and down to the vastness of the restaurant/bar, The Commoner. A huge open kitchen and a long, ‘mosey up to’ kind of bar are the focal points of this speakeasy-style space.
The bar has a large selection of beers, predominantly local, and even some wines on tap. But it’s the cocktails on tap that are truly special. Lead bartender Alex Dando has created two cocktails for the bar that can be drawn by hand—the Monongahela Manhattan and the serious North Side Negroni, made with lemongrass- and pink peppercorn-infused Tanqueray gin, Aperol, Lustau Vermut Blanco and the lighter Dolin blanc vermouth. It’s delicious, but not-for-the-faint of-heart.
If your idea of a good beverage is a little less bold and a bit more mellow, go for the Free Smoke cocktail, recommended by one of the bar’s servers. Mezcal provides the smokiness, ginger root the spiciness, watermelon the sweetness, key lime the sourness and tequila? Just because. It’s garnished with black Hawaiian sea salt and chili for a hint of heat.
To retire for the night at Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh, count on spending around US$135 for a guestroom.
(Featured photo courtesy of Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh)