If you spent a perfect day drinking in the Steel City, what would it look like? Would you visit bars, breweries, or restaurants? All three? What would you order? What are the best places to drink in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania?
Hop Culture Founder Kenny Gould is about to show you.
Introducing the global premier of Next Exit, a new travel show that showcases the best bars, breweries, and restaurants in cities across the world. Now available for free on YouTube, the inaugural episode of Next Exit takes viewers on a trip to the hidden gem food and drink destinations in Gould’s hometown: Pittsburgh, PA.
Introducing Next Exit: Pittsburgh
In the pilot episode of Next Exit, join Hop Culture Founder Kenny Gould as he uncovers plans for Pittsburgh Brewing Company, once one of the largest breweries in the world. He also eats authentic Szechuan cuisine with Day Bracey, founder of Fresh Fest, the nation’s largest beer festival celebrating black brewers.
Additionally, Gould visits renowned dive bar Kelly’s Bar and Lounge, which played host to the late Anthony Bourdain when he visited Pittsburgh and serves some of the best macaroni and cheese in the ‘Burgh.
If you love Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown or Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, you’ll love Next Exit. Tune in now for an inside look at what makes a blue-collar steel town one of the most exciting travel destinations in the world!
Polling the Experts: The Best Bars and Breweries in Pittsburgh
Of course, Gould’s opinion carries weight, but it’s not the only one that matters (Sorry, Ken!). So we asked a couple of other Pittsburgh experts about the best bars and breweries in Pittsburgh. Zack Rock from Grist House likes grabbing a drink at modern tiki spot Hidden Harbor. Andy Kwiatkowski, Head Brewer at Hitchhiker, gets his Pittsburgh kicks at The Independent. And Dancing Gnome . Founder Andrew Witchey loves Roundabout Brewery for his local beer fix.
However, we also felt that it was important to get the opinion of Aadam Soorma, former Digital Curator for Very Local Pittsburgh and tour guide for Porter Brewery Tours, and current Head of Marketing and Guest Experience at Trace Brewing.
For the last four years or so, Soorma made a name for himself in beer. And according to him, understanding craft beer in Pittsburgh boils down to five words: “We punch above our weight,” he says.
Soorma continues, saying, “We’re very lucky to live in a city like Pittsburgh with 350,000 people and forty-three breweries that are all doing something unique, community-driven, and neighborhood-driven. If you enjoy beer, Pittsburgh should absolutely be a destination.”
The 5 Best Breweries in Pittsburgh, PA
Here are Soorma’s five favorite breweries in Pittsburgh.
Strange Roots Experimental Ales
501 E. Ohio St, Pittsburgh, PA 15209 | (915) 209-5105
Strange Roots is a mind- and palette- bender. Formerly known as Draai Laag, the brewery was one of the first in the US to prioritize local ingredients and spontaneous fermentation.
“Their sour program is so thoughtful and different,” says Soorma. “All they do in the wild realm is really special.”
Soorma describes Strange Roots Co-Founder Dennis Hock as “a mad scientist.” For instance, Hock brewed the recent yearly release of The Plague 2021 using a process called Solera, where portions of younger vintages are added into casks with older vintages. It’s a labor intensive process that creates a very complex finish.
In that same vein Spontaneous Roots – Peach — a sour ale made with 100 percent local Pennsylvania ingredients — is spontaneously fermented and cask aged between one to three years.
Above all, these are crazy labor intensive beers that deserve your time and attention. As does Pittsburgh Sandwich Society, which has served their incredible food at our Juicy Brews Beer Festivals. Pittsburgh Sandwich Society recently set up a permanent installation at Strange Roots to provide sandwiches to hungry drinkers!
3705 Butler St, Pittsburgh, PA 15201 | (412) 251-0656
An absolute innovator in the Pittsburgh craft beer scene, Cinderlands has two locations. After opening a brand new spot in 2019, the Hop Culture team named them one of the Top 10 Breweries of 2019.
However, Soorma tells us not to sleep on the original location in Lower Lawrenceville, Cinderlands Foederhouse, which impresses with its thoughtful farmhouse and mixed fermentation beers paired (and bangin’ food!).
For Soorma, whose favorite beer style is the saison, Cinderlands Foederhouse is paradise.
“They’ve done a nice job of repurposing that Foederhouse and making it a more saison-forward experience,” he says. “It’s probably the only spot in Pittsburgh doing that, especially on a regular rotation.”
If you’re visiting, Soorma recommends his favorite saison, Gregg.
“I’ve honestly been in love with that beer for over a year,” says Soorma. “It’s light and refreshing and obviously has gotten a ton of hype in the last few weeks since it won gold at GABF. Believe in saison!”
Dancing Gnome Brewery
925 Main St, Pittsburgh, PA 15215 | (412) 408-2083
You can’t talk about beer in Pittsburgh without mentioning Dancing Gnome in the same breath. Quite simply, it’s one of the best places to drink in Pittsburgh.
“In my opinion, they’ve never made a bad beer,” says Soorma. “Every single beer I’ve ever had from them has been completely top-notch incredible.”
The brewery made a name for itself off juicy pale ales (Dancing Gnome Lustra might be one of the best American Pale Ales we’ve ever had) and hop-forward IPAs. Their menu is even organized by hops.
And while there’s no doubt DG nails hoppy styles, our sneaky recommendation is Bants, an English-style bitter or ESB.
For Soorma, this five-year-old brewery thrives on the idea of community and neighborhood friendliness preached by one of its most famous residents, the late Fred Rogers.
“It’s the way they approach service and hospitality,” says Soorma. “I love these guys. I love their beer and I love their vibe.”
Allegheny City Brewing Co.
507 Foreland St, Pittsburgh, PA 15212 | (412) 904-3732
Like Dancing Gnome, Allegheny City Brewing has a unique approach to camaraderie.
“I don’t think anyone leans into neighborhoods and communities better than ACB,” says Soorma. “It’s truly a spot for the community and the neighborhood. Their beer is awesome and they’re staff is great… but what they do so well that no one else has captured in Pittsburgh is that they celebrate their neighborhood through the brewery.”
What does that mean? Well, Allegheny City has a fierce pride for the North Side of Pittsburgh, where the three Pittsburgh-born Co-Founders opened up shop. They make beers like Pale Boy IPA, a hazy IPA with Mosaic, and Apricot Clowns of the Mountains, a fruited sour with apricot puree.
ACB is a relaxing, community-focused taproom that loves furry friends and families.
4312 Main St, Pittsburgh, PA 15224 | (412) 904-3555
Full disclosure: Soorma works at Trace Brewing. But if he’s working there, we know it must be good!
Trace Brewing focuses on three things: coffee, beer, and events.
Founded by Remnant Brewing Co-Founder Dave Kushner, the brewery is a new and welcome addition to the Pittsburgh community. From a coffee perspective, the brewery works with local roaster Redhawk Coffee. The brewery’s Head of Coffee, Joe Burns, used to work at Convive Roastery, and he carries Convive’s innovative spirit into his new role. Recently, Burns came up an idea for nitro tea.
“We steep and run it through nitro and serve it to guests in a teku,” says Soorma. “A lot of folks are like, ‘What the fuck!’ But for people who don’t drink, it’s nice to be able to offer an elevated nitro tea.”
On the beer side, Head Brewer Zach Colton runs the show. His pedigree should give you some idea about the quality of his beer: previously, Colton has worked at Trillium, Dancing Gnome, Four Points, Strange Roots, Mikkeller, and Cantillon.
Soorma says whenever Colton and the production team brew the Kellerbier (both the style of this beer and the name), you should drink it. Which is pretty often, because Trace has deemed it their house lager to keep up with demand.
“It’s an excellent lager that we can comfortably sip during a bartending shift, with meals, with friends, really anytime,” says Soorma. “It’s the one Trace beer that has gone through my body more than anything else we’ve brewed.”
Perhaps most importantly, Trace has made a name for itself on unique programming that celebrates diversity in the Pittsburgh community. Bi-monthly drag brunches, trap and hip hop parties, artists of color doing live paintings, and transgender stand up comedians are just a few of the events Soorma and the Trace team have planned.
The 5 Best Bars in Pittsburgh, PA
Your best friends from college are visiting from out-of-town. What’s the one spot you visit? Gould has his own choices for a travel guide to Pittsburgh, but Soorma recommends these two spots.
4517 Butler St, Pittsburgh, PA 15201 | (412) 688-8820
When Soorma wants to impress his friends, he takes them to The Goldmark, a DJ-forward bar on the corner of Butler and 46th in Central Lawrenceville.
Owned by husband and wife Adam and Nicole Kulik, The Goldmark celebrates music by giving a different DJ one night a week to showcase their beats. A Red Bull-sponsored DJ who toured the world, Adam Kulik started The Goldmark to celebrate that art. Now, on any given night with a DJ resident, whoever is spinning gets to play whatever they want. No requests taken.
“It’s really cool to let folks get up there in the DJ booth and flex some creativity to create a vibe around music,” says Soorma. “It’s one place that I truly love to show friends that visit from out-of-town.”
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A sister speakeasy to The Goldmark, The Confidant is still on the down low. Consequently, the place doesn’t have a digital footprint.
“It just started as a quiet group text from Adam Kulik saying, ‘Yo, I’m going to leave this off the Internet, no one will know, but I wanted to text some select friends who are regulars at The Goldmark,'” says Soorma.
Soorma offers some advice on finding the hidden bar.
“You exit The Goldmark and walk around the block where there’s a group of dumpsters with a nearby black door and green light above it,” he says. “Knock on that door and meet a guy who takes you into the speakeasy.”
Inside, The Confidant has a tiki vibe with thoughtful cocktails and a small beer list. And with room for perhaps thirty people, The Confidant isn’t trying to be flashy or showy. It’s just a small, cool spot to grab some of the best drinks in Pittsburgh.
“It’s so cool,” says Soorma. “It totally feels more like you’re at a spot in Brooklyn.”
The Allegheny Wine Mixer
5326 Butler St, Pittsburgh, PA 15201 | (412) 252-2337
Ask anyone in the beer industry about their favorite post-shift spot and chances are they’ll tell you about The Allegheny Wine Mixer.
The small, casual wine bar in Upper Lawrenceville is open late. Moreover, they offer great service and a nice selection of beverages, making it easily one of the best places to drink in Pittsburgh.
“They do a great job of treating industry folks,” says Soorma. “In Pittsburgh, there are so many little nook and cranny cocktail spots like that. Allegheny Wine Mixer just jumps out in my mind as a favorite for sure.”
285 45th St, Pittsburgh, PA 15201 | (412) 251-0238
Yes, this may seem confusing, as one of Gould’s favorite bars in Pittsburgh is Kelly’s Bar and Lounge. But, that’s different from Kelly’s Korner.
Soorma’s favorite alternative dive bar is located right behind the UPMC Children’s Hospital in Lawrenceville.
“It’s a little dive tucked amongst row houses,” says Soorma. “I don’t even know what the hours are. I don’t know when they’re open. But I’ve been there several times to catch a hockey game and it’s a great dive.”
Nico’s Recovery Room
178 Pearl St, Pittsburgh, PA 15224 | (412) 681-9562
Speaking of hockey and sports, Nico’s Recovery Room is also a great spot in the Bloomfield neighborhood where “a lot of our folks go to drink, watch a game, hang out, and have a shot and a beer,” says Soorma.
Can you really ask for anything else in a classic dive bar?
2216 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 | ((412) 471-1900
Full disclosure: Soorma worked on the events team for this Bon Appétit Top 50 Best Restaurant back in 2017. But the place obviously left an impression on him.
“It’s one of the best spots to grab a bite, have a glass of wine, and chat,” says Soorma. For all these reasons, Soorma considers Bar Marco one of the best places to drink in Pittsburgh.
Bonus: The Best Pop-up
Lucy’s Banh Mi
2216 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
While not a place to drink, we thought it was worth mentioning this incredible pop-up. Located on the corner of Penn Ave and 22nd Street in the Strip District, Lucy’s Banh Mi is run by Lucy Nguyen. Nguyen spends half her year in Vietnam and the other half in Pittsburgh, where dishes out fantastic banh mis to the masses.
“She’s a super rad Vietnamese woman that just makes great banh mi,” says Soorma. “It’s stuff like this that people like to see when they visit Pittsburgh. They’ve done the museums, they’ve done the Incline, they’ve done all the touristy stuff — now they want to find these little local gems.”
Catch more of these local gems by watching the premier of Next Exit.