Way back at the end of July I and a few hearty friends went on an epic bar crawl called the Allegheny River Libation Trail. Residents of and visitors to the North Side, Strip District, Lawrenceville, and even into Millvale are enjoying a bloom of craft breweries, distilleries, and wineries, collectively known as the Allegheny River Libation Trail. My lovely wife, Angela, plotted our course through something like 13 stops on the trail. She used Excel and even included estimated travel and arrival times.
Usually I’d give her some shit about being so nerdy about it, but when you start drinking at 9am, it pays to be organized. And since this event happened to be about a week after I got laid off from my longtime job at LGA Partners, I had plenty of drinking to do. I’ll recount our adventure as best as I can, but since you don’t need yet another chubby white bearded guy talking at you about ‘great beer’, I’ll be looking at each establishment through a (blurry) lens of design. Specifically, I’ll be slurring my way through commentary on the lighting design of all the places that I remembered to take pictures of, not because I’m drunk, but because I don’t know that much about lighting design and I slur when I’m nervous, officer. First stop was R Wine Cellar, a winery in the Strip District.
I didn’t take any pictures of the light fixtures until I was inspired by the lights at East End, but Angela came through with this fabulous, soft-focus glamour shot of me in my endurance wear, specially designed for shedding moisture, which was important during the rainy start to our marathon day of drinking. I’d say that she could sell this photo to the maker of this light fixture for inclusion in their catalog, but I don’t think they make catalogs for strip fluorescent fixtures from 1991. You can still find them in showrooms, though, but by showroom I mean the corner of your parents’ garage. I’m actually surprised to see fluorescent tubes in a commercial setting, I was pretty sure most shop owners had re-sold them to Warriors of Goja when they drove up prices stocking up for their 2011 world tour.
Nobody upcycles like Warriors of Goja.
R Wine Cellar: 2/10. Good wine, bad lighting. Seriously, this is the perfect time of year to go get some of their Gluhwein. Just don’t risk blindness by looking up.
Next stop, the brand-new East End Taproom.
I like the new taproom a lot. I’ve been doing a lot of part-time and freelance work in the last few months, and for a while I was having trouble focusing on getting work done when I was at home. I’m one of those people that needs to compartmentalize and have a dedicated “work” space, and it turns out I couldn’t do anything in my basement except watch Boardwalk Empire. So for a few weeks I would go to East End Taproom on a weeknight, because there’s a ton of seating and it wasn’t very crowded. It’s open and clean. If I have any criticism, it’s that the space doesn’t have a lot of personality, which is especially surprising considering that East End has tons of personality. For instance, the lighting fixtures: they look like something I’ve seen a bunch of times before, when it was trendy about a year ago. I’m willing to give out a few bonus points, though, since their resemblance to hops make them thematically appropriate for the bar.
East End Taproom: 5/10
After finishing with the west leg of the Strip we went across the river to our lone stop on the North Side: Penn Brewery.
Penn is a Pittsburgh stalwart, they’ve been doing the “locally brewed” thing since before it was a thing. They even have a kitchen and make their own food in house; most new breweries I can think of use the “food truck” business model. Their dining and bar area has tons of personality (lights included), despite being a little dark. I don’t know the story behind that big gear thing, but based on the authentic hardware elsewhere on the building I’m willing to bet it was functionally used on the premises at some point.
I wouldn’t be willing to place that bet at some other places (looking at you, Local Brewhouse).
Penn Brewery: 8/10
For lunch, how about a whiskey tasting at Wigle.
Angela and I have diverging opinions on the lighting here. She thinks that it’s not a great lighting choice because it’s dirty and you can see some of the dirt above. I’m of a mind to think that all lensed lighting fixtures collect dirt and look gross, and that this particular color and arrangement looks significantly less disgusting than most. Seriously, go look at one of the domed light fixtures in your house, I guarantee there’s a bug in it. Even if you cleaned it out yesterday, just go look. See? Bug. This blue stuff actually does a comparatively good job at hiding it, and it’s a totally custom solution that has a do-it-yourself feel. Wigle has labeling parties, where volunteers hand-apply labels to individual bottles, so do-it-yourself is very much a part of their brand.
Wigle Whiskey: 7/10
Pittsburgh Winery is next. Warning: one of the following pictures is NSFW.
When I was in junior high, a friend of mine gave me a cassette because he had upgraded to a CD. When you unfolded the liner notes, there was a tiny picture of a topless woman in the background of one of the pictures of the band. So we are talking about probably 35 pixels worth of boobs. My mom briefly confiscated the tape from me, and only returned it to me without the liner notes. It’s like, mom, I know where dad’s Playboys are, lay off. The cassette in question? Korn’s Follow the Leader.
That was the most 90’s paragraph ever written on this blog and I have a whole series of posts that’s a pun on a Naughty By Nature song.
Pittsburgh Winery: 9/10
On to Maggie’s Farm Rum Distillery, one of the most underrated cocktail spots in the city IMHO.
I ain’t gonna drink at Maggie’s Farm no more / No I ain’t gonna drink at Maggie’s Farm no more / I’ll wake up tomorrow morning / And curse my aching brain / Still got a head full of liquor / That’s driving me insane / And I’m still gonna have to scrub the bathroom floor / I ain’t gonna drink at Maggie’s Farm no more
I wanted to make that parody into something that was more about the lighting but it wasn’t working, so I decided to write what I know. A lot of my comments about the East End Taproom apply here. Tasteful, appropriate fixtures that are somewhat played out.
Maggie’s Farm: 5/10
At this point, we were mercifully past all the wine and liquor joints. It was time for some food and a flight at Church Brew Works.
CBW is another Pittsburgh mainstay; if anybody from out of town ever asked me for restaurant recommendation, I might send them here instead of Primanti’s. It’s got a more unique atmosphere and the food is actually good. I can’t really find a whole lot of fault with the lighting here, it’s thematically appropriate and surprisingly bright.
Church Brew Works: 7/10
Up over the hill next, to Arsenal Cider House.
Pro tip: when performing in an endurance challenge, use Vaseline to reduce chafing. Just make sure you wipe your fingers off on the nearest camera lens after application. I don’t hate the lighting here, I’m just biased against fake “period” decor. I still prefer it to bland decor, I guess, and here at least it’s well-executed and it works with their brand.
Arsenal Cider House: 5/10. Would have been 6/10 if they had lit up this lantern:
It’s finally 5p and we’re in the home stretch now. These last few places in Upper Lawrenceville are kind of a blur for me, so I’m gonna go through these ones pretty quick.
Full Pint: 4/10
Hop Farm: 5/10
I have no photos of the last two stops north of the river, Draai Laag and Grist House. I’m 85% sure that’s because my phone died, which is a shame because it’s after this point that I could really use a refresher. I do know that we completed the trail, as evidenced by this rad photo:
Speaking of the 90’s, this picture reminds me of the kinds of photos I would get back when I brought my disposable camera in to Giant Eagle to be developed. #nofilter
I highly recommend the Allegheny River Libation Trail. Hire Angela if you need a travel guide. And now, because I couldn’t find a better place for them in this post, here are a few bonus pictures of murals we saw along the way.