Pittsburgh bar scene has thrived for years, with women at the helm
Did you know that the term “speakeasy” was coined here and that women held a majority of the bartending jobs during the speakeasy era in Pittsburgh? You can find out all of this and more in Cody McDevitt and Sean Enright's new book, “Pittsburgh Drinks: A History of Cocktails, Nightlife, and Bartending Tradition.”
McDevitt, a journalist for the Somerset Daily American, had been writing about the local bartending and cocktail scene for a few years and then took a deeper dive into researching the history of drinking traditions in town. He began to share what he had found with Enright, one of the founding fathers of Pittsburgh's craft cocktail movement, who at the same time was working on a cocktail recipe book. When the two met, this project was born.
The book not only features the history of Pittsburgh's drinking culture but also highlights local bartenders and features several cocktail recipes.
Both authors say readers will learn a lot from their findings.
“I love the effect that the steel industry had on the Pittsburgh cocktail scene early in the 20th century,” says Enright. “Our neighborhoods and even housing architecture were all designed to facilitate the steelworkers after shifts, including where the barkeepers opened their establishments.”
For McDevitt, the most interesting of his discoveries was the role women barkeepers played in the speakeasies.
He says men frequently were killed in accidents at the mills and mines, and the wives were forced to take up a trade that paid well to put food on the table.
Pittsburgh is more than just a boilermaker kind of town and had a thriving cocktail scene prior to Prohibition, during it and for decades after it.
“We're far more sophisticated and cultured than people give us credit for,” McDevitt says.
Pittsburgh Drinks can be purchased online and at local bookstores.
Sarah Sudar is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
The original recipe was developed in McKeesport. It became popular in New York City and nationwide in the early part of the 20th century.
2 ounces Rittenhouse Bottle In Bond 100 Proof Rye Whiskey
1 ounce Burnt Brown Sugar Molasses Syrup (see below)
Add ingredients to a mixing glass, starting with syrup. After all the booze components are included, then add ice. Hold bar spoon as a pencil, insert into the glass, spoon side down, and rotate clockwise along the edge of the glass, holding the spoon loosely so it can turn with the edge of the glass. The cup of the spoon should always be facing the center as you stir. A perfect stir should be noiseless. This takes time to master. The key is to allow the spoon to swivel and spin between your fingers as you move your hand. You need a relaxed grasp on the spoon to allow it to turn with the current of your stir. Once your cocktail is chilled, strain over a large ice cube in a rocks glass.
Burnt Brown Sugar Molasses Syrup
Heat ½ cup of brown sugar in a small saucepan until sugar begins to darken on the edges. Stir and continue to cook over medium heat until melted and darkened further. Remove from heat and add ½ cup of water. Stir until sugar has dissolved fully and add ¼ cup molasses. Stir until molasses has dissolved. Remove from heat and refrigerate for up to one month.