Bar Exam: Nied’s Hotel

The stalwart Lawrenceville anchor may be the proudest Pittsburgh bar of them all.

Sean Collier – Pittsburgh Magazine – October 10, 2014

The Pittsburgh bar is an endangered species.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m as happy with craft-cocktail Valhallas and forward-thinking gastropubs as anyone. (This blog is full of ’em.) But I am concerned about the slow decline of the true Pittsburgh bar. Lawrenceville is the front line of this battle: The hipster joints are advancing farther and farther up Butler, while old-school yinzer holes-in-the-wall are beating a retreat.

All around town, many have closed. Others have transitioned into sports bars — and contrary to popular belief, the prototypical Pittsburgh bar is not a sports bar. The Pittsburgh bar has a TV, and people will watch the game there, but that TV is as likely to show the 5 o’clock news as it is to show “SportsCenter.” (Actually, it’s more likely to show the news; you have to pay for cable to get “SportsCenter.”)

Jack’s Bar and Dee’s Cafe in South Side, Cousin’s in Millvale — these are true Pittsburgh bars. Many will argue that the truest examples of the type are Moose or Legion halls and fire department clubs — but membership dues (even at the typical rate of about $20 per year) turn many younger Pittsburghers away from those establishments.

No matter how far toward Morningside the upscale charge advances, though, it will never cross the barricade at 55th Street. Nied’s Hotel isn’t going anywhere.

The iconic Lawrenceville watering hole has been in place since 1941; it was a Homestead bar prior to that, relocated due to the advancement of industry on that side of the river. If it’s changed since opening day, it doesn’t look like it; the left door leads to the bar (but you can and should eat there) and the right leads to the dining room (but you can and should drink there).

Want to be a Pittsburgher? Come in alone and sit at the bar. Order a local draft and a fish sandwich; the beer will set you back about $3 (if you get a big one; this is a bar that offers short pours) and the sandwich will be $6.95. Wait for the older guy next to you to mutter something about the Steelers, the weather or the mayor. Respond in kind. There: you’re a yinzer, dyed-in-the-wool or not.

The fish sandwich, proudly proclaimed as “famous” on the walls outside, is the way to go here — giant, filling and comforting. The menu is larger than you’d think, though, and you can fill up for less than $10 in countless ways: a bacon cheeseburger is $5.10, a hot dog is $3.25, a basket of French fries is $4. The most expensive thing on the menu (by far): the big-enough-for-two seafood platter at $12.50.

Oh yeah — and they have their own band.

The true comfort of Nied’s is stopping in to grab lunch or dinner in the midst of a busy day. You’ll fill up for cheap, sure, but it’s almost a meditative experience. No matter how rushed you are, no matter what’s going on outside, there are people whiling away the hours at Nied’s Hotel. Join them, and no one will hurry you. This is where Pittsburgh goes to calm down for a while. And I’m betting it’ll keep that title for a long time.