Celebrating 5 Pittsburghers Who Built Careers Behind the Bar
Pittsburgh is a city that celebrates its neighborhood bars. In some of those spots, second- and third-generation regulars are pulling up their stools to be served by someone who started pouring drinks decades ago.
Hal B. Klein – Pittsburgh Magazine – January 17, 2018
You know how to make a million dollars in the bar business?” jokes Jim Nied, owner of Nied’s Hotel in Upper Lawrenceville. “Start with 2 million.”
Nied might not have made a lot of money working in the bar business, but over the course of 40 years (he first worked the bar when he was 14) he’s made a lot of memories. “I’m rich in friends and fellowship, and that’s by choice,” he says.
Nied’s family has a long history in the hospitality business. His grandfather, Thaddeus “Ted” Niedzinski, owned a bar in Homestead for decades until the city paid him $16,000 for the property in 1941 so it could expand land availability for steel mills. Nied’s grandmother rode the streetcars looking for a new location until she found an old bar on Butler Street called Dublin’s Hotel. The grandparents bought it and promptly sold it to Jim’s father, Paul, who then changed his last name to Nied to fit into the primarily Irish neighborhood. Paul Nied was a fixture at the bar for more than 70 years.
Jim Nied wasn’t supposed to join the family business — his brother Paul was. But after his brother died in a late-night automobile accident in the Strip District in 1976, Jim Nied, who was serving as Chief of Services at an Air Force base in Taipei, sensed it was time to come home. “My father used to write me letters all the time. When my brother died, those letters changed dramatically. They got very dark,” he says.
Instead of taking a position at the Air Force Academy, he took a position behind the bar … and never left. Neither have most of his employees — nearly the entire Nied’s Hotel staff has worked there for more than 30 years and there even is a second-generation employee working at Nied’s.
The neighborhood has changed over the years, testing business as factories and mills closed and a generation of residents left to live in the suburbs. Even when business was slow, Nied’s maintained a loyal following of regulars, many of whom now count their adult children and grandchildren as loyal customers, thanks to the affability of the father-son duo — and, perhaps, the establishment’s famous fish sandwich. The addition of a UPMC Children’s Hospital employee parking lot nearby two years ago meant a resurgence in early-morning business.
The post-shift nurses don’t party the same way the mill workers did back in the day — “Those guys would literally be falling off bar stools,” Nied says — but they do like to unwind, and they give Nied, who arrives before dawn and opens the bar at 7 a.m. every day except Sunday, a bit of extra business and new friends.
The throwback, neighborhood feel of the place also is a welcome respite in the high-cocktail era (Nied’s was named Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2017 Best Old-School Neighborhood Bar).
“We never rocked the boat. But also we never had the money to change anything,” he says.