City Breaks, Educational Adventures, Foodie Travel

Educational Infusions in Pittsburgh: The Speakeasy

It’s one of the great ironies of history–that the 1920’s and early 1930’s has been romanticized as a time rife with drinking and drinking-related debauchery.  It is ironic, of course, because this was the brief time in our nation’s past that alcohol was, in fact, illegal.  The moral of this history lesson–make something forbidden, and that thing becomes incredibly sexy.

But before you shed any tears over the 1933 repeal of the 18th amendment, there’s something you need to know.  The spirit of prohibition (pun intended), in all of its glamour, is alive and well at the Omni William Penn’s new watering hole–The Speakeasy, hidden in the depths of the grand old hotel’s basement.  Seriously–it’s hidden.  There are no signs; you’ll just have to ask.  And trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

There are two reasons I loved The Speakeasy.  One, it is a fabulous space.  It is at once elegant and cozy.  Goldilocks would approve–The Speakeasy is neither too big nor too small.  Large, overstuffed chairs surround the outside of the room, with still-cozy and still-plush seating at small tables throughout the center of the space.    The bar area is a bit more modern-looking than I originally expected; but the sleek decor is where the modern aesthetic ends.

Which brings me to my second reason-to-love The Speakeasy: the drink menu.  The menu at The Speakeasy is, without a doubt, the second-most educational menu I’ve ever read (and that’s only because I’ve also had the pleasure of dining at the temporary installation of  America Eats Tavern).  And in my opinion, there’s only one thing that can make an educational experience even better–alcohol!

The slim bar menu, sporting a supple leather cover and aged, yellowed pages, reads a bit like a history book with a wine list–and in my opinion, all history books should come with a wine list!  There’s an introductory section for those of you who want to brush up on your prohibition history or want to learn the derivation of the term ‘speakeasy’, and then it gets into the good part–the cocktails.  A special ‘Pennsylvania Inspired Cocktails’ list–featuring unique libations such as ‘Curious Pig’ and ‘Blind Tiger’– includes information about the history of each concoction, often quoting old New York Times articles.  Seriously, this bar menu is almost a primary document.

I ordered a decidedly un-Pennsylvanian cocktail–the Pimms cup–because, well, I love them and I’ve never seen one offered anywhere north of the Mason Dixon line.  It was definitely a modern twist on the classic cocktail, garnished with bot the traditional mint as well as a variety of fresh fruits and berries.  It wasn’t as sour as the Pimms cup I had in New Orleans (ok, that sentence should really read ‘as the eight or nine Pimms cups I had in New Orleans) but it was just as refreshing.  And the crystal goblet in which it was served far out-classed the plastic cup I was given on Bourbon Street.

I’m truly glad I took the time to seek out The Speakeasy.  And, if the happy chatter from the surrounding tables was any indication, so were the many other people who spent that December night sipping ‘Whisperers’ Whiskey’.  After a day of sightseeing in snowy Pittsburgh, who wouldn’t want to kick back in a leather armchair with a classic cocktail in their hand?

How to get to The Speakeasy:  The Speakeasy is located in the lower level of the already-historic Omni William Penn in downtown Pittsburgh at 530 William Penn Place.  If you enter through the main door on William Penn Place (and you should; it’s a great preamble to the entire experience–and as an added bonus, there’s a parking garage right across the street), walk through the sprawling, gorgeous lobby (pausing to appreciate this grand old hotel) to the stairs at the rear of the building.  Follow them down to the William Penn Level, and turn left.  You will begin to see signs.  Follow them, grab a comfy chair, and sip away.  I assure you, it’s truly the bee’s knees.  


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