Friday, December 12, 2008

Die Penn Brauerei wird geschlossen

My great-grandfather was a German immigrant who worker as a bartender after he came to Pittsburgh's South Side (then know as Birmingham). Eventually he ran his own saloon. His brother also, for a time, had a saloon. Prior to this, a cousin who had come over several years earlier tended his own bar as well. When my great-grandfather married my great-grandmother, the signed witnesses to the wedding were not family members or neighbors, but a brewery man and his wife from way over the North Side (then known as Allegheny City). The brewing industry was such a big part of my family's life back in the early years, you might say that German beer flows through my veins.

With a heritage like that, it should be no surprise that over 100 years later I would feel drawn to a new restaurant called the Allegheny Brewery. Right in the heart of Pittsburgh's North Side, patrons could dine on authentic Germany style cuisine while drinking Germany style beer, brewed right on the premises. There was even a large window on one side of the dining hall that allowed all to see the big copper kettles where the house brand was brewed. The food was good, the beer was ausgezeichnet!, and the ambiance had a distinctive retro feel to it. This is the closest that I would ever get to experiencing what the night life was like back in my ancestor's day. I went every chance I got. My friends wanted to go out, I took them to the Allegheny Brewery. A cousin visited from out of town, I took him to the Allegheny Brewery. I wanted to treat my future wife to lunch, I took her to the Allegheny Brewery. At some point, the name changed to Penn Brewery, but the quality and charm were undiminished.

After getting married, I stopped going out. What used to be "fun" had become "too expensive". I didn't make it back to the Brewery until a couple of years ago, to meet up with a cousin from out of town. It was still a great place to meet family and friends. I knew I had to get back there again sometime.

Too bad for me, then, that the Penn Brewery is shutting down:

The fate of the historic home of the Penn Brewery, Pittsburgh's first and largest craft beer maker, appears sealed this week as the owners prepare to leave the 19th-century structure with its custom brewhouse and restaurant for new quarters somewhere in Pittsburgh.
So we aren't losing the business itself, just the very special physical structure that gave the restaurant so much charm and personality. This may or may not matter, if the "new quarters" can recapture the feel that the existing place has. If I'm lucky, perhaps it will relocate closer to where I live, or where I work. Maybe it's not so bad for me, then.

For those of us with an interest in historical preservation, there is a small beacon of hope:

But on Tuesday, founder Tom Pastorius, who is still a minority partner in the operation, vowed to find a new owner that would keep the brewery in place.

"I spent 22 years of my life in this building, and I'm sick at the thought of losing it," said Mr. Pastorius. "I'm actively looking for a buyer for either the building, the brewery or both."

I hope he can pull it off, but I'm not betting on it. The current CEO has some sound business reasons for making a move:

But moving started to look good, Mr. Caric said, because of the "liabilities" of the current site, which has no room for expansion and is isolated. He said the company has a real estate agent looking for a new site in a city neighborhood with a busy retail and restaurant scene. That would increase walk-in business, he said, rather than forcing customers to make the "commitment" to drive to the base of Troy Hill.

"We really want to take this opportunity to find a place where we can do better," Mr. Caric said.

The isolation is part of its charm. And how many places nestled in city neighborhoods have decent two-level, off-street, FREE parking facilities? That was a bonus right there. If they can find a location with parking that is both plentiful and free, fantastic! But city neighborhoods "with a busy retail and restaurant scene" are notorious for metered parking. How much customer base will be lost if patrons either have to feed parking meters or take buses to get there? It will be interesting to see where this ends.

Go here and watch your browser's arrow turn into something frothy and delicious! And please visit for a meal and a beer before it's gone for good. You have until the end of February.

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