The Lone Pine Bluegrass Duo takes over Tender Bar + Kitchen

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It might sound incongruous — sipping on a Cosmopolitan while listening to bluegrass music. But it’s a merry mix as the Lone Pine Bluegrass Duo provides the atmosphere tonight at Tender Bar + Kitchen in Lawrenceville.

Tuesday nights mean live music at Tender. On the first Tuesday of every month patrons enjoy Appalachian ambience courtesy of Max Ward on fiddle and Mike Siciliano on banjo.

You might not know the songs by name, but it’s music that reaches into our local roots.

“This is how people used to play music together back in Appalachia,” Mr. Ward said. “The mountain folk. It was fiddle and banjo, and we try to revisit that.

“We call it old-time music. It’s traditional American music, what people play together for square dances and amusement and entertainment.”

Not that they’ll be swinging their partners at Tender. As Mr. Ward said, “It’s background music.”

Jeff Catalina opened Tender Bar + Kitchen about eight months ago in what used to be the old Arsenal Bank, right in the heart of Lawrenceville.

“We gutted the bank and re-imagined a 1920s-style feel to it,” said Mr. Catalina. “A Gatsby-like environment. It’s beautiful.

“We have a lot of regulars who come for the live music and to have a cocktail. It’s a really nice atmosphere. We usually have jazz and piano, but the first Tuesday of every month we have bluegrass. Just to mix it up.

“It’s been fantastic. It’s a nice departure from some of the shot-and-beer bars that are in the neighborhood — which I admit I love and go to often, as well — but we offer something different.”

Naturally, you expect the owner of an establishment to wax poetic about his place. So let’s hear what an independent observer — Post-Gazette dining critic Melissa McCart — had to say about this establishment earlier this year.

“Tender is a stunner,” she gushed. “Gold teardrops ride wallpaper to a vaulted ceiling. A corner wears a collage of found checks from the 1890s. Stately reading lamps line a marble bar, encouraging patrons to lean in and pair off.”

And the drink menu?

“The options are dizzying among several kinds of Chartreuse, a fleet of Amari, a cacophony of gins along with whiskey, rum and bourbon,” Ms. McCart wrote. “Vermouth tucks among shelves while bitters stand like chess pawns in a row.”

She did have her criticisms, but suggested that they might be indicative of a new place.

“Despite missteps, Tender Bar + Kitchen is worth one visit or many,” she wrote. “There are gems among the cocktails, food and staff. It deserves support and patience as it finds footing. It’s also a reminder that an excellent staff and an elegant room can make for a fun place to drink.”

Well, Tender has found its footing with some foot-stomping bluegrass.

The Lone Pine Bluegrass Duo got together about a year and a half ago when Mr. Ward of the South Hills and Mr. Siciliano of Monroeville met at Hambone’s, another Lawrenceville bar that features bluegrass on occasion. The young men — both in their 20s — decided to try playing as a duo.

“I got into old music when I was in high school,” said Mr. Ward. “It’s something totally different and infectious. A blend of African and European styles. Also the way it’s played. It’s meant to be social. That’s what really struck me about it. There’s almost a tribal sense. It loops around, over and over again, and it’s almost like you’re in a trance. It’s not performance, it’s participative.”

The guys have a few songs of their own, but most of what they play has been handed down from the hills.

“The traditional songs are so good, and I think it’s important to keep those alive,” Mr. Ward said. “There’s a whole community of people who love this music. I go to fiddle competitions, festivals where we just play music all night long. It’s being carried on and I’m secure with that.”

But that doesn’t mean the crowd at Tender tonight is going to be a bunch of old codgers.

“We get a good blend of people,” Mr. Ward said. “You get an older crowd, retirees, sort of folkies from the ’60s kind of thing, but there’s a lot of young people now, too.

“A lot of young people are getting into it. I’d say that at every gig we play, we get somebody coming up to us who says, ‘I never heard this kind of stuff before. It’s catchy.’ It’s hard to hate.”

You can try it out at 8 p.m. at Tender Bar + Kitchen, 4300 Butler St. There’s no cover.

Dan Majors:

First Published December 3, 2013 4:09 PM

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