Wednesday night, the champagne flowed like beer -- literally -- at the official opening of Perle (accent on the e), a French-Mediterranean tapas lounge on Market Square, Downtown.
Named after the word French vintners use to describe the pearly bubbles in bubbly, Perle may just be one of the first places anywhere to offer champagne on tap, from a $7 glass of Marquis de la Tour to a $19 glass of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label. Of course, you can still get your Moet, your Cristal or your Dom Perignon there, too, but out of a bottle.
Peter Landis, the 30-year-old member of a family long involved in the Pittsburgh restaurant and food business, says he's figured out how to draw champagne from a tap. While champagne in a bottle loses a little fizz when it's opened and every time thereafter, he said he has designed a system that keeps champagne at the same pressure through repeated pours.
Just how Mr. Landis devised a champagne tap is a trade secret -- he has a patent lawyer scouting around to see if others have come up with similar ideas -- but he says representatives of Veuve Clicquot and Perrier-Jouet, both premier French Champagne houses, have visited Perle to inspect them.
"They're interested, but they're going to wait and see how we do," he said.
Given Market Square's current booming business in eateries, Perle may do very well, despite its second-floor location over a Bruegger's bagel shop.
It's not just any second floor, either. Just as with so many other buildings on the Square, there is a rich history behind the space. It was once a famed jazz nightclub in the 1970s called Walt Harper's Attic (the Bruegger's was once a state liquor store), whose headliners included Nancy Wilson, Mel Torme and Wynton Marsalis.
Mr. Landis' own roots in Market Square run deep. He is the great-grandson of the man who founded Nicholas Coffee Co., Pennsylvania's oldest coffee roaster, in 1919. Mr. Landis, along with his first cousin Jordan Nicholas, 27, represent the fourth generation of a family that, besides Nicholas Coffee, owns 10 buildings on Market Square that they've leased to other restaurateurs: NOLA on the Square, Sienna Sulla Piazza, La Cucina Flegrea, among others. They also run three dining establishments there: Diamond Market, Primanti's and now -- due to Mr. Landis' involvement -- Perle.
The family's current patriarch is Nick Nicholas, whose sister Diane is Mr. Landis' mother. Mr. Nicholas' son, Jordan, runs Nicholas Coffee Co. and is an investor in Diamond Market. Nick Nicholas also owns Primanti Brothers (which has 19 other locations) with his longtime business partner Jim Patrinos.
Indeed, it's a family business, Greek-flavored, which means that best friends and distant cousins are called "Uncle." Mr. Landis refers to "Uncle" Jim Patrinos, who, beginning in 1974, bought Primanti Brothers' sandwich shop in the Strip and grew it into a chain and a symbol of Pittsburgh's down-to-earth character.
Before there was a South Side, he says, people came to Market Square and the area that is now PPG Place to drink and party at more than 15 bars. But by 1980, the party had moved elsewhere.
"I've been waiting a long time for a turnaround," said Nick Nicholas, who had begun buying up property in Market Square in 1978, only to see the space spiral into decline. "And it's finally happened."
Dovetailing with other Downtown restaurant businesses, Mr. Landis is a managing partner with Yves Carreau, whose Big Y Group owns Sonoma, Seviche and NOLA. Mr. Landis has worked in restaurants since he was a child -- he was the night manager at Primanti's in Oakland while attending Upper St. Clair High School ("I had more tardy notices than any other student," he says with a laugh). He also was general manager of Il Pizzaiolo in Mt. Lebanon, which is opening a second restaurant on Market Square next to Starbucks.
Jordan Nicholas agreed that Market Square is on the upswing. "Our family has always had a presence in Market Square and we always had a desire to see it succeed, and we feel like we're finally there."
He recalls when it was a ghost town. "We tried to rent out buildings to other people but nobody wanted to take a chance. Now people are lining up, but it's too late -- every place is taken. Every day after work I go over to the Diamond Market and there are people who have actually decided to stay Downtown, not rushing home to the suburbs."
Perle feels very much like a European nightclub, from the long marble bar to the chandeliers to the low-slung couches to a menu heavy on Mediterranean tapas. There's a DJ, and a new balcony where guests can look out over Market Square sipping a Bellini or a Pimm's Cup. There are interesting cocktails, too. For $5, there's valet parking all night, regardless of how many eateries or nightspots you go to.
Mr. Landis, a Robert Morris graduate who received his master's in business from a university in northwest Greece, has lived in that country on and off throughout his life, spending a lot of time in European clubs. Five years ago, he announced to his family that he wanted to open a cafe in Greece.
"My uncle said, 'You're an idiot, come back to the states, the economy isn't doing well and it's going to get much worse.' At the time it wasn't that bad, but as usual he was he right."
The idea for a champagne bar came to him one evening a year ago, when he was sitting in Market Square with his friends Lucas Piatt, the developer, and, Emilio Cornacchione, proprietor of Izzazu Salon.
"We looked at that spot above Bruegger's," he said. "And after seeing how busy NOLA was, we thought, we really need another night spot."
Then he read a piece in a restaurant industry magazine about someone who had put an herbal liqueur, Fernet Branca, on tap in California, and his mind started working -- as someone groomed from childhood to be a restaurateur can only be.
"I'm all over the place, but I love problem solving, making a business plan, finding a location, working with contractors, staffing it -- it's a lot of stress, but you're constantly meeting a ton of different people from all walks of life." .
"I'm Greek, and I believe in Greek hospitality."
And French champagne -- on tap.dining
Mackenzie Carpenter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1949.