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For many the Monterey Pub is a cozy second home

During Prohibition in 1930, Monterey Pub was Monterey Barber Shop, believe it or not. It's hard to imagine anything but a bar in the worn space distinguished by its forest green exterior on a residential street.

Inside the narrow room, diminutive wooden booths seem like creations for smaller bodies of decades ago. Tea lamps flank mirrors above tables to offer warm light on a snowy night.

"Thanks for taking care of us the last time we were here," a pair of women said to Mark the bartender after they had breezed past a crowd and snagged empty stools.

Monterey Pub

Where: 1227 Monterey St., North Side.

Information: 412-322-6535; montereypub.com.

Hours: 3 p.m.-midnight Mon.-Thurs.; 3 p.m.-1 a.m. Fri.-Sat.

A man with a big laugh and a woman with spiky, bleached hair told stories near the door. Beside them, a guy in a newsboy cap picked an air guitar while his friends in puffy jackets sang along to Johnny Cash.

A few days earlier, Mark saved the women from unwanted attention. Then he carried over their bill when they were too blitzed to pay the tab.

This Irish pub in the Mexican War Streets caters to few immigrants or Pittsburgh transplants. As pubs are wont to do, Monterey Pub maintains neighborhood nostalgia.

The War Streets form an area of the North Side formerly known at The Buena Vista Tract in the City of Allegheny that came to be in the late 1840s. Planned by Mexican-American War Gen. William Robinson Jr., the streets have been named for the war's battles and generals.

Some of the Victorian row houses have been restored to a stately grandeur, though there's little stately or grand about the neighborhood's lone bar.

For many regulars, Monterey Pub is home.

At the very least, it's the neighborhood's living room -- one that seats more visitors on wintry nights when the wind offers little incentive to stray beyond its streets.

So claims Patrick, a former Deutschtown resident whose plaid scarf draped around his neck like a boxer's towel. He recently moved here to be closer to the bar, the stadiums and the Riverwalk where he runs.

Monterey Pub's lone-star status may remain for now, though the opening of El Burro Comedor a few blocks away signals the beginning of the transformation of the Central North Side that includes the old Garden Theater and the Masonic Hall.

The change has been steered by Collaborative Ventures and Philadelphia-based Zukin Realty, companies tasked with the redevelopment of a dozen blighted buildings in the blocks within Federal, North, Eloise and Reddour streets.

"Your jacket fell, buddy," said a server with a shag haircut as he skirted past the bar. He bent down to retrieve the coat from the floor.

Like the clientele, he was not young. But he was not old.

Behind him, Patrick told stories of debauchery from the night before to the man next to him, the owner of Drinks, a bar in West View.

Patrick had just finished a burger and ordered his second beer among drafts that include Harp, Smithwick's, Penn Pilsner, Sierra Nevada and Guinness.

Monterey Pub is no gastropub. A term introduced in the early 2000s to delineate a place with gourmet -- and more expensive -- bar food, a gastropub may feature fancied-up shepherd's pie and Scotch eggs. A gastropub claims attentiveness to the sourcing of ingredients. It glorifies artisan condiments. It implies a chef is in the kitchen rather than a cook.

The food at Monterey Pub includes a standard repertoire to please regulars.

One woman said to the other who had been rescued by the bartender, "The food is awesome here."

Perhaps it is if you're looking to blanket your appetite with carbs, braised meat and things cooked in beer. This menu includes a Guinness pot roast, a shredded-beef sandwich and riffs on the BLT. From cheese, to green beans to onion rings, anything can be ordered fried. Among starters, War Street wings come in honey sriracha, garlic parmesan or buffalo flavors in stacks of six, eight or 12.

A pseudo-novel section of the menu is a selection of nachos that diverge from Tex-Mex, such as those with smoked salmon or pulled pork.

The pinnacle is the Guinness shredded-beef nachos with beer-braised beef, cheese, salsa, tomatoes and a dollop of sour cream.

There's a reason for variations on excess over a pile of chips.

"What the hell," said Patrick ordering a second dish. "I'll have the pork nachos."

Mark took care of him.

"I need something else to soak up the booze from last night."

Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.