So here we are at the Penn Monroe Restaurant & Lounge, a landmark (if squatty suburban bars can be landmarks) Monroeville establishment, on the map for more than four decades. Munch's kind of place. Munch's kind of patriarch: the late Alfred John "Al" Pugliano, son of a railroad worker, first-generation I-talian, decorated Army veteran who fought in the War, later an electrician who decided, at some point: The hell with working for other people. I'm gonna open me a bar and restaurant. Be my own boss. Etcetera, etcetera.
Thank God he did. Did you know, for example, that the Hooters girls and the other comely lasses who serve Munch a pint of Munch's pleasure might not be able to do so in Pennsylvania were it not for Mr. Pugliano's advocacy? It's true. Women weren't allowed to be bartenders prior to the 1960s, and Mr. Pugliano, a politically active sort, fought in favor of it. And did you also know that he argued against the so-called blue laws that forbade bars from opening on Sundays? I mean, what would Sundays be if you couldn't stop at the bar to get a couple of six-packs before the Steelers game?
Truly, a man before his time. A visionary. You could even call him a renaissance man. I don't know why you would call him that, but the point is, you could. That's what the First Amendment is all about.
Munch and College Bud of Munch (CBOM) stopped off at the Penn Monroe on a recent Sunday evening. We'd just spent a good two hours sledding at Boyce Park, bouncing down a sheet of ice on a plastic disc, a mode of transportation invented, Munch now believes, by Satan. Munch and CBOM had regrettably dusted the sleds with WD-40, for extra speed. And so it was around 5 o'clock, shortly after Munch's sled had rocketed into a thicket of trees with Munch still aboard, that Munch and CBOM decided it would be a good time to either get something to eat or make evening reservations at the nearest emergency room.
A hairdresser of Munch had once suggested the Penn Monroe, saying it had OK food and pretty good karaoke. Perfect. If Munch is an expert on anything, it's places with OK food and good karaoke. But mainly we picked it because it was the lone beacon of unpretentiousness amid a forbidding shoreline of Don Pablos, Paneras, Applebee's, Ruby Tuesday's, T.G.I. Friday's, God Do I Ever Hate Mondays, and Holy Crap Is It Thursday Already?
"Those chains," CBOM announced to no one in particular, "are overpriced and stupid."
Good news on that front: No one would accuse Penn Monroe, which was nearly sold and razed last year to make way for a new hotel, of being overpriced. The food is, in a word, cheap. It is not life-altering cuisine. For that matter, it is probably not afternoon-altering, unless you should happen to get caught up in a bar fight and end up with a shattered orbital. Yeah, that'll ruin an afternoon.
Nothing of the sort happened on our visit. We plopped down on a couple of bar stools to take in the third period of the Pens game, surrounded by flat-screen TVs and those four or five drunk guys who are always yelling "Shoot the puck!"
We hate those guys.
Because of Mr. Pugliano's paesan heritage, and because this is Western Pennsylvania after all, there are a few obligatory nods to the home country on the menu: ravioli ($8.50), chicken parm ($8.99), spaghetti and meatballs ($8.50) and so on.
A couple of I.C. Lights later (hey! new labels!), and our meals arrived. CBOM settled on the baked Italian hoagie ($5.99 for half, $8.99 for the whole thing), with ham, cappicola, salami and provolone. Neither offensive nor award-winning. Munch's cheeseburger ($6.95) was plump and juicy, and for an extra dollar came with fries instead of chips. Better than emergency room food.
Oh, and the place has free wireless Internet access.
Oh, and the Pens lost.