It's a classic pairing — beer and pizza. And Pittsburgh has both in abundance.
In fact, the Steel City leads the country in cities with the most bars per person at 12 per 10,000 residents.
When it comes to pizza — by the pie, slice or cone in the case of Pizza Cono in Squirrel Hill — Pittsburgh trails only Orlando, Fla., for the number of restaurants per resident at 10 per 10,000, according to Omaha-based Infogroup Targeting Solutions.
"Bars tend to be concentrated in Rust Belt cities or in cities with large breweries such as Milwaukee or St. Louis," said Jeff Khadavi, president of Infogroup Data Licensing. "Cities with large numbers of bars also have a high concentration of pizza restaurants, which is our theory on how Pittsburgh was the top of the list for bars per capita and second for pizza restaurants per capita."
Mineo's Pizza House recently upped that number by adding a bar to its Squirrel Hill restaurant.
"There's really not a bar in this span of Murray Avenue, so we figured it would be a home run," said Giovanni Mineo, vice president. The restaurant began selling beer in 2011.
"We have a lot of college students in this area from Carnegie Mellon, Pitt and Carlow," Mr. Mineo said. "They have to eat."
Murray Avenue alone has no less than four places to grab a slice, with Lucci's Pizza and Napoli Pizzeria a few blocks away. Sharing the same block with Mineo's is Aiello's Pizza, the other half of the famous rivalry that has pitted Aiello's devotees against Mineo's fans for decades. Aiello's has been promoting a full selection of beers on its website.
"There's a communal nature to the neighborhoods of this city," said Kevin Joyce, owner of The Carlton, Downtown and past president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association. "We like to congregate, to have a beer with our neighbor, to watch a sporting event with others, to share a pizza with family and friends at the local pizzeria or pub."
And, of course, pizza and a drink can be an inexpensive treat.
"We're not No. 1 for fine dining restaurants or wine consumption, but we do gather and spend at the neighborhood bar and restaurant," Mr. Joyce said.
He offered a few points to keep in mind about such studies.
"My gut is that we are skewed because the geographic area of the 'city' of Pittsburgh is very small," Mr. Joyce said.
"A couple of miles from Downtown in any direction and you're out of Pittsburgh. So the concentration of pizza spots in Pittsburgh neighborhoods and entertainment spots — think South Side or the Strip (District) — make our numbers look more impressive than perhaps they really are."
R.J. O'Hara of Flaherty & O'Hara P.C., a Downtown law firm that specializes in liquor licenses, also noted the city's population has declined steadily over the last several decades, likely sending that ratio higher.
Another factor is Pennsylvania's unique take on its liquor license system.
"Liquor licenses have a value associated with them, and they're treated like an asset so it makes sense for someone to hold on to them. They're lienable," Mr. O'Hara said. "It's not like that in other states."
Jim Mitchell, whose family created Mitchell's Restaurant, Bar and Banquet Center, Downtown more than 100 years ago, said he's surprised the bar-to-person ratio is so high given Allegheny County's drink tax and the statewide smoking ban, as well as the overall tough economy.
"I've seen a lot of places go out of business," Mr. Mitchell said. "There aren't too many independents left, especially running bars and restaurants Downtown."
At Mitchell's, about 70 percent of the business comes from the restaurant, but the bar is a staple.
"At the bar, if you give them a good product at the right price and don't water down your beers, you've got good business," Mr. Mitchell said.
Over time, tastes have changed.
"We're carrying more microbrews now. People are going more top shelf in their choice of liquor, too," Mr. Mitchell said. "When I was a kid, we only had a few beers. It's not the shot-and-a-beer days as much.
"I'd say three-to-one people are choosing top shelf bottles like Stoli or Absolut (vodka) over what we call well liquor," he said.
In 2013, about 2,822 breweries were in operation in the U.S., the highest total since the 1870s, according to the Brewers Association, a national trade group in Boulder, Colo. Craft breweries in 2013 continued to open at "a rate of more than one per day," according to the organization.
"You can't overlook that trend," said Mr. O'Hara. "More bars are focused on high-quality drinks — quality alcohol, quality craft beers and distilleries and good wines."
— Stephanie Ritenbaugh: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-4910.
Post-Gazette’s special section “In The Lead” will come out Thursday, May 15, 2014
First Published May 14, 2014 12:00 AM