Spirits: Shiloh Grill: Like the Harris, only bigger

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There comes a point in every young man's life when he utters to a friend, We should totally open a bar. But it's not as glamorous an endeavor as you might imagine. You spend far less time tossing bottles in the air, "Cocktail"-style, to impress the ladies, than you do worrying about whether the grout will be finished by opening week or the electrical system carries enough amperage to feed your ice machine.

That's where the Harris Grill team was last week, scrambling to finish its renovation of the ground floor of the former Shiloh Inn, on Shiloh Street in Mount Washington. It's the second location for the ownership group that has been running the popular Shadyside nightspot since 2004 (the bar itself has been there since the 1960s).

But finish they did, and the Shiloh Grill opened on Tuesday. If you've visited already (and are familiar with the Ellsworth Avenue location), you know that there's more than a passing resemblance to the original. There's a 16-seat, S-shaped bar on the left, a small dining room to the right, big patio out front, and some upstairs banquet seating. Each is retrofitted into a former private residence.

The resemblance was a happy coincidence, but unintentional. The Harris team was attracted to the Shiloh property, which closed earlier this year, mainly because the rental price was right. The Shiloh Inn had been renovated twice in the past four years, and the kitchen there is practically brand new -- that meant the new tenants wouldn't spend a lot of their own money on refurbishments.

"Money's tight," said Alex Fruzynski, one of the co-owners. "This was a good deal for us." Wife and co-owner Dana Fruzynski: "It's a really challenging market right now for restaurants. This property didn't require a huge loan." (They are renting the space.)

If the locations resemble each other physically, the same is purposely true of their menus. That means "Bacon Night" will become a Mount Washington staple, and hilltop tourists can expect the Shiloh to share Harris Grill's enthusiasm for interesting cocktails. Bartender, mixologist and wine expert Jess Keyser has been transplanted from Shadyside to run the Shiloh's drink menu. The new spot also will keep Harris Grill's (somewhat) iconic red flame logo.

The main difference between the two locations is size -- the former Shiloh Inn is about three times as big as the Harris Grill, and the kitchen is much larger, too. That should mean more room for catering and upper-floor private parties.

The Harris team hopes the Shiloh Grill can fill the void in Mount Washington between the high-end, nice-view restaurants on Grandview Avenue and the bars that populate the eastern side of the neighborhood.

There are "restaurants for tourists, dives, and very little in between," said Rodney L. Swartz, another co-owner.

The management team comprises veterans of the Big Burrito Restaurant Group; might the Harris Grill likewise hope to trade on the grill's good name and become a small chain, a la Mad Mex? Not anytime soon -- though Ms. Fruzynski said "we're always looking" for new business opportunities, and her husband said that the Harris Grill is a "good model for a neighborhood bar and grill."

It's an interesting time to be on Shiloh Street, the three-block corridor that makes up the bulk of Mount Washington's commercial district. Harris Grill's opening is bracketed by two other openings: Coming soon is a French cafe called Creme, in a storefront formerly occupied by a law firm.

And over the summer, Havana Tapas and Wine Bar opened across the street. It's a small space with 10-foot glass doors and low, brown wicker chairs circling knee-high tables. Owners are Paul Martinez, who is Puerto Rican, and his partner, Leah Surmacz.

"I built every detail in here myself," Mr. Martinez said. "I laid all the tiles, made the glass doors and scrubbed the place down after the last tenant," which was a pizza shop.

Neighborhood planners are working to fill the Shiloh Street retail space formerly occupied by Eckerd pharmacy.

It's no coincidence these changes came about following the city's approval of a hotel and condominium complex at the precipice of Grandview Avenue. Construction should begin next year, meaning the former Edge restaurant, which has been sitting derelict for 30 years near the Monongahela Incline, soon will be demolished.

"This whole block is gonna change," Mr. Fruzynski said.

Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625. Marlene Parrish contributed.


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