Life of Riley's: The Pour House is rich with history and family ties

Even after six years, Jim Riley has to take a deep breath before telling the story. His baritone voice cracks, his lip quivers and his eyes well up.

It was 2011 and his older brother, Mike, was near the end of a battle with melanoma. He offered his brother this piece of advice: “Have fun when you can.”

It was a brief but poignant admonition to enjoy life because you can’t know when it might be snatched away from you. And while it may not have the poetry of “May the road rise up to meet you,” or the wit of Oscar Wilde, it’s become the proverb emblazoned on the wall above the bar at Riley’s Pour House in Carnegie.

A pint of timing chased with a shot of heartbreak allowed Jim Riley to buy the beautifully classic Irish pub where he and his brother routinely stopped after a day’s work at nearby All-Pro Painters, which they ran together for 35 years.

The East Main Street building has housed a bar since 1936 and its original Jack Dempsey-style back bar was floated up on a barge from Kentucky. In 1979, Dennis Murphy bought it and named it Murphy’s Pour House.

“There were a lot of bars and a lot of churches in Carnegie. When Murphy bought this, they just called it the Irish bar, because they had the Ukranians down there, the Czechs there, the White Eagles and every other kind of eagle,” Mr. Riley said.

Ownership changes in 1995 and 2004 made it Sullivan’s, then Paddy’s Pour House.

“I had been a regular. I’d say [to then co-owner Vicki Schipani], ‘You have this fantastic old place here.’ I would tell her my ideas.”

“So when she decided she was getting out, she said, ‘I want you to buy the bar. If I sell it to someone else, who knows what will happen to it?’

“So I picked my wife up from work and said, ‘Vicki wants us to buy the bar.’ ”

After Mike Riley’s death, the painting business was teetering, and that was further exacerbated by a terminal cancer diagnosis for Mike’s wife, Anita. A consultant suggested liquidating the business. (Thankfully, Anita Riley recovered and has been cancer-free for three years.)

“My wife said, ‘If you’re ever gonna do it, do it now.’ So we put it all together and bought the place. We started working our butt off,” he said.

“I wanted it to look a certain way and smell a certain way. And we went no smoking. We scrubbed the heck out of the thing, painted it and tore down two ceilings to get back to the original. We started with a clean slate.”

Jim and Cheryl Riley sold their Mt. Lebanon home and moved into a refurbished upstairs apartment.

“It’s a true pub in that sense — I am here all day, day in, day out.”

They also bought and razed a condemned building next door to create a courtyard and patio.

And, they’ve followed Mike’s advice and have had a lot of fun, when they can.

In the rear of the bar is a legacy wall, with the names of the four families that have owned the bar. Another surname may be added soon, thanks to a pact Mr. Riley made with his wife.

“If we’re making money, if we’re not making money, we’re out at 62,” he said. “I just turned 61. I always say I have two more St. Patrick’s Days left in me.”

He’s confident that whoever the next owners are, they will do right by the Pour House.

“When you own this place, you’re a steward,” he said. “It’s your turn to do the best you can in that period of time. The Pour House is gonna be the Pour House for another 80 years. That’s the way it is.”

Dan Gigler:; Twitter @gigs412

Hungry for info on Pittsburgh restaurants?
Sign up for the free weekly PG Feed Me newsletter!


Hot Topic