Munch goes to Nied's Hotel
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On March 23, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the Cullen-Harrison Act, a modification of the Volstead Act that allowed -- for the first time in 13 years -- the legal manufacture and sale of low-alcohol beers and wines in the United States.
This legislation ultimately proved to be the death knell for Prohibition in America, but it was the birth of a career for a then 14-year-old Pittsburgh lad named Paul Nied.
He couldn't have known it at the time, but the simple act of pouring and serving a beer that same year at his family's soda fountain, which then sat across the street from the mighty U.S. Steel Homestead Works, began a vocation that would span parts of nearly nine decades.
The Nied family moved the business to a corner hotel in Lawrenceville in 1941. Since then Nied has "spent more time behind bars than Al Capone" tending to his neighborhood's thirst, all the while presiding over Lawrenceville's evolution from workingman's paradise, to decades of decline, to a recent renaissance as the city's new hipster haven.
By pure happenstance -- an invitation from Friend of Pretty Petite Friend of Munch (FOPPFOM) -- Munch ended up at the 75th anniversary party for Nied's career tending bar, celebrated a few weeks ago at his namesake pub.
Scores of friends, family, regulars and neighbors spanning generations gathered to pay homage to the 89-year-old bartender, who worked the crowd like a casino greeter, swapping stories, slaps on the back and smooches from his extended clan.
Luke Ravenstahl attended the festivities, but make no mistake: in this instance, Lukey was a foreign dignitary. He might be the Mayor of Pittsburgh, but Nied is undoubtedly the Mayor of Lawrenceville. Ravenstahl read a proclamation recognizing Nied as a community pillar, making special mention of the house specialty: the fish sandwich.
Nied's sells 300 to 400 fish sandwiches a week, and double that during Lent. In a region where a good fish sandwich is a measure of an establishment's bona fides, Nied's fish can hang with anyone's. It's a perfect hand-breaded, deep-fried slab of fresh cod on a hoagie bun. With a side order of fries and pierogies and an Iron City, you couldn't ask for heartier helping of Pittsburgh fare.
The bar opens at 7 a.m. each day and serves a full breakfast -- eggs, french toast, bacon, home fries -- and the standard lunch and dinner bar menu -- burgers, dogs, and grilled sandwiches, and, of course, icy cold beer. No dish costs more than $6 and a draft beer is just under two bucks.
Nied's interior hosts a wooden long bar, pool table and a jukebox and, for some reason, put Munch in mind of the place that the crew in "Goodfellas" hung at, though Nied's draws a more law-abiding crowd -- an autographed photo of CIA director and Pittsburgh native Gen. Michael Hayden hangs behind the bar.
During the celebration Munch and PPFOM soaked up the sun -- and Iron City -- on the outside patio while Stephen Christopher of the Nied's Hotel Band strummed a great cover of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away," an appropriate anthem for the day. Surveying the camaraderie among the crowd, however, Munch was put in mind of a lyric from "Sail Away" by Neil Young:
See the losers in the best bars,
Meet the winners in the dives,
Where the people are the real stars,
All the rest of their lives ...
First Published August 14, 2008 12:00 am