Best New Bar/Club

Over the Bar Bicycle Café

| December 10, 2009

2518 E. Carson St., South Side
412-381-3698 or www.otbbicyclecafe.com

In these more-enlightened two-wheelin' days, it's not that unusual to see a bike rack outside a bar. At the Over the Bar Bicycle Café, though, it almost seems like you could wheel right in. In fact, there is already plenty of bike paraphernalia inside to keep cyclists amused -- as well as a selection of libations and pub grub to satisfy all.

It seems to be working. City Paper readers picked this bike-themed East Carson Street venue as the best addition to the city's bar/club scene.

The bar's name may amusingly recall unplanned trips over the handlebars, but OTB takes its décor as seriously as any spoke-head. Light fixtures incorporate gears; a back room is separated from the bar area by a see-through "wall" of wheels; and the walls are dotted with bike art. A coffee table -- topped with a tile mosaic of a bike, natch -- is piled with copies of locally produced bike mag Urban Velo. There are also bikes of all sorts hanging on the walls and suspended from the ceiling, which naturally is covered with a bike-riding mural.

You don't have to arrive sweaty and Spandexed (though nobody looks twice at the helmet heads in here). The café's location at South 25th and Carson means it's easily accessible by bus or car, and its cold beers are just a stone's throw from the SouthSide Works, if you want finish off a movie or a shopping trip with a cool beverage named after a bike part.

In fact, there's a true affinity between cyclists and hand-crafted beer, as evidenced by the names of the libations here: Derailleur Ale, Boulder Fresh Track, Fat Tire Amber Ale and of course, Pittsburgh's own bike-beer, Pedal Pale Ale, from East End Brewery. (That particular brew is actually biked in from Homewood by volunteers in a keg ride. This year, even the empty kegs were biked back.)

The two-wheel theme carries over to the menu as well. Pretzels become Tangled Spokes; the Tandem is a grilled-cheese sandwich paired with soup; and stuffed jalapenos -- Texas Rockets -- tip their hat to the "land of Lance." And bring the young'uns in for a Big Wheel (cheese pizza) or a Banana Seat Bicycle (grilled cheese with fries). Vegetarians have their choice of several soups, salads, wraps or burgers. Any of the six burger options can also be made healthier with a ground-turkey or a veggie patty. 

Mr. Armstrong notwithstanding, locals get the most nods on the menu: Various sandwiches and appetizers are named for outdoor-activity groups like Venture Outdoors, Friends of the Riverfront, Rails to Trails, Dirt Rag and Bike PGH.

Bargain-hunters will groove to the 29er Happy Hour: Between 5 and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, a selection of six appetizers go for just $2.99 each. Those already burning lots of calories may want to indulge in an order of Big Ring onion rings, fried up crispy-crunchy in a black-and-tan batter, or the Single Track Fries, topped with nacho cheese and bacon, and served with ranch dressing. If your bike seat already feels too small, sidle up to a more healthful portion of Heritage Trail Hummus.

The OTB sits just a couple of blocks from the Great Allegheny Passage bicycle trail that runs from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. (Surely some day soon, an industrious and thirsty cyclist will map out all the beer joints along the route.)

And while the OTB is the new meet-up for the pedalers, it also welcomes folks looking to escape the rowdier, noisier bars along East Carson Street. Weekend nights may include a low-key musician or two -- Wednesday night is open-mic -- but the vibe here is decidedly convivial. Whether you want to talk about the Steelers, a new crush or your bike, your friends will be able to hear you.

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