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Pittsburgh Drinks

A journalist and a veteran bartender team up for a history of imbibing in Pittsburgh

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Pittsburgh Drinks co-authors Cody McDevitt and Sean Enright at Tiki Lounge - CP PHOTO BY JOHN COLOMBO
  • CP photo by John Colombo
  • Pittsburgh Drinks co-authors Cody McDevitt and Sean Enright at Tiki Lounge

Bars have long been a center for business deals and creative pursuits, but modern collaborations start through social media. Pittsburgh will get the best of both with the release of Pittsburgh Drinks: A History of Cocktails, Nightlife & Bartending Tradition, by co-authors Sean Enright and Cody McDevitt. Enright, a bartender in Pittsburgh for the past 20 years at establishments like Spoon, Embury, Tiki Lounge and the Carrick Literary Club, met McDevitt on social media as he was researching the history of Pittsburgh’s drinking culture. They decided to use their mutual expertise for a book project.

McDevitt, who writes for The Somerset Daily American and founded the Rosedale Oral History Project, says he had a hunger to prove himself as a writer. When the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette started offering digitized archives, he immediately subscribed and started looking through them, realizing that he could use them for research, specifically local research, much more efficiently than any other source. “I started in [the time frame of] 1888 to 1932, typed in ‘speakeasy’ and went through as many articles as I could find to re-tell the speakeasy history of Pittsburgh,” says McDevitt. Publications like the Pittsburgh Courier, the famed African-American newspaper, were particularly helpful because they paid more attention to the beverage and cultural scene than did other papers. Researching more recent history, he tracked down the living major players from the industry for interviews.

The result is a history that runs from the late 19th century and the speakeasy era through the café societies of the 1930s and ’40s to the cocktail lounges of the ’50s, through the ’60s hippie scene in Shadyside and onward to present. The most recent establishments granted full histories are Butcher and the Rye and täkō. “The story is much larger than a history of Pittsburgh’s cocktail scene since 1996,” says McDevitt, citing the year the cocktail revival is widely thought to have begun.

Enright’s contributions are the living embodiment of the history: recipes and the stories of those who made them. Enright bartended at pioneering local cocktail bar Embury. “I was really meticulous about cataloging every recipe we did there. Since Embury, around 2009 and 2010, I’ve collected about 70 pages of recipes, double-sided, with about 20 to 30 recipes on each page. I realized I had this huge compilation of recipes from both national and Pittsburgh bartenders, and I really wanted to share what Pittsburgh was doing. I think we have a really unique style of bartending here,” he says. Homages to current local bartenders also appear. “It’s promoting the local talent we have in Pittsburgh and the bartending craft. That was a lot of what I was trying to bring to the book,” he says.

Look for a book release on March 20. Spirit, in Lawrenceville, will host a book launch on March 27, with guest bartenders and bands fronted by them. “It’s a big bartender’s bash,” says Enright.


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