Last week the James Beard Foundation, one of the world's preeminent food and drink organizations, announced the list of semifinalists for its 2014 James Beard Awards. Downtown's Butcher and the Rye was one of 25 bars in the United States nominated for Outstanding Bar Program. It is the first Pittsburgh bar to receive a nomination since the category was created in 2012.
"It's a huge honor for us, especially as a brand-new restaurant," says co-owner Tolga Sevdik, whose bourbon-focused establishment opened just a few months ago.
"I'm ecstatic," says Butcher bartender Maggie Meskey. "I woke up to my phone buzzing like crazy. I'm extremely humbled and extremely proud of everyone I work with."
Meskey credits the strong vision of Sevdik and chef/owner Rick DeShantz with creating the framework for Butcher's quick success. And for executing that vision, she credits the bar's dedicated, cohesive bar team, which in addition to Meskey includes: Mike Mills, Wes Shonk, Erika Joyner, Ryan Holtz, Jay DeNat, Bill Taylor and Troy Sanford.
"I know we have a great bar program and the best whiskey wall this side of the Mississippi," Meskey says. "And that's exciting. But the bigger picture is what we're doing together. I've never learned so much from and about people in such a short amount of time."
Butcher and the Rye faces stiff competition for the top prize, which will be awarded in early May. The Varnish (Los Angeles), Columbia Room (Washington, D.C.) and Arnaud's French 75 Bar (New Orleans) are just some of the well-established and world-famous bar programs also nominated for the award. "We're competing with some of the best bars in the country, and our goal is to be on the same level or better than they are," said Sevdik.
But win or lose, this nomination "means a lot for Pittsburgh," Meskey says. "This will put a lot more focus on Pittsburgh. Next year, you're going to see other Pittsburgh bars on that list."