To grow up in the South Hills was to envy the Dormont Pool: a shimmering oasis that, to a kid trapped in the strip-mall misery of Banksville Road, almost seemed to be a mirage.
And in fact, the pool did almost evaporate: Faced with burdensome maintenance costs, Dormont Borough nearly shut the pool down for good in 2006. Frenzied efforts have been undertaken to save it -- hence the third annual Dormont Pub Crawl, held by the Friends of Dormont Pool on April 25.
This year's Pub Crawl encompassed a dozen bars, several of which are a bit like Dormont itself: places that are easy to drive past without noticing, prone to being overlooked and underestimated. In some cases, that may be just as well. But without the pub crawl, how many participants would never have appreciated the ample beer selection of Cain's, or the handsome tin ceiling of the Apple Inn -- both located on the Route 19 drag?
Even once-familiar places have changed: The Suburban Room used to be the sort of bar you'd visit when you didn't want everybody to know your name -- or even to ask. But it's been revamped and expanded, and is now a lively place that serves food other than pretzels left over from the Eisenhower era.
I confess that I sort of miss the old place: As an unhappy child of the 1970s, I like a Sartre-and-shag-carpet vibe. But it's hard to argue with people having a good time, and there were plenty of those milling about April 25.
With any luck, pub-crawlers might have noted some other Dormont landmarks -- both located on Potomac Avenue just off Route 19. One is the Dor-Stop, at 1430 Potomac. The diner was celebrated by Guy Fieri -- that spiky-haired diner aficionado on the Food Network -- but locals hardly needed to be told about the decadence of its pancakes.
Equally notable, though less noted, is Fredo's Deli, at 1451 Potomac, established by Freddie Shaheen, the proprietor of the justly famous Carson Street Deli. The fare here is worlds away from the "five-dollar footlong." Opened in 2004, Fredo's offers such cured-meat delicacies as prosciutto, sopressata and mortadella on sandwiches nicknamed the Sicilian and the Godfather. (Shaheen apparently knows a Hollywood tie-in when he sees one.) These sandwiches aren't made; they're crafted. So is Fredo's interior, which features a coffee/espresso bar, a painted tin ceiling and a menu written out on the chalkboard. In the summer months, there's even a bit of sidewalk seating.
My only gripe with Fredo's, in fact, is that it closes at 3 p.m. -- too early if you're trying to line your stomach for a pub crawl. Maybe next year?