Change in Pittsburgh tends to elicit mixed reactions. Some mock and deride the self-cheerleading. Some criticize the gentrification. Some are ambivalent. Some love it. Sure, Pittsburghers hold on hard to tradition, but renewal is a crucial part of the city’s character as well. Sometimes changes come in bursts, and sometimes they're gradual. But they’re always happening.
Riggs Lounge & Restaurant is a microcosm of Pittsburgh's evolution. Occupying a small but prominent chunk of Brighton Road on the North Side, Riggs emits an old Pittsburgh aura palpable from blocks away. At first look, the building seems a bit drab, but there's real beauty in the utilitarian architecture and restrained, retro facade. Riggs won't demand your attention from the outside, which is why it's such a joy to discover what's inside.
After entering, it only takes a minute or two to realize why Riggs reflects the progress of Pittsburgh on a smaller scale. While the building's exterior proclaims itself a dive bar, the interior doesn't allow such an easy conclusion.
The bar itself is edged in cushioning so lush your elbows almost disappear when you lean in. Immaculate, inviting booths with gleaming tabletops and just-soft-enough seats form a neat row along the opposite wall. A few steps away, a remodeled backroom provides an ideal semi-private space, and the wickedly fun vintage bowling game that resides there makes you wish every bar had one. The meticulously updated restrooms look clean enough to perform surgery in.
Of course, Riggs is still a classic neighborhood bar, and bits of welcome, unvarnished charm manage to peek through. Neon lights cast bright hues on the Formica. Handwritten signs offer the daily discounts. Packs of chips, nuts, and candy rest in formation on the back bar, awaiting deployment. A stalwart cigarette machine maintains its place of honor. Ceiling fans chop the late-afternoon sun sliding through a lone window. Regulars drop in and out; some for a single round, some for a session.
It's the sort of place where the love put into it is evident, expressed both in the physical space and the welcoming vibe extended to the patrons. The term "dive bar" is a misnomer here. There's an ongoing rejuvenation occurring at Riggs, and it makes you aware of how ardently progress and history can coexist.