Mine Harris Grill, or, Lost in a City where Drinking No Longer takes on Meaning

Saturday, August 11th 2007 will be a night to remember for all of time, and quite a bit of space. Harris Grill, a fine drinking and dining establishment where I frequented as often as the law or my wife would allow, burned. Not down, mind you, but still, it burned fiercely and long enough to force the good owners to shut down their bar. But who can own a bar? Well, of course the owners have physical rights to the property and perhaps employees own a responsibility to the bar, but there are many of us, patrons, locals, Shadysidians, who sit now, without a home for our asses, without a destination that promises to bring the familiar faces, the cold drinks, the multiple patios, the Goat, the Boat, the unmovable stools that this Ellsworth Avenue establishment so readily did provide.

The vast majority of people I know in my Pittsburgh neighborhood I’ve met at Harris Grill. Harris is a place to get completed faced until 2am, a place for a few drinks over a lunch time meeting or an Autumn summer dinner with my very young son. The Harris Grill is the type of establishment I can bring my parents to for an upscale evening of nice food and drinks up stairs, and after they leave meet friends for shots and cigarettes until the night grows short. Every trip to Harris, for me, means fries swimming drowning in vinegar, Pilsner Urquels and meeting the same new people that I’d forgotten the night before.

Now it stands, still those bricks one on top of another, but inside all chars and cold. The sign out front has lost its neon and No Trespassing signs play neighbor to chain links keeping everyone who isn’t working on the place out. The bar tenders and familiar faces of the owners can be seen pushing brooms, wearing a working man’s garb and sneaking out for the occasional cigarette break. A single table is on the patio that would typically, by 3:30 in the afternoon on a summer day, be filled packed and bulging with the variety of Shadyside faces that could frequent such a place. And that was part of its magic, business men fresh from work drank the same beers that local hipsters did, flamboyant men strayed from the city’s gay bars to lock words with 40-something moms. Kids could be seen running around the patio. People leaned heavily into the internet jukebox searching for a sound to help the night along, a little more slowly maybe. Cigarettes burned through lungs as friends were made and loves were lost, and vice versa.

I head into Bites n’ Brews, the bar across the street, but the atmosphere is all wrong. The crowd is younger, with a fierce look of desperate drunk in their eyes rather than the easily, friendly feeling I’m hoping to find. 5801, on the corner, becomes my destination but with all of its charm and gay laid back easiness it still doesn’t put me at ease. The next morning I see one of the bar tenders from Harris and he tells me, in reply to my inquiring when the bar will open back up, “February.”

5 months, long, winter months many of them. Turbulent times ahead, my friends.

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