Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on March 22, 2023.
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From the moment you arrive at Commerce Bar in East Liberty, you know you'll be getting the full speakeasy experience.
That is because to even access this one you need to make your way to a back alley behind a popular stretch of restaurants and seek out the door to the bar. We could tell you which door, but where is the fun in that? (The end of this article will have a hint.)
Once you enter, the fun of this bar begins.
Commerce Bar is a Proper Speakeasy in Pittsburgh
When we think of speakeasies, our minds think of a moment plucked right out of time- specifically in the 1920s around Prohibition.
While we obviously weren't around to experience that era for ourselves, the ambiance inside Commerce Bar offers an elegant-yet-underground feel that we have to imagine a few of the bars of the era were like. Apart from modern creations and playlist (our first visit was entirely Postmodern Jukebox, adding to the ambiance), they did an exceptional job on our ideal speakeasy theme.
The cocktail menu here is split half as modern takes of vintage cocktails and half house creations with combinations we had never seen before. After the bar's 2023 re-opening, we were joined by friends and were able to sample our way around most of the menu during our visit. With a menu like this one, going with friends is the only way to do it justice.
On the classic side of things, we went for the Commerce Old Fashioned. This old fashioned was straightforward with rye, demarara, and a mix of orange and Angostura bitters- a simple classic that let the flavors of the rye come through with a hint of dark sugar to balance.
On the more out there side, we sampled cocktails like the Magical Mystery Rye with strawberry infused rye, mint, and smoke as well as the Mezlcal-Tini with mezcal, gin, Dolin Dry, pickled green tomato brine, and hot pepper bitters.
The Mezcal-tini was a fascinating creation that was spicy, acidic, and a fair bit smokey (but not overwhelming) thanks to the addition of mezcal. Would we get this one if we did not like spice? Not at all. But for those who want a twist on the classic Martini, this one is sure to deliver.
The Magical Mystery Rye was an interesting cocktail poured over a large amount of crushed ice that was overflowing from the glass. There was an unique stratification in this one where the first sips were heavily smokey (as the top ice likely absorbed the most smoke) and it became progressively more strawberry and minty as I reached the bottom.
Was it hard to drink? Yes. Would a straw have made this one better? Absolutely. Did I end up liking this one at the end as the flavors evolved in the glass over time? Also yes. But the mound of ice on the top and prominent smoke on the first sips made this one slightly hard to drink all the same.
Perhaps the finest cocktail from our visit was the Cranberry Bogs Forever made with Cognac, Cointreau, lemon, cranberry, pickled cranberry brine, and a saline solution. This one was reminiscent of the classic Cosmopolitan but with an elevated twist. The pickled cranberry brine and saline added a perfect tangy and salty element to the drink that really helped balance out the cranberry fruit nicely- our group unanimously called it the winner by far.
The only regret we had from our return visit after Commerce Bar reopened was a friend's order of Tempting Fate, a bartender's selection, came out with a simple Sazerac. Although that is indeed Tempting Fate, it certainly felt like a bit of a let down for the price tag (the highest on the menu for single serving drinks) and the tagline of “something just for you”. Personally, if we want to challenge a bartender, particularly exceptional bartenders like those found at Commerce Bar, we were hoping for something a bit more creative.
Overall, Commerce Bar comes out strong with its speakeasy theme. From the ambiance to the cocktail list, odds are good you will find something interesting to try here. We cannot wait to go back!
Commerce Bar is located in an alley in East Liberty. The most we can tell you is it is behind Bird on the Run, which is at 128 S Highland. It is up to you to figure out the rest (our map below may be accurate). It is worth noting that this bar is fairly small and is likely to fill up fast during peak hours. They also have a limited snack menu available as well or those looking for something to eat when visiting.
Looking for more great Pittsburgh cocktail bars? Check out our guide to all the best ones in the city at the previous link!