Last Updated on December 2, 2019 by Jeremy
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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 (during our visit was entirely Postmodern Jukebox), 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. We were joined by our friend Amanda from Bold Pittsburgh 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 first trip.
On the classic side of things, we went for the Improved Whiskey Cocktail (1876) and Scofflaw (1922). The Improved Whiskey Cocktail was barrel-aged and was mixed with Demarara, Maraschino liqueur, Absinthe, and bitters and tasted like the spirit-forward Old Fashioned with nuanced flavor from the cherry and absinthe.
The Scofflaw included grenadine, spices, lemon, Carpano dry, Belle Isle Moonshine, and rye and was perfectly balanced between the sweetness of the grenadine, tartness of lemon, and the array of spices.
On the house creations side, we went for the Tariff Cocktail and Read the Meter. The Tariff Cocktail included Cappelletti Apertif, pineapple gomme, lime, salt, mezcal, pineapple rum, and bitters. This is one of those complex offerings that you can highlight a different flavor in every sip. Sometimes you get a bit more smoke, others a bit more lime and pineapple, other times the Apertif, and was one of the highlights of the night.
Read the Meter prominently featured carrot with orange, saffron, ginger, honey, lemon sherbet, and aquavit. To say that this was carrot-forward is an understatement, but was balanced out with the citrus and spices quite well. I can appreciate this one, but also need to be in a mood for the carrot flavor.
It is also worth noting that most of the cocktails we enjoyed were on the slightly sweeter side- including the spirit-forward creations that we personally prefer to be more fortified. Admittedly, we do realize that many Prohibition cocktails were made sweeter to mask off-flavors of bad booze, so this is an accurate reflection of the style even if it may be a bit noticeable for modern drinking palates.
To be honest, we could spend more time in the article highlighting specific cocktails we enjoyed (we really did work our way around the menu), but I want to take a moment to talk more about a unique feature of this bar that you should try- rolling the dice.
Roll the Dice at This Bar
If you are willing to put your fate into the hands of the (quite skilled) bartenders, you can roll the dice to see what cocktail combination comes up. If you go this route you'll be given three dice and roll. One has a spirit, two have flavors. Whatever you get goes to the bartender, and a delightful creation will come out to match that.
By our count, that means there are 216 unique spirit and flavor combinations that may come about, which we will be interested in seeing what unique options come out over as time goes on.
During our roll, we ended up with a combination of brandy, tart, and floral, and ended up with what was perhaps the best drink of the night. What was in it? We decided not to ask (we kind of like the mystery). But all we know is if that combination popped up again and the same drink was served, we would most certainly not be upset. In fact, in our next visit I may purely just roll the dice, if only because this one is too much fun.
Overall, Commerce Bar comes out strong with its speakeasy theme. From the ambiance to the cocktail list, odds are good you will not be disappointed 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 food from Bird on the Run at this time served on fine china.
Looking for more great Pittsburgh cocktail bars? Check out our guide to all the best ones in the city at the previous link!