George Haritos has a simple vision for the just-opened Gus's Café: "The plan is to make this a comfortable place."
Haritos named the friendly Lawrenceville bar and restaurant in honor of his late father, Konstantinos "Gus" Haritos: The elder Haritos owned Harris Grill on Ellsworth Avenue from the 1950s until 2001. The new venue is "inspired by my dad's old bar and [D's Six Pax & Dogz] in Regent Square," says Haritos, who worked for his father at Harris Grill and, in the 1990s, created one of Pittsburgh's first large craft and imported beer menus.
Now, he has a different vision: "Everyone's doing 'all the beers you can do,' but we want to do something a bit more intelligent. It's about quality, not quantity," he says.
Still, with 16 drafts on tap and two refrigerators for bottles, there's plenty of beer to choose from. Haritos says he plans on crowdsourcing a rotating selection with themed "beer-vs.-beer competitions" on Thursday nights, "Top Five" lists and customer polls. There's also a small selection of gluten-free beers, to complement the 100-percent-gluten-free restaurant menu.
"We're going to be adding a bigger selection of gluten-free beer and hard cider soon," promises chef Allegra Fisher.
And while bartender Kelsey McCoy acknowledges "We don't really have a craft cocktail menu," the bar rack is stocked with a decent, and growing, selection of standard, mid-range brands, and a couple of finer spirits including yellow Chartreuse.
Haritos says that he's going to spend the next few months refining his bar. For example, look for a large, covered patio to be open by summertime.
But already, Gus's has achieved a slightly surreal vibe, like a funky neighborhood tavern. It fills a need for a friendly, no-frills (and no smoking), casual spot right between central and upper Lawrenceville.
"I want this to be a place where you want to come hang out every night," says Haritos.