On a typical Saturday night, there's a queue for the elevator to Il Tetto, the rooftop drinking garden on the third floor of Downtown's Sienna Mercato. Lining up to chill at the latest "cool" spot feels out of place in Pittsburgh — a city that's long rejected such Los-Angeles-like behavior — but this line is worth waiting in.
"We all knew we were going to be busy, but we didn't know we were going to be this busy," says Rob Hirst, who manages the upstairs and downstairs bars with Ryan Laing.
In a city that needs more killer outdoor drinking destinations, Il Tetto is a gem. The fully retractable roof opens to a stunning view of Downtown's landmark buildings. Overhead twinkle lights set the mood. Even when it's raining, the roof's greenhouse design makes for an enjoyable experience.
But what really sets Il Tetto apart from other wait-in-line drinking spots is good booze. The beer list is a strong mix of national craft, local micro and a couple of commercial brands. There's also a nicely curated wine list.
And Hirst, who's worked in both high-volume and craft-cocktail bars, set up a cocktail program that finds harmony in both worlds. "We've been keeping quality up, but not making people wait 15 minutes for a drink," he says.
The secret is heavy prep work. Hours before opening, cucumbers and mint are muddled and mixers are made. "We're squeezing juice like nobody's business," he says.
That effort is translating into advanced drinking for a crowd that's graduated from East Carson and Walnut Street bars. "Vodka still is king here, but it's nice to see that drinker starting to expand and try a Vesper or a Blood and Sand," Hirst says.
And even if you're not quite ready to give up your vodka, it's still going to be better than the one you're used to drinking. "Even a Grey Goose on the rocks is in a glass with perfect ice," Hirst says.