3138 Dobson St., Polish Hill
For some Pittsburghers, Polish Hill is simply where Gooski's and Rock Room are, a place to retreat to under cover of night for a drink or four and a punk show. There's been little daytime draw for the hillside neighborhood -- until this summer, when Lili Coffee*Shop opened.
The coffeehouse, owned by partners Rob Levkulich and Carrie DiFiore and named for their daughter, occupies a spot at the corner of Dobson and Hancock streets, along with two other newcomers: Copacetic Comics, formerly in Squirrel Hill, and Mind Cure Records. The small space already hosts an array of activities stretching far beyond coffee: Music shows, film screenings, "Free Skool" classes and Pittsburgh City Councilor Patrick Dowd's Council-to-Go series have all found a place there in the evenings.
Levkulich, a longtime Polish Hill resident, had long thought about opening a coffee shop, but the pieces came together when he met locals Catherine McConnell and Mark Knobil. A real-estate agent and a professional photographer, respectively, the two were looking to buy and renovate the space at 3138 Dobson, a storefront that once housed a butcher shop.
DiFiore and Levkulich had worked together at an architecture firm prior to opening Lili in June, and starting a new business was a bit of a leap. Yet though it's off the beaten path, the shop has been doing a brisk business. "It's far exceeded my expectations," says DiFiore. "My family is in the restaurant business and they were worried that it wouldn't work, since there's not much foot traffic."
Though the shop has no on-site kitchen, it's stocked with baked goods and small lunch items (quiche, soups) made daily by baker Blythe Bort. The pastries are diverse and decadent. There are coffee-shop standards such as brownies, but a recent visit yielded a fantastic lemon bar, plucked from a selection that included pumpkin roll and buckeyes. Sunday mornings, the shop serves brunch, with the menu announced in advance via Facebook.
The food is tasty and the music is nice. (Levkulich is also a musician, currently playing with Slim Cessna.) But the overarching feeling, on an afternoon when one patron works on a laptop with her dog at her feet, as Lili (the girl) plays with a friend, is one of community. "I think that's the idea of any coffee shop," Levkulich muses. "But it's really taken off here."