Best Bartender: Lara Borasso

Best Of PGH

Best Bartender: Lara Borrasso

click to enlarge Best Bartender: Lara Borrasso (2)
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Lara Borrasso at Rugger's Pub

Lara Borrasso doesn’t have a signature cocktail; she’s not that kind of bartender.

“I’m a volume girl,” she tells Pittsburgh City Paper on a recent Saturday night at Rugger’s Pub, the South Side dive where she’s tended bar for the last nine years and managed for the last six. “I’d rather spend five minutes making 20 things than five minutes making one thing.”

Rugger’s is the official home of Forge, Pittsburgh’s rugby club, but Borrasso isn’t a player. She likes it at Rugger’s, she says, because everyone is chill. Despite the bar’s focus on rugby, Borrasso says not all of Rugger’s patrons are athletes, and everyone is welcome.

Borrasso has been a bartender for 15 years and also won Best Bartender in 2019. She got into bartending after realizing it was easier and more lucrative than the barista job she had been working.

She works quickly and efficiently, rarely having to ask customers to repeat their orders or remind her what they’re drinking when it’s time for a refill. Fingers flying through Rugger’s aging point-of-sale system, Borrasso says she likes to challenge herself to brain games while she works, like trying to match patrons to their open bar tab without asking their name.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Borrasso says her style behind the bar has been shaped by the Steel City. She rinses off the top of every can of beer before opening it all the way and handing it to a customer. This is muscle memory, she says, from when she tended bar at a place that stored their beverages in a musty Pittsburgh basement.

She’ll probably take that habit with her to Key West, Florida, where she and her fiance plan to move at the end of the year. Both visual artists, they hope to find a more robust fine art market down south.

It’s certain that customers of Rugger’s, where Borrasso turned bartending into a fine art, will miss her when she heads for sunnier climates.

Rugger's Pub. 40 S. 22nd St., South Side.