Although a Pittsburgh native, Scott Shaffer spent his formative professional years immersed in the flavors and aromas of Chicago’s acclaimed food scene during a time when Pittsburgh had no culinary culture worth speaking of.
But he moved back in 2016 with the hope of bringing a little taste of the Windy City to the Steel City, where he saw new signs of promise.
“I felt like [Pittsburgh] was evolving,” he says. “And there was a demand for something we'd like to do, and so you have more independent restaurateurs and chefs and mixologists coming in and pushing to try to better the overall scale.”
Shaffer’s contribution to that emerging scene has been running the bar at Bridges & Bourbon, a Cultural District bar and eatery voted by Pittsburgh City Paper readers as the best cocktail outlet in town.
The drinks menu at Bridges & Bourbon includes an extensive and ever-rotating curation of cocktails split between new takes on old classics and in-house creations supplied by the chemically-curious bar staff. The team can help you pair any of these with the restaurant’s selective but satisfying food list.
While taste is paramount, the bar staff places equal emphasis on presentation, meaning libations are sometimes served out of colorful bird-shaped glasses or paired with smoke-emitting tree stump props, for example.
But the impressive pyrotechnics shouldn’t scare away the uninitiated, says Schaffer, who notes the bar always stocks a sample of wines and local beers to ensure there’s something on hand for everyone. Aside from mixing the best drinks in town, bartenders at Bridges & Bourbon also work hard to help guests taste their way through the menu in accord with their distinctive palette.
“What we're trying to do,” says Shaffer, “is give you a really nice experience with a high-quality product, but make it approachable where you feel like you want to sit here for hours.”
Bridges & Bourbon. 930 Penn Ave., Strip District. bridgesandbourbonpgh.com