EXCLUSIVE: Evergreen Cafe parking menace breaks silence after 50 years of pissing off Penn Avenue motorists | Pittsburgh City Paper

EXCLUSIVE: Evergreen Cafe parking menace breaks silence after 50 years of pissing off Penn Avenue motorists

click to enlarge EXCLUSIVE: Evergreen Cafe parking menace breaks silence after 50 years of pissing off Penn Avenue motorists
Hannah Kinney-Kobre
The parking job in question
You’ve definitely seen it before while cruising down Penn Avenue towards Wilkinsburg: the dusty brown Buick Rendezvous parked in the rightmost lane of traffic in front of the Evergreen Cafe. Now, you might have simply rolled your eyes and shifted over into the other lane without thinking twice — but there are plenty of people who appear to have developed a unique form of psychosis from seeing the car sitting there over the years.

Case in point: when a Pittsburgh Reddit post about the controversial spot made its way to Instagram, it yielded more than 300 comments.

On one side, the angry and despairing: “Fuck this car.” “This car ruined my afternoon.” “This car has been the bane of my existence for 10 years.” On the other side, those declaring themselves true yinzers: “Did you just move here? They’ve been parking in front of that bar forever.” “That car has earned the right to princess park. If you’re from here you just know to ride in the left lane here. Respect!”

I headed over to the Evergreen with the hopes of setting the record straight. A quick disclaimer: while I’m no yinzer (I grew up in North Carolina), I have family connections to Pittsburgh that just so happen to intersect with the Point Breeze bar. Phil Bacharach, the Evergreen’s owner, is my uncle’s brother. (Phil’s brother, Paul, is married to my dad’s sister. If you’re reading this, hi Aunt Val!) I heard about the Evergreen at family gatherings long before I ever visited the bar myself — something I only managed this year after moving around the corner from it.

Over Mexican food (in 2019, local food truck Taquito’s took over the Evergreen’s kitchen) and a beer at the bar, I asked Phil about the Evergreen’s family history. The bar has been in Point Breeze since 1933, when it was relocated from Wilkinsburg after Prohibition was lifted, since Wilkinsburg remained a dry municipality.

click to enlarge EXCLUSIVE: Evergreen Cafe parking menace breaks silence after 50 years of pissing off Penn Avenue motorists
Hannah Kinney-Kobre
Phil Bacharach, too busy bartending to look at the camera
“My dad bought it off a guy named Joe Stein in the ‘50s,” he explains. “My dad had a partner, but his partner liked the drink a little more than he should. My dad said ‘One of us has to run this, and I can't do it.’ But the guy said, ‘I think it's better if you take it.’ So my dad bought him out.”

Phil is one of five brothers, who all grew up in the bar. “In high school we all came and cleaned up before we went to high school, one of us, for $20 a week. You know, that was good money in the ‘70s,” he says. “But I've been working here ever since. I was gonna go to culinary school, but I went on a vacation instead and ended up here.”

When asked about how long he’s parked in front of the bar, he tells me it’s been “ever since I had a car when I was 16. I'm 65, so it’s been a while.” Over the years, people have made their displeasure with the parking situation evident: they’ve called the bar to complain, come inside the bar to complain, hassled people leaving the bar about it, and even called the police over the spot.

“It was hilarious,” Phil says, reenacting a typical exchange. “They’d call the police station, the police would come and would go ‘whose car is this?’ ‘It's mine.’ ‘Well, why'd you park there?’ I said, ‘Because I can park there until 2:30.’” He’d point them to the sign in front of the bar saying as much. “They quit coming because the commander I guess realized, ‘Why am I sending guys here?’”

And he is right — the sign posted in front of the Evergreen only prohibits parking there between 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., and only Monday through Friday. As Phil points out, it’s not like the legal parking in this town is particularly logical anyways. “It's just the way it is,” he muses. “I don't like a lot of things in this city, too.”

click to enlarge EXCLUSIVE: Evergreen Cafe parking menace breaks silence after 50 years of pissing off Penn Avenue motorists
Hannah Kinney-Kobre
The standard decor at the Evergreen Cafe
While my family ties have probably tipped you off to my bias (as a local journalist? Perish the thought!), I will say that the Evergreen is a kind of perfect dive even if you bear no relation to it at all. It’s blessedly dim, with dark wood paneling and the kind of incoherent decor that’s the result of slow accumulation — something newer bars try their best to emulate as a way of evoking an authenticity they hope will make up for expensive drink menus only available via QR code.

There’s a large inflatable Corona Light hanging out on one of the radiators next to an old cigarette machine still stocked with packs of smokes. Family photos hang on the back wall, including one of Phil’s father, Fritz — the original owner of the bar — in uniform during World War II. A cut-out of John Wayne hangs out against the wall of one of the booths, paying homage to Phil’s mother Lena, who had a wall in her house dedicated to the star of many excellent John Ford Westerns.

click to enlarge EXCLUSIVE: Evergreen Cafe parking menace breaks silence after 50 years of pissing off Penn Avenue motorists
Hannah Kinney-Kobre
"Whoa, take 'er easy there, Pilgrim."
But Phil’s car, stubbornly parked out front for almost half a century, remains the best-known monument to the family-owned bar’s history — despite the price he’s paid for it in auto repairs.

Phil estimates that his cars have been hit upwards of 10 times over the years — mostly by either drunk drivers or people who simply aren’t paying attention. “Sometimes there’s somebody behind my car on her phone, looking at shit on there, for minutes,” he says. “They’ve even started honking and without realizing that the car's parked.”

He assures me that no one’s ever been hurt, and seems to take the hits in stride. “One girl hit one of my cars a long time ago, young kid, probably in her 20s.” He went outside and saw that her car was smoking. “I told her to get out of the car, but she goes ‘I gotta find my phone!’ I said, ‘No, get out of the car. I'll get your phone, the car is on fire.’” He helped her out and brought her inside the bar, unharmed. “Her mother called me the next day and thanked me for being nice to her,” he says.

At this point in the story, he gets a conspiratorial twinkle in his eye. “But I'm thinking, I hated that car. It was like a year, a year-and-a-half old. Honda Odyssey minivan, worst car I ever bought in my life. People love ‘em, but it was the worst … This girl totaled it with a Honda Civic and knocked it from here almost to the corner.”

He pauses for a second, and then laughs and tells me: “I should have sent her flowers for totaling the car. I got enough money from it to buy another van.”

The cone with the flag stationed behind Phil’s latest van is a more recent addition, intended to help prevent scenes like the one he describes. “Nobody's hit it since then,” he says. “The city sent me a thing saying they were gonna fine me for setting that out there. My brother Paul told me I should put a Ukrainian flag out there, then nobody will complain.”

Thinking out loud, he adds: “I just got a new Pirates flag … maybe I should just put that out there. People will be running into it then!”

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