| Pittsburgh City Paper

A former bank in Lawrenceville is being rehabbed as a bar and restaurant

Tender Bar & Kitchen won't be lacking local history

Adding to his culinary arsenal: Jeff Catalina
Adding to his culinary arsenal: Jeff Catalina

Jeff Catalina points to a heavy imprint on the floor of the former Arsenal Bank, the last trace of where the tellers used to be. 

"It has a lot of history to it," he says of the Lawrenceville building where he started demolition work this month, the first step in opening what will be his second Pittsburgh restaurant. "We're going through some of the layers."

Marble wainscoting and a marble clock also hint at the structure's past as a 19th-century bank. It stayed in business through 1943, when its assets were bought by Peoples-Pittsburgh Trust Company, now PNC Bank. 

The history is what drew Catalina to the intersection of 43rd and Butler streets. He plans to use the unique location to feature craft cocktails and playful interpretations of iconic American dishes and desserts. (Think variations of foods such as Moon Pies.) The new venue, which Catalina will call Tender Bar & Kitchen, will join Garfield's Verde Mexican Kitchen and Cantina, which he opened last fall. 

In addition to catering to Pittsburgh's expanding palate, Catalina's plans for Tender include late-night fare, a private dining room and outdoor seating. 

Landlord Brian Mendelssohn recruited Catalina after buying the building about a year ago. 

"We were trying to find a locally based restaurant that would take advantage of what the building naturally offers," Mendelssohn says. 

The bank was built in 1884 for $17,000. Founders included the Wainwrights, a family who owned a Lawrenceville brewery, says Carol Peterson, a researcher hired to compile the building's history. 

Catalina plans to retain historical features, including six locked safes in a back room, each with a double combination. The safes are not likely the originals — which, according to historical news accounts, caused the death of a worker who became crushed between them and the vault wall as they were being installed in 1884. These safes, which haven't been opened in at least 30 years, were probably installed during a remodeling of the bank in the 1920s or '30s, Mendelssohn says.

Catalina plans to crack the safes late this week. He says he expects to find them empty. 

On the other hand, he adds, "I'm self-financing this restaurant, so maybe I'll get lucky." 

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