Embury | Restaurant Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Stepping into Embury, the slick little cocktail annex beneath the Firehouse Lounge in the Strip, is like drifting into a time warp -- and that's precisely the point.

The tiny wooden bar and few scattered booths create a cozy, clubby spot for civilized quaffing -- don't even think of ordering a "Red Bull-'n'-vokka" here. And talk about discreet: The restroom is behind a secret panel behind a huge wall of bookcases. 

Three grandfather clocks stand watch over the extensive array of interesting and artisanal liquors. Absinthe? Check. Rye whiskey? Hand-mixed bitters? Three different varieties of chartreuse? Check, check and check. After all, it's the drinks that are the absolute stars of the show here.

"This is our pre-Prohibition cocktail bar," says bartender Freddie Sarkis, who apologizes for the lack of wax holding up his impressive mustache on the evening this reporter drops by. New Orleans jazz pulses out over the small crowd of devotees, who are all too willing to step outside their comfort zones and let the bartender choose their drink. Sarkis explains: "It's a bastion for civilized people who enjoy cocktails."

There's a limited selection of craft ales, but no mass-produced beers (and no "lights"), and absolutely no flavored vodka. The bar has a rotating list of cocktails. But, they're described by how they taste, not what spirit they're based on. That way, patrons order by intriguing flavor rather than what booze they like (or think they should be drinking). A pretty decent menu of bar snacks from upstairs is available to soak up some of that classy swill.

On the cocktail roster are some old -- really old -- favorites like the Sazerac, a potion from long-ago New Orleans made from rye whiskey and bitters, and the Dark and Stormy, a gingery rum concoction. Tending bar here is a spectator sport: Athleticism is applied to the shakers; there's plenty of muddling; and freshly zested citrus dots the bar.

Embury's not for every imbiber. The drinks are not cheap -- cocktails run nine bucks across the board -- and there's another price to be paid in patience for the hand-crafted mixtures. But the genteel pace is part of the attraction, explains Sarkis: "You should take as long to drink your drink as it takes me to make it. We're here to enjoy cocktails."


2216 Penn Ave., Strip District

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