815 S. Aiken Ave., Shadyside. 412-682-6878.
"You name it, we got it," Paul Sabunani tells a Thursday-night customer over the phone. And go ahead, name it: He's got soups, salads, jalapeño poppers, Cajun wings, quesadillas and beer-battered fish. A quarter-pound hot dog? Check. A 16-inch Hawaii Five-O specialty pizza, with bacon, pineapple and cappicola? Totally.
Sabunani, 31, owns the South Aiken Bar & Grille. Until recently, he owned Village Pizza, a Shadyside pizzeria famous for its after-hours pies. In the evenings, college students would step in for a convenient six-pack, since Shadyside has no major beer distributors. After last call, bar-crawlers would converge there for late-night munchies.
But the origins of this neighborhood fixture are unromantic: One day Sabunani was glancing through the newspaper classifieds, and he saw a pizzeria for sale. The business was lucrative, but the former owner was burned out. So Sabunani bought it.
"It's been good ever since," he says with a shrug.
Nearly six months ago, Sabunani closed Village Pizza and opened his new Grille on Aiken. Where Village Pizza was dark and claustrophobic, South Aiken Bar & Grille looks more like a condo loft. There are high, antique ceilings, hardwood floors and a wide-screen TV planted in the wall. The full-service bar is backed with prim liquor shelves and spotless mirrors. As before, there is an expansive refrigerator full of six-packs, from Coors Light to Dead Guy Ale.
"More space, more room. It's coming along," says Sabunani.
The clientele has changed as well. Instead of drunk undergrads at 2:15 a.m., all kinds of people come in through the clear glass door -- and at reasonable hours to boot. Sabunani serves wings and pizza, seven days a week, until the kitchen closes at 1 a.m. The bar, which offers daily happy hours and specials, closes at 2 a.m.
Even a first glance confirms that the Grille is a complete makeover, and there's an invisible difference as well: Sabunani left the Village Pizza location when his lease ended. He bought the South Aiken building, so he is free to renovate at will.
Sabunani tends to run the cash-register himself, handing over six-packs and phone-ordered wings. "People are getting smart," he says. "Now they're calling ahead."