Cattivo has been a fixture in Lawrenceville for 25 years. The bar, which sits camouflaged among rows of houses, is one of the neighborhood’s most beloved and long-standing spots.
On weeknights, the dimly lit space is low-key, a few patrons flitting in and out to play pool or drink beer. When the venue hosts a live show, the two-floor venue opens the basement and explodes with fans. Dance nights celebrate the greats — Beyoncé, Kesha, Lady Gaga — and are unrivaled in the city.
This month, the concert venue, dance hall, and bar will celebrate its 26th year, and even after all that time, there’s nothing else like it in the city.
On its website, Cattivo states, “We have always fostered an atmosphere that is inclusive, friendly, and diverse.” It’s almost impossible to feel out of place at Cattivo. You can hide in a corner and smoke a cigarette, yell answers to Jeopardy! across the bar, or read a book. Cattivo is committed to their community, whatever that may bring.
The first time I visited Cattivo, I spent the majority of my night on the dance floor, busting out my best moves to Beyoncé. This time around, I took a different approach. On a slow Wednesday night, I settled in at the U-shaped bar for a drink and to see what the menu had to offer. Five other patrons were sprinkled around the space (two in a very intense match of pinball), and the local news blared from TVs above.
The space reminds me of the bars in bowling alleys — just on the edge of divey with a little bit of nostalgia mixed in. The menu covers all the bar food basics. There’s a long list of assorted fried foods, pizza, and hoagies. It’s spot-on drinking food.
I started with fried pickles, Cattivo bread bites, and — at the recommendation of CP senior writer Amanda Waltz — provolone sticks, before jumping into a pizza.
The food was nothing fancy or out-of-the-box. It was well done, bar bites fit to satisfy cravings. The provolone sticks were crispy and warm, my huge dill pickle spears matched perfectly with a creamy sauce, and the namesake bread bites were little puffs of fried heaven.
Cattivo’s pizza, however, took me by surprise. I’d heard whispers that the tucked-away bar served up some of Pittsburgh’s best, but I didn’t believe it until that first bite. I ordered a white pizza, a crust covered in basil, garlic, mozzarella, tomatoes, and olive oil. It was perfectly crispy on the bottom, the ballooned outer crust deliciously doughy. A dusting of parmesan from a pizza-shop shaker gave the slices a salty bite.
When I walked into Cattivo, I was greeted by three things: a cigarette vending machine, a neon pizza sign, and a paper flyer advertising farm fresh eggs. It was an odd trio, but captured the heart of bar; there was a touch of old Pittsburgh and the up-and-comers of Lawrenceville. Cattivo is a mix of long-standing ‘Burgh traditions, but at the same time, proudly acknowledges “renewed vibrancy” that surrounds them.
1. Beef Jerky
Need a snack, but don’t feel like waiting? Buy a beef jerky stick from one of Cattivo’s many jars behind the bar.
2. U-Shaped Bar
U-shaped bars are brilliant. It fakes intimacy because you can’t see the people across from you or even the bartender sometimes.
3. Gold Mine
This is one of my favorite “arcade games.” Throwing quarters into a machine to see if mine will push the other ones out will never get old.