Redefining the Mom & Pop Destination
It’s Friday morning on Pittsburgh’s North Side and all is calm and tranquil. Parking spaces are abundant, noise levels is minimal, and Pittsburghers in the neighborhood on this sunny, Indian Summer-esque October morning are hard at work. It’s the kind of environment where you take a deep breath and truly appreciate the beauty that’s found in all the little corners of our fair city.
If you were to jump ahead to Sunday when the Steelers are slated for battle at nearby Heinz Field, your experience would be altogether different. Passionate football enthusiasts, wild tailgate parties, the aromas from grills and beers permeating through the crisp, Fall air…while that quiet tranquility is a distant Friday memory, it’s still one of those places you truly want to be.
Pittsburgh’s North Side and North Shore is one rich with history, sports, culture, and beauty. Located right along the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers, it offers fantastic views of the Pittsburgh skyline, as well as The Point: that epic spot where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers merge to form the Ohio. It’s the home of PNC Park, considered by many to be the most beautiful ballpark in Major League Baseball. It boasts historical relevance while remaining community-minded, dynamic, and diverse.
And nestled in the heart of this community is The Modern Cafe, a self-defined “mom & pop” bar owned by the Zotis family. This craft beer destination has been around since 1933 and stands as one of the first bars to open once Prohibition was abolished. Modern has captured the hearts of locals with its stellar craft beer selection and award-winning sandwiches, serving as the perfect venue to grab lunch, enjoy a beer after work, pre-game before any sporting event taking place in the North Shore, or all of the above. I decided to pay them a visit and get you better acquainted with The Modern Cafe in this edition of the Breaking Brews Craft Beer Spotlight.
Prohibition…you think about everything that word entails and, in the age of craft beer we live today, you can’t help but conclude: those times had to suck. But once the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition on December 5th, 1933, The Modern Cafe poured its first drink shortly after, kicking off what’s been an 82-year run serving Pittsburghers the libations they crave.
Dean and Irene Zotis, along side their daughter Constance, serve as The Modern Cafe’s owners today. They purchased the bar off Irene’s father in 1993, nearly 20 years after he purchased it from the original owners in 1974. The idea was to create an approachable, family-friendly establishment while still providing a joint where white and blue-collar workers alike could relax with their favorite drink after a long day.
“We are a family bar and want everyone to feel at home when they’re here,” Constance explained. “We want to hear their likes and dislikes and like to cater to our customer’s demands.”
The Modern Cafe currently boasts 150 different beers for you to consume, with 12 of them on tap. The Zotis family has talked about expanding their tap system, but feel their selection is in a good place because it allows them to consistently offer a fresh product to their guests. When you enjoy a pint at The Modern, you can thank the person next to you. It was customer demand that led to the expansion to craft beer options.
“We always try to stick to our foundation, but we’ve gotten big into craft beer because of our patrons,” Irene said. “We didn’t know this many beers existed until they told us! Our selection is purely driven by our clientele.”
Despite putting together a sound craft beer, cocktail, and food menu, The Modern Cafe almost ceased to exist. On New Year’s Day in 2009, a tragic fire ripped through the building and caused extensive damage. Due to the fire’s effects, they were forced to close their doors for 16 months to get things back on track. Fortunately, they were able to do just that and then some…re-launching the new Modern Cafe in April 2010 for the Pirates home opener, always a monumental occasion in Pittsburgh’s North Shore area.
“We weren’t fully ready, but we made it work,” Constance admitted. “It was just me, Mom, and Dad running around taking care of everybody. It was crazy, but we were glad to be open again.”
If you’re a craft beer enthusiast, which I’m assuming you are, then The Modern Cafe will undoubtedly hook you up with a brew you love. But taking things a step further, their food menu is everything you need and features a great variety of appetizers, salads, and sides. But, simply put: Modern wins at sandwiches. Anyone who says their wedding was the greatest moment of their life clearly has never had the Greek Cheese Steak (pictured left) from Modern Cafe. OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but you get the point.
Trust me, I’m not the only one enamored by these beautiful creations. The menu features three sandwiches that captured North Side Sandwich Week Winners three consecutive years and Modern was recognized as the North Side’s Favorite Sandwich Joint in 2015! It’s incredible what kind of awesomeness comes together between two pieces of bread and these guys are finding ways to take it to another level each and every day.
The Modern Cafe continues to cater to the craft beer crowd by hosting fun and informative beer samplings at their location. These are designed to spotlight certain breweries and offerings, as well as give new and experienced craft beer enthusiasts a taste of quality beer while gaining knowledge from experts, often times direct representatives of the brewery. They also hold karaoke once a month and set up a Bloody Mary and Mimosa bar every Saturday.
When I look for craft beer destinations, craft beer selection, outstanding food, and friendly atmosphere are three of the key elements I look for. There’s no denying The Modern Cafe has implemented this into their operations and taken one of Pittsburgh’s most historic bars to brand new heights. Going forward, plans include a continued devotion to diverse craft beer selections and the possibility of catering. Modern is also a great venue for holding holiday parties, which will be in full swing in the upcoming weeks.
But at the core of it all, The Modern Cafe is all about home sweet home. Not just for the Zotis family, but for you, too.
“This is our second home,” Constance said. “We want it to be fun with a great atmosphere. If it’s not fun for us, it won’t be fun for anyone else.”
There’s plenty of reasons to hit up the North Side. Now, I’ve just given you one more. Pull up a stool at the Modern today!
You can thank me with a Greek Cheese Steak later. 🙂