“All I wanted to do was make great pizza.” — Nick Bogacz
At first glance, you don’t necessarily connect that statement to one of the most popular and well-run craft beer establishments in Pittsburgh, do you?
Well, you should. Because what we are about to tap into in this month’s Craft Beer Spotlight is all about great pizza, great beer, and greater people…three incredible elements that have transformed Caliente Pizza and Draft House in Bloomfield into one of the top craft beer destinations going today.
I discovered Caliente via word-of-mouth and Twitter. And although I hadn’t ventured through their doors personally, I received enough positive feedback from friends and social media connections to mention Caliente as one of my “9 Extraordinary Craft Beer Destinations in Pittsburgh.” This article was well-received and I was happy when Nick Bogacz, owner of Caliente along side his wife Angie, reached out and thanked me for the mention. It wasn’t more than a couple weeks later that I made my first visit to Caliente and immediately saw what all the hype was about. I instantly fell in love with this place and knew I was in the middle of something special.
When it comes to craft beer, a diverse selection is key. Caliente has just that and then some. Both on tap and in their coolers, they carry rare beers you simply don’t come across in many other places in Pittsburgh. Nick has made some incredible connections in the beer world that has led to unique offerings for you and I that many other establishments can’t touch.
And the pizza. My GAWD, the pizza! Beer and pizza go together like Kim Kardashian and drama. But CRAFT beer and GOURMET pizza, well, that pairing will bring a smile to your face that will light up a ballroom. As I mentioned at the open of this Spotlight, Nick’s mission was to make great pizza. He and his team have accomplished that. They ranked 3rd among all pizza establishments in Pittsburgh, a list spanning over 2,000 locations!
With the ability to kick out a mean pie down pat, Nick and Angie took things a step above and beyond by discovering the rise of craft beer and how they could separate themselves from the other “pizza joints” in town.
“I didn’t want to be just another beer place that had the beer girls and specials on Friday night,” Nick explained. “I knew we could do much more. When I learned about craft beer, I knew it was the way to go for us.”
Over the past couple of months, I’ve gotten to know Nick and Angie quite well. Both are incredibly humble and appreciative of where they started to what they’ve accomplished. They are intelligent in the way they’ve built their business and their entire team has bought into their mission. And just as important as creating a fun atmosphere to work, Nick and Angie aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and help out during the busy times. They truly understand the value of leading by example.
“One thing I love about working here is how enthusiastic both Nick and Angie are,” said Kelly, bartender at Caliente. “I’ve worked in places before where the owners didn’t have that sort of drive. But seeing that enthusiasm makes me want to work harder, and we all have fun while we’re here.”
When Nick and Angie took over Caliente, its reputation was less than stellar. But, through hard work, passion, dedication and an innate ability to market their establishment properly, they’ve been able to put the bad press to bed and create a fresh, exciting buzz around their business. They utilize Facebook and Twitter as well as, if not better than, any business in Pittsburgh. From Penguins and Pirates ticket giveaways to announcements regarding new brews on tap to simply thanking their patrons, Caliente’s presence on Social Media is top-notch.
And without question, they used the grand stage known as Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week to truly get on the map.
“Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week 2013 was our coming out party,” Nick said. “We did everything we could to make the most of the Week and people took notice that we had arrived.”
In 2014, Caliente took things to another level and raised the bar incredibly high with their efforts during Craft Beer Week. Not only did they feature unique events every day of the 10-day craft beer celebration, they did things never-before seen. For example, the first Saturday of Beer Week showcased an event where you could challenge a brewery rep at their favorite video game and, if you won, they’d buy you a beer. This was one of the coolest concepts I witnessed and incredibly fun to attend.
That same Saturday, a rare keg of Founder’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) was tapped at 7:00pm. Thanks to a perfect marketing campaign, you couldn’t move inside Caliente and 17 minutes later (I clocked it), the KBS was history. The entire Caliente team busted their ass to ensure as many patrons as possible got a snifter of KBS and, when it was all said and done, I had the opportunity to talk to Angie, who was nearly in tears of joy over what just transpired. All their years of hard work had just culminated with this one event.
“This is unbelievable,” Angie said of the crowd gathered inside her pub. “This makes all the hard work and all the sacrifice we went through to get to where we are today completely worth it.”
And on and on it went. One awesome event after another. I found myself frequenting Caliente nearly every day. From tap takeovers to brewery events to a special firkin tapping of Cigar City Jai Alai brewed with peaches, it was 10 days of all-out fun during Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week!
With the word clearly out and the Caliente footprint 110% stamped, the potential for growth is limitless.
That growth began a mere flight of steps down from their main bar with the grand opening of the Railsplitter Speakeasy, a beautiful addition to the Caliente fold complete with a copper-top bar, relaxing atmosphere, and 24 rotating craft beer taps. Also, they have an infuser similar to Dogfish Head’s famous “Randall the Enamel Animal” to add a special kick to your beer. The Railsplitter is the perfect venue for parties, happy hour gatherings, or just to kick back and enjoy a refreshing craft beer and/or delicious gourmet pizza.
Caliente has quickly become one of my favorite craft beer destinations because of the welcoming atmosphere, the upbeat energy and friendliness of the entire staff, and the fact there’s always something new on tap every time I visit. Combine all that with passionate ownership that truly understands what it takes to be successful, and there’s no telling how many more Caliente locations are going to open across the Steel City.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Caliente is going places. Your next move is to go see why.
Some photos courtesy of Frank Tunis Photography