The borough of Millvale has seen its ups and downs over the years. Back in the day, it was a booming area of the Pittsburgh scene thanks to iron manufacturers, saw works, stone works, lumber mills, and breweries. Plus, its close proximity to Downtown Pittsburgh and across-the-Allegheny River neighbor Lawrenceville made it a tremendous draw. As time went on, Millvale experienced a downturn as many of those blue-collar businesses dissolved. Much of the borough is on a floodplain that has led to extensive flooding throughout the borough’s history.
Today, Millvale is back on the map with two powerhouse craft breweries cranking out solid beer less than a mile from one another: Grist House Craft Brewery and Draai Laag Brewing. In addition, Millvale is home to Sidelines Bar and Grill, a craft beer destination that was tapping craft beer before craft beer was cool. And decades before Sidelines was even a glimmer in the eye of owner Bob Miller and Director of Operations Jessica Adams, their building served as a watering hole for the citizens of Millvale and surrounding communities. The success of the Sidelines brand led to the opening of a second location in Sewickley in 2012.
The Millvale version of Sidelines arrived on the scenes in 2003 with the idea of hosting a welcoming neighborhood destination where patrons felt comfortable visiting several times a week because the faces were always familiar. They focused on delivering approachable bar fare and a wide variety of craft beer options, a feature not found at many pubs at that point in time.
“When the Millvale location opened, craft beer wasn’t really a thing yet,” Bob explained. “But we had 50 beers to choose from and were probably had one of the top beer lists in the city. From there, the scene exploded.”
As I mentioned before, the Sidelines building has been a bar in same semblance for over 100 years. It started out as the Hotel Pschirer in the early 1900s and contained a “no females allowed” bar (take that, Jon Taffer) on the bottom floor (seen below). As it stands today, Sidelines still features the same ceiling and floor behind the bar as found in Pschirer’s many years ago. The famous building also had a cameo in the television series The Outsiders. Shot in various parts of Pittsburgh, one particular Outsiders chase scene was filmed on the adjacent Klopfer Street off of Evergreen Avenue and captured the side and back of the building.
“We thought the inside was going to serve as the ‘town watering hole’ on the show as well, but it didn’t work out that way,” Bob said.
My connection to Sidelines didn’t start with beer or wings, surprisingly enough. It started with sports chat on Twitter. I always had great back-and-forths with Bob using 140 characters or less before even setting foot in his establishment during various Pittsburgh sports games and, as he reminded me, I even used the platform to display my disdain when I visited for the first time and he wasn’t in the house. Fortunately, I’m an easy-going guy…an order of wings and a couple beers were enough to pacify me.
Another fun story: Do you remember Winter 2014 when one January day brought us a high of -5? I do, mainly because I was at Sidelines that night. Myself, along with about a dozen other beer-crazed troopers, toughed it out through one of the coldest days on Pittsburgh record at a bar that had lost heat earlier in the evening, wearing our coats and gloves and making comments about seeing our breath as we kicked back…sigh…a few cold ones.
I mention that story only because it was the day Sidelines’ Polar Vortex shot was born. A staple on the menu and incredibly popular in the winter months, the Polar Vortex is Pinnacle Peppermint vodka and Blueberry Schnapps. It is the brainchild of Sidelines General Manager Erin Leghart, who’s been part of the Sidelines crew longer than anyone other than Bob and Jessica.
Almost a decade of success led to the opportunity to open a second location a few years back, this one set in Sewickley under the name Sidelines Beer House. Two different areas of town, two semi-different names, but same concept and feel. Good beer. Good food. Friendly atmosphere that feels more like family. And both locations are perfect for watching the black and gold take the ice or the field.
“Most of our customers are like members of the family,” Jessica said proudly. “Our environment is never stuffy. And when customers ask for certain beers on tap or new food items on the menu, we oblige.”
“It’s the customer’s bar and we are just the caretakers,” Bob added. “It’s their place.”
Both Sidelines locales are destinations for beer and celebrate that fact with their own unique Beer Club. It’s free to join and all beer styles are categorized into different lists so you don’t have to force yourself to drink too many of a style outside your comfort zone. If you try 50 beers across all available categories, you’ll earn a Beer Club t-shirt. 100 beers will get you a personalized mug. If you visit either location, you’ll see a very small amount of black mugs for those who’ve put their livers to the test and finished 500 beers.
“The Beer Club has been a great addition to our operations,” Bob stated. “Best of all, since our customers keep their lists on site, it forces our bartenders to learn customer’s names as they retrieve their lists so they can chalk up more beers. It’s pretty cool when your bartender always knows you by name.”
Both locations often hold keg-kicking parties with big drink specials that will not only help you enjoy your beers at a lower price, but help you earn points in the Beer Club at the same time.
When it comes to food, Sidelines has made a name for themselves with their chicken wings. Three times, they’ve brought home awards for their outstanding wings, most recently back-to-back championship crowns at the King of the Wing Competition in the Buffalo category. WPXI also hosted a wing competition in 2012 where Sidelines conquered all.
But while wings may have brought home the hardware, Sidelines is known for much more in the dining category.
“We’re more than just wings,” Bob and Jess informed me. “People rave about our burgers all the time and we’ve gotten just as many compliments on those as we have our wings. We have different food specials throughout the week. Sewickley has a bacon night AND a taco night. We do as much as we can from scratch. We don’t take cheese sticks out of the freezer and toss them in a deep fryer. We take a lot of pride in the food we put out.”
Go ahead: check out the full menus at both Sidelines locations.
All in, the Millvale location has 20 taps and Sewickley touts 24. Both have coolers jam-packed with over 220 bottles to enjoy. Two straight years of chicken wing accolades speaks for itself. Whether it’s the hottest day of the summer or -5 below zero, Sidelines has a stool waiting for you. And 100 beers later, they’ll have a mug waiting for you, too. Stop in today and see what they’re all about!