As the Inaugural Pittsburgh Libations Week rapidly approaches with our Kickoff Bash scheduled for Friday, October 12th, Breaking Brews – The Official Blog of PLW – brings you up close and personal with the sponsors who have joined the cause and are making all this possible with a new feature: The PLW Sponsor Spotlight. Men and women operating businesses of all shapes, sizes, and missions have helped shape our culture and continue to push it forward as Pittsburgh strives to cement its legacy as a true adult beverage destination across the globe.
The Modern Cafe
Pittsburgh’s North Side and North Shore neighborhood 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 or concert taking place in the North Shore, or all of the above.
Prohibition…you think about everything that word entails and, in the age of craft libations 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 But once the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition on December 5th, 1933, The Modern Cafe poured its first drink shortly after, kicking off what’s been an 85-year run serving Pittsburghers the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.
If you fancy a tasty adult beverage, which I’m assuming you do, then The Modern Cafe will undoubtedly hook you up with something you love, no matter what 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 right) from Modern Cafe.
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. They captured 2nd Place for The Spartan, 1st for their Spicy Sicilian and Gyro Melt, and People’s Choice for the aforementioned Greek Cheese Steak.
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.
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!