a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Friday, May 11, 2012

Saddling up to this bar

The Cobb Dog at Pittsburgh's eclectic new bar, The Rowdy Buck, on the city's trendy South Side (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Somewhere between a Johnny Cash tune and an acoustic version of Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler" over the speakers at a new Pittsburgh bar I take a liking to my barstool today like a herd of cattle looking for a shady place to rest.

Maybe it's the urban-sheik "cowgirl" bartender or the rustic lodge decor that brings me back to the Rowdy Buck, the newest in a string of bars on the Pittsburgh's South Side owned by two entrepreneurs whom have helped to reinvent this part of the city.

Most likely I return because I am drawn to this watering hole's novel approach to warming the belly.

"We're also going for the craft cocktail bar theme," the bartender explains while we discuss the place at 1325 E. Carson St., which, at first blush, seems better suited for a roughneck out to belt down a shot or six of rye whiskey than a dude looking to sip a fancy martini.

The interior is lined with log-shaped pine siding. The ceiling above the bar is appropriately covered in shave tree bark. Across the room a frame holds a Boy Scout uniform and camping gear not far from deer antlers hanging from two ceiling beams. On a shelf behind the bar rests a wonderful, handmade whirligig - a miniature wooden lumberjack frozen in time beside a row of three pine trees, unless, of course, a strong wind comes along and puts this gadget to work.

OK. I've heard of craft beer by now in this misunderstood city, where nearly 10 percent of beer drinkers are snobs and prefer more-flavorful brew crafted by independent breweries over that produced by big corporations. But the craft cocktail concept needs a bit of explanation by the knowledgeable mixologist behind the bar.

She says bar customers, today, are being lured to pre-Prohibition cocktails because of a recent trend introduced in New York and Chicago. Bartenders there are being greeted with accolades by adding such an odd ingredient as a splash of beet juice to the traditional gin martini.

My pal Dash Kaplan at Bocktown in nearby Robinson Township - last year's Pittsburgh Magazine bartender of the year - calls his version of that mixed drink the Pepper Beet-Tini. He concocts it with Absolut Peppar vodka with a garnish of a slice of pickled beet, spear of pickled asparagus and jalapeƱo stuffed olive. It doesn't get more creative than that behind the bar.

Give this guy a hoppy glass of India Pale Ale and I'm happy. And this establishment, which has yet to install a draft beer system, has plenty of bottles of craft beer to choose from.

The Rowdy Buck, which opened March 16, introduces its cocktail theme with an expensive absinthe fountain, which is planted in the center of the bar until it needs shielded from klutzy patrons.

The glass and silver fountain holds ice water to drip over a caramelized sugar cube balanced on a spoon over a glass to flavor one $17 shot of absinthe.

That's pretty fancy for a bar whose menu features little else than 11 hot dogs, vegetarian chili, beef stew and curried potato salad.

But hold your horses these are not your ordinary hot dogs.

One bears the name The Tokyo and it's topped with seaweed, radish and wasabi mayo - a recipe that is sure "to melt your kimono," the menu promises.

I select The Cobb Dog served with lettuce, tomato, avocado, bacon and crumbled blue cheese. The sandwich is pretty tasty, even though it's difficult to find the hot dog buried under all that dressing.

Between bites I giggle upon noticing a large frame beside the bar holding a cast of a bigfoot "footprint" beside a photograph of this elusive ape-like creature.

This bar owned Scott Kramer and Steve Zumoff oddly sits next door their Beehive, a great coffee shop that appeals to grungy artsy-types. These guys also own three other local bars, include the hoopy, trailer park-inspired Double Wide Grill, a restaurant that is about to open a second location in Cranberry Township, Pa.

All things combined, Pittsburgh is lucky to have these two cowpokes.

A bigfoot display is among the kooky decorations at this bar. (Scott Beveridge photo)

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