We recently stopped by Upper Lawrenceville’s Allegheny Wine Mixer, a nice spot to throw back a glass or two of wine with a few friends and devour awesome cheese and cured meats. A welcoming, cozy space and hip ambiance make this one of the top destinations in Lawrenceville to throw one back. Daily specials, theme nights and DJs are the newest additions to this neighborhood gem. Their cheese plates are mostly provided from their next door neighbors, Wild Purveyors and their bread is freshly shipped from nearby La Gourmandine. We had a chance to chat with Jamie, the owner, during our visit and snap a few photos of the space. Here’s what we discovered.
Jamie Patten: I started out working in wine retail while living in Richmond Virginia, as well as a couple restaurants and a wine bar there. When we moved to Pittsburgh, I decided to stick with it and went out to California where I took a ten week wine training course at PCI in San Jose. It was intended to prep you for the Court of Master Sommeliers Certification. There’s four levels, I took the first two, which makes you a certified sommelier, and came back to Pittsburgh. I worked at Silk Elephant and briefly at Toast before taking the job as wine and beverage manager at the Pittsburgh Golf Club for two and a half years.
JP: After about a year, I knew that working at a club wasn’t for me. I had thought off and on of opening my own business and it seemed like now or never. Since retail wine wasn’t an option in Pittsburgh, I started thinking about a wine bar, but I’d never really felt comfortable in the them. I had visited a couple places in San Francisco that seemed closer to what I would want, Hotel Biron and Hidden Vine (now the Barrel Room). Taking some inspiration from them, and adding my own twist, I tried to create a place that I would be comfortable in as a patron. I knew a couple people I’d worked with in the past who I thought were very talented. Lisa Walter came on board first to help me put it all together, and we lured Dawn Gillespie in soon after. My husband John was enlisted to handle the cheese aspect, he even went to The Cheese School of San Francisco for a workshop. At this point in my life, I’m not trying to build an empire, I just want to create a work place that doesn’t make you want to cry at the thought of going in to work, and make a living sharing with people the things we really do love. I knew that people have a preconceived notion of what a wine bar is like: a stuffy place with ferns and canned jazz that feels like a hotel lobby. We just wanted a name that played against type. Step Brothers is the stupidest movie ever, but we can’t stop watching it.
JP: We paid for the entertainment rider on our liquor license, thinking we were going to have a refurbished 45 jukebox when we opened. That idea got scrapped, but we had the rider anyway. I wasn’t planning to have live music and worried it would put off our regulars. But we needed something to bump up Thursday nights, so we gave it a try and people really liked it. I figured if we kept it to the same night every week, there’d be no unexpected surprises. We started with people we knew, other than that its just been word of mouth. We’ve only recently started looking around for other artists, so we may be mixing it up a little in the future.
JP: When we were first putting this together, a lot of people told us Lawrenceville was not right for a wine bar, but I knew that our bar was a different kind of place from what they were thinking. Lawrenceville was always the #1 choice for where we wanted to open. Vibe-wise, it’s just a perfect fit: diverse, funky, gritty, yet still very traditionally (and recognizably) Pittsburgh. Upper Lawrenceville gained the edge because of lower rents, more spaces to choose from and a chance to get in on the ground floor with some complementary businesses on the same block like Wild Purveyors and Cure. It’s hard to anticipate how development will shake out here. There’s definitely a bit more of a pioneer feel up at this end of Butler, and while we’re all for one big united, contiguous neighborhood, it would be nice if Upper Lawrenceville could retain its own distinct feel. (We kind of think of Lawrenceville as the Chile of Pittsburgh neighborhoods: long and narrow with a broad range of climates/vibes from one end to the other.) The riverfront development project is a big wildcard in all this, of course. Hopefully Lawrenceville will stay Lawrenceville.
JP: First of all, no one should be intimidated by wine. It is the one thing historically shared by every social class. Its what peasants drank because they could make it themselves, its what kings drank because its good. It’s just rotten grapes. That said, there are definitely wines that are what we call more “friendly”, meaning fruit forward, and immediately pleasing, maybe with some residual sugar. New world wines from warm weather climates, California, Argentina, Australia and Chile – these can be a good place to start, then if you like you can move on to things more austere that are more of an acquired taste – old world wines that are drier and more complex from France, Italy, Portugal, (Spain’s pretty friendly). These are all just generalizations of course. I also like to ask people what kind of foods they like to get a gauge on their preferences. Do you like fruit or veggies more? Fish or steak? Dark or milk Chocolate? Coke or Mountain Dew?
The next time you’re in the neighborhood, make it a point to stop by Allegheny Wine Mixer to try some of their delicious wine, craft beers and eats!