The Independent Brewing Company
By Michael Jehn
Like many of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods in these times of rapid transformation, one thing that I’ve noticed about Squirrel Hill is how often things change, particularly along the commercial corridors of Forbes and Murray Avenues. When one restaurant or storefront is replaced with another, which happens at a seemingly baffling pace, I often find myself stupefied by the unexpected switch—even if, as often occurs, the transition had actually taken place months earlier.
The dramatic fire on May 14th at the corner of Murray and Forward, effectively clearing long-vacant structures including the legendary Poli restaurant for new development, is among the most tangible recent alterations of the community’s bustling urban landscape. Some changes have been hard to swallow, leaving behind a lingering bitterness and myriad poignant memories for Squirrel Hill residents: the departures of A Pleasant Present, Barnes & Noble, or beloved Gullifty’s, for example. Other changes, of course, have been refreshing: Eat’n Park’s all-over improvements and facelift, the Carnegie Library’s eye-catching renovation several years ago, or the repurposing of Gullifty’s as the expanded Friendship Circle headquarters.
One recent development to applaud is the addition of the Independent Brewing Company to Squirrel Hill’s roster of eateries, pubs, coffee/tea shops and hang-out spots. I headed out with a friend one afternoon last September thinking that we were bound for beers, burgers, and the familiar smoky sports-bar atmosphere of Fanattics only to discover that the place had mysteriously undergone a makeover, changing costume and personality completely to emerge as a new venue called “The Independent.” I was in for a welcome surprise.
The Independent Brewing Company, effectively opening for business five days after Fanattics shut down (with contractor-free remodeling provided by friends) operates under the belief that there’s strength in numbers for local craft breweries competing against mass-produced American-style lagers. Regional brewing businesses find a solid platform for patronage here, and a great deal of attention is devoted to the casual yet personal customer experience. The number of taps is small but the drinks are carefully selected with an ever-evolving repertoire of beers and cocktails. By establishing strong relationships with local breweries, The Independent is able to guarantee a menu of fresh, often brand-new brews that celebrate the spirit and talents of Pennsylvania breweries. The cuisine, prepared by a skilled staff, is adventurous—not the usual burgers, wings and onion rings. The owners are Princeton-educated lawyers with extensive home brewing experience and passion for what they do. Importantly, the staff are glad to make personal recommendations. The Independent, in short, is a must-stop destination for Craft connoisseurs and generalized beverage lovers alike.
I recently attended a fundraiser for the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition at The Independent. It was a beautiful mid-spring evening and the restaurant’s storefront was open to the street. A diverse array of volunteers, civic leaders, Coalition members and coordinators packed the bar-side half of the space. Much to my pleasure, I noticed that the musical soundtrack for the evening, barely audible over the glorious chaos of the crowd’s steady roar, came from a turntable spinning classic vinyl behind the bar. One of the bartenders laughed, saying that she’d received a complaint from a young female patron about the music: “What is this?!” (It was Peter Gabriel. Thank you, Independent, for keeping it real!) I stayed long after the fundraiser was over, growing increasingly hazy-headed from perhaps a few too many mixed drinks and brews, mingling with friends old and new. I couldn’t help but think that Squirrel Hill had been missing a place like this for years—and that it felt like home for a man who moved down the road to long-dry Wilkinsburg four years ago but still fancies himself an honorary Squirrel Hill guy.
The Independent Brewing Company is located at 1704-1706 Shady Avenue, just a skip up the hill from Forbes Avenue and directly across the street from Starbucks. Please visit www.independentpgh.com to view their craft beer offerings, food menu, and signature cocktails & spirits listings. You can also learn more about the restaurant and its unique vision at their website, check store hours, and peruse current specials.