Belly Up to the New Year ... ... but Get a Ride Home at the End of the Night

By Phillipps, Eddie | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), December 30, 2018 | Go to article overview

Belly Up to the New Year ... ... but Get a Ride Home at the End of the Night


Phillipps, Eddie, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Many revelers mark New Year's Eve as the perfect time to belly up to the bar and welcome in a new year.

And veteran bartenders and staff, who oversee the region's traditional celebrations, say they have seen it all on this night when even couch potatoes come out to party hardy.

"Way, way back, this in the 1980s, we were not open for business on New Year's Eve. So all my steady customers - about 100 - come to my tiny house. They would celebrate and on New Year's Day I would have about 20 people laying around because none could get home,'' recalled Bob Paganico, owner of Bob's Garage, which is a landmark watering hole in Blawnox.

"I used to work in San Antonio. We had one guy and girl who started out the night dressed to the nines. She was wearing a particularly high-end cocktail dress but as they kept drinking and partying her dress got ruined and it was not looking nice at all. Customers joked that she went from looking like a star on a 'Real Housewives' reality show to a caricature from a run-down trailer park,'' remembered Rick Bufalini, now manager of Olive or Twist in the Cultural District.

Rachel Wiefling has a more poignant memory. "Our assistant general manager proposed to his girlfriend at midnight here (Jergel's Rhythm Grille) during the midnight balloon drop one year." Ms. Wiefling is promotions director at the grille in Marshall.

"It was like, three or four days after New Year's. This guy, he's not a regular, but he's a friend of one. He tells me he finally found his car. He was looking for it for days. It was parked only a couple of blocks away." recalled a longtime bartender based on the South Side who also declined to be named in this story.

While liquor certainly flows on New Year's Eve, the drinks ordered depends on the crowd and bar specialties.

Bob's Garage is a friendly neighborhood bar that can aptly be described as festive. Mr. Paganico said it takes two weeks to put up all the holiday decorations and neon lights that cover just about every inch of free space on the walls, ceilings and doors. Here, clientele are regulars (think "Cheers") who are served by bartender Nick Thorn of Penn Hills, who is Mr. Paganico's grandson. Just as the family stays true to the business, customers stay true to their roots mostly sticking with beer, even though flutes bubbling with Champagne will be passed around at midnight on New Year's.

At a martini bar, such as Olive or Twist, partygoers tend to get a little fancier and order upscale cocktails they typically do not drink at other times of the year. Favorites for holidays are Lemon Drop martinis (vodka and freshly squeezed citrus) and a rich creamy martini called a Birthday Cake, made with cream, whipped vodka, chocolate liquor and garnished with a signature rim of honey and colorful sprinkles.

Classic cocktails have been making a comeback at lots of bars in the region, especially the Old Fashioned, made with whiskey, bitters, orange peel and maraschino cherries. …

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