I was a freelance writer for Print, Pittsburgh’s East End community newspaper, published and distributed exclusively in print. This piece is about the opening of Wallace’s TapRoom at Hotel Indigo and how it was influenced (and influenced by) the East Liberty neighborhood surrounding it. Original print article was printed on April 28, 2016. Text friendly version is below.
“East Liberty inspires Wallace’s TapRoom at Hotel Indigo”
By Danielle Levsky
The Governor’s Hotel was said to have been a speakeasy during Prohibition. On the outside of the building — one of four structures that make up East Liberty’s 135-room Hotel Indigo at 123 N. Highland Ave. — is an arch with a “CLW” crest engraved upon it for C.L. Wallace, the architect.
To pay homage to the history of the building and and its architect, the Hotel Indigo management named its restaurant/bar Wallace’s TapRoom.
“In the 1920s and ’30s, East Liberty was hoppin’,” Jose Rodriguez, executive chef and food and beverage director of Wallace’s TapRoom, said. “Everyone worked downtown, but came here for a good time.”
The hotel’s General Manager Jordan Bartels wanted to make sure that Wallace’s TapRoom wouldn’t become a typical lackluster hotel restaurant. So the restaurant is run as if it were a free-standing business, using different uniforms and name tags from the rest of the hotel, for instance.
In addition, a program created by InterContinental Hotels Group, which manages Hotel Indigo, encouraged Rodriguez and Bartels to incorporate local products into their dishes and drinks — while maintaining a Prohibition-era style spin on cocktails. Governor’s Hotel Co. LP owns the hotel.
Wallace’s has 16 beers on tap, with five rotating, as well as a selection of cocktails that pay homage to the 1920s and Pittsburgh history. Wigle Whiskey in the Strip District, Boyd & Blair in Glenshaw, East End Brewing in Larimer and Penn Brewery on the North Side provide brews and spirits. The restaurant receives a local house coffee blend from nearby Zeke’s Coffee and sodas from Natrona Bottling Co. in Natrona Heights. Products from Thoma’s Meat Market in Saxonburg, Mediterra Bakehouse in Robinson, Turner Dairy Farms in Penn Hills and Olive & Marlowe in East Liberty are scattered throughout the menu. To decorate, the restaurant brought in light fixtures from Luxe Pittsburgh, just across the street.
“We really take pride in the story behind how everything gets to the table, from the drink to the meal,” Rodriguez said.
This is Rodriguez’s fourth restaurant opening in his 20 years of working for IHG, and each one has been different, he says.
Chef Alexander Feher, who currently works in the IHG-managed InterContinental Miami, was Rodriguez’s mentor when he started out in his hometown of New York City. Feher told him he needed to go out and see the world.
After working in different IHG properties in Amsterdam, Cairo, Portugal, Germany, Wales, London, Mexico and Panama, Rodriguez returned to the U.S. and moved to Pittsburgh with his family in the spring of 2014.
He worked as a chef at the Mansions on Fifth boutique hotel until June 2015, when he connected with Bartels and rejoined the IHG “family.” Wallace’s TapRoom opened in September 2015.
In addition to local proprietors, Wallace’s has made efforts to incorporate the community into its business.
“We have invested in the community by creating jobs, buying local and partnering with organizations like Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh Zone 5 Police,” Bartels said.
According to Rodriguez, 50 percent of the staff are from the neighborhood and 85 percent of patrons are locals.
“The important thing to recognize is that East Liberty was great, went through tough times and can be made great again,” Rodriguez said. “We want to get the people here involved. It’s really nice that [Wallace’s] is here for them and that they can be a part of it.”
Bob Goode, who has lived in East Liberty most of his life, is a frequent customer at Wallace’s TapRoom.
“I find the place lovely,” Goode said. “I’m excited for East Liberty, for places like this.”
Bartels supports further community engagement by encouraging employees to participate in weekly charity programs. Employees are encouraged to dress casually on Fridays and wear Pittsburgh sports gear during Black and Gold Sundays. Everyone that participates donates a minimum of $5 to whatever cause the restaurant is supporting at the time. Recently, Wallace’s TapRoom raised roughly $1,000 for people affected by the Flint, Mich., water crisis.
“I think what we’ve done here … speaks volumes to our understanding of the changing landscape and that we want to be a part of the solution,” Bartels said.
For information, call 412-665-0555 or visit hotelindigo.com/pittsburghpa.