Kaleidoscopic Egyptian tapestries hang on the stone walls of both Sphinx Cafe locations, while tendrils of jasmine- and mango-scented smoke drift up to high, vaulted ceilings. Though it was once a church, the space now exudes an aura of opulence and leisure that matches the warmth of the coffee houses in Egyptian owner Remy and Syrian Amera's native homes. “Hookah bars are different from the norm [in the U.S.], which is either a restaurant or a bar. It slows you down. You just relax here.”
Plush cushions help patrons relax at both of Sphinx Pittsburgh locations, as do more than 30 imported tobacco flavors that servers can enhance with creative add-ons such as wine, fruit syrups, and talking caterpillars. On some nights, belly dancers, fire eaters, and live musicians wind their way between hookahs. On quieter nights, Ms. Andrawes says you can find people playing card games, chatting, and sampling platters of homemade hummus and kibbeh.
Hookah Bookah wafts the gentle aromas of its tobacco arsenal, allowing patrons to customize their hookahs with various flavors, a number of bowls and hoses, and an appetizing menu of munchables. A single bowl ($9.95) can brim with one of 22 premium, flavored tobaccos, such as mango, jasmine, or honey ($1 for single flavor), or with a heaping of 1 of 14 exotic tobaccos from a list that includes banana split and pomegranate ($3 for single flavor). Lung-powered fog machines can arrive sporting up to three distinct hoses ($4), although Hookah Bookah's policies foster sanitary smoke-ring creation by mandating that no more than three guests may share a multihose hookah and only one person may use a single-hose hookah. Patrons can accessorize their mini-cloud generators with natural coals, ice in the base, or political bumper stickers for additional fees.
The cooks at Harris Grill populate their menu with American classics. They've got a bacon cheeseburger by the name of The Burghermeister Meister Burgher, a dish of marinated chicken skewers dubbed Britney Spears, and a grilled pork dish called Prime Pork Flatiron. To complement seasonal entrees and keep patrons on their toes, the selection of draft beer rotates often.
After each game, the players of the Pittsburgh Rugby Club used to gather for postgame grub and drinks. As they mulled over how much money they spent at these feasts, they proposed, half-jokingly, that they might as well own their own bar. The idea lingered for several years until, in the spring of 1999, one of the club's beloved members, Eddie Short, passed away. Eddie's enthusiasm for opening the bar rivaled that of his comrades, and, with the memory of their teammate firmly etched in their minds, the Pittsburgh Rugby Club raised enough funds to purchase a storefront.
Since opening in the fall of 2000, the gang's pub has appeased palates with an abundance of wraps, burgers, cheesesteaks, and sandwiches. Indoor dining quarters and an outdoor patio accommodate clientele, who can surf on WiFi throughout their meals or watch any Steelers, Penguins, or Pirates games. Music fans can tap their toes to occasional live bands or the sound waves emanating from the jukebox, and music haters can cup their hands over their ears in protest.
AVA is an upscale lounge that dishes out nutritious, Mexican-inspired meals in a softly lit atmosphere. To start, dig into a tortilla chips basket, furnished with cups of green salsa and fried beans ($4, $5 with guacamole). Beer-thirst can be slaked with one of five brews on tap, such as the Franziskaner weissbier ($5.75) and Woodchuck amber cider ($4.50), while myriad bottles, specialty drinks, and wine round out the portal to potable potations. For a main course, fill up on health-conscious eats such as the veggie burrito, a mixture of tofu, rice, spinach, and mozzarella encased in a multigrain tortilla ($7). Satisfy a jones for poultry with a nontraditional torta, which piles breaded chicken, mozzarella, a bean spread, avocados, and chipotle sauce on top of toasted bread or a multigrain wrap ($7). To correct the false belief that avocados are vegetables, order a side of guacamole ($3), proving once and for all that they're actually concentrated happiness.
Local Bar + Kitchen serves up a menu of American grill fare crafted from locally sourced breads, vegetables, and meats that earned the restaurant the title of Best New Bar in Pittsburgh Magazine's 2011 Best of the 'Burgh poll. Before embarking on feasts, diners can warm up appetites with pierogies ($9) that are hand-stuffed in McKees Rocks by disembodied mittens. The signature Geno's meatball linguini flaunts house-made tomato-basil sauce ($12), and the barbecue pulled-pork sandwich adds a zesty edge to its tender filling with fried shallots ($9). Chefs craft the buffalo-chicken pizza by loading a hand-tossed crust with french fries sourced in Somerset and cheese from Monroeville's Turner Dairy Farms before slipping the pie into a wood-fired oven ($13.50 for an entree size). On weekends from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the restaurant slings eclectic brunch fare, such as coffee-dusted flatiron steak accompanied by eggs ($9) or french toast ($8.50), which is stuffed with caramelized banana to weed out baboons disguised as wait staff.