Nearby but outside the core, new owner Jason Lardo of Integrity Construction contemplates new use for the 53,000 square foot, three-level building that used to house Family Resources.

While some bemoan the gentrification of East Liberty–how many minority businesses have closed since 2010? one tweeted in response to this article the day of publication–the data on the neighborhood speaks more of its humble roots. Based on 2010 census, the data from local company Niche shows that population is small, at 6,236 with a below average median income of $25,757. The median rent is only $665, and a large percentage—82%–rent as opposed to own. The average home price is $81,500.

It’s ripe for opportunity.

But not fussy
After Bobby Fry and partners’ success with Bar Marco in the Strip District, Fry saw the opportunity in East Liberty. “We wanted to build a café for the neighborhood that encompasses everything going on here,” he says of  The Livermore’s craft cocktail and tapas bar. During the day the S.Highland Avenue business pulls double duty as a juice bar.

Inspired by Brooklyn’s “loudish, but not fussy” culture of casual run-ins with friends before and after dinner, The Livermore is just one stop in what’s become East Liberty’s foodie mecca at that junction.

“We just love that corner,” says restaurateur Rick Stern, who co-owns Spoon at Highland and Centre and around the corner, BRGR, two spots he categorizes as “casual fine dining.” They opened in 2010 across from the Plum Pan Asian Kitchen.

Just up the street more dining options await, from the popular diner-style bar Kelly’s to the cozy and stylish Paris 66 Bistro. Everyday’s a Sundae recently opened its doors on the same small but retail-packed side of the block. More independent retail can be found–next door to The Livermore is Trim, a men’s underwear shop and the only one of its kind in Pittsburgh, and around the bend on Penn is Zeke’s Coffee, a beloved independent coffee shop that opened in 2010.

Stern says based on the demographics and trajectory of East Liberty dining (Notion  relocated from Oakmont and opened just doors away), “this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Could be. “There’s a natural energy here,” says Fry who notes that East Liberty is built like a campus—with its un-Pittsburgh-like flatness and commerce both in its core and out to its edges. He notes that the Obama Academy was just named one of the top 50 schools in the state and, along with  the Chamber of Commerce,  he and local entrepreneur Bobby Zappala just co-hosted the first monthly jazz fest on a closed-down Baum Blvd. It drew 1000 people. (Look for the next one the second Saturday of June.)

Already, Fry and partners are expanding. Construction is underway next door at The Livermore for an extension into the former Shadow Lounge, a pioneer and catalyst in the area.

At The Livermore/photo by Rob Larson

At The Livermore/photo by Rob Larson

The long and stylish hardwood bar—mason jars with silverware on top and an antique chandelier overhead—seats more than a dozen. “The back-bar is just for display,” Fry says. “I don’t have to turn my back to you. I don’t have to turn my back to the church across the street.” And, as if speaking for a lot of people in the community right now, he adds, “And I’m not going to turn my back to the neighborhood.”

NEXTpittsburgh editor Tracy Certo contributed to this article.