A warren is a network of interconnecting rabbit burrows. Spencer Warren is a cocktail pioneer who hopes Pittsburghers will hop on over to his namesake watering hole, which opened in February.
Located on Seventh Street downtown, The Warren Bar and Burrow is an unpretentious neighborhood joint that features hand-crafted, yet more affordably priced drinks. There’s a rotating menu of 12 specialty concoctions – all 10 bucks a pop – but staff bartenders are trained to mix hundreds of libations, including classics like the Manhattan and the Side Car.
“People expect to go and get a good Manhattan,” says Warren, who has been working in the industry for 20 years. Today, “even chain restaurants have cocktail programs. If you don’t, people will go to where they’re familiar.”
Back in 2008, he opened Embury, a pre-prohibition-style bar located inside the Strip District’s Firehouse Lounge. Although the venue is now closed, Embury lives on from time to time in the form of boozy pop-ups at local establishments where Warren has developed cocktail programs, including Round Corner Cantina and Butcher and The Rye.
Warren, who help establish the Pittsburgh chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild, believes now is a Golden Age for mixologists, thanks to the rise in craft distilleries. Fresh ingredients, and the right balance of them, he says, are integral to making a good cocktail.
But you won’t find recipes listed on The Warren’s drink menu — just flavor profiles.
Amaro’s A Day Away, for instance, is described as “cherry, herbal and fizzy,” while Faust’s Pact is “herbal, spicy and refreshing.”
“People are scared of certain ingredients,” Warren explains. “A lot of people had a bad gin and tonic in college. That fake, pine-needly taste is what they remember. We are supposed to bring out the flavors in the gin, like citrus and rose petal. It’s meant to encourage people to try something out of their realm.”
While the Warren’s “retro” pricing makes experimentation more affordable, less adventurous types can opt for beer and wine. There’s even an on-site wine shop.
Seating for approximately 100 patrons is located both inside and outside of the bar, which is adjacent to Penn Cove Eatery, a fast-casual spot that specializes in grab-and-go soups, salads, sushi and other seafood dishes. The Warren’s in-house chef also churns out bar staples, including fish and chips, chicken wings, burgers and fries. The inclusion of grilled lamb, frog legs and vegan beet sliders keep it interesting.
Warren, who serves as a consultant and has won numerous awards for his cocktail expertise, is always looking for new ways to wow taste buds.
“My favorite thing to do is to go to places and try their cocktails,” he says, adding that an influx of new, young bartenders is revitalizing the Downtown scene. “I like to see how the cocktail culture is evolving.”