The second night of March Madness is on TV at Jose and Tony’s on this too-cold-for-March Friday night. But unlike most other nights, little attention is being paid to television sports. Raucous parties are nothing new at the McFarland Road institution, but this is more like an uproarious wake. After almost 50 years of serving tacos, wings and (seriously) the best margaritas in Pittsburgh, Jose and Tony’s-—also known as Ho’s, Hoes and Toes, Hoser’s, and The Clubhouse—was just a few weeks away from closing its doors. Although hopes are high for the new Cuban/Dominican place expected to open this summer, there was still sorrow in the air.
“When we first heard, we were crying,” said Stephanie Meuschenborn who, to hear her tell it, moved from Germany to Jose and Tony’s about eight years ago. “I watched my first Steelers game here. I saw Germany win the World Cup—we had a viewing party. All of the friends I’ve made are here.”
Stephanie’s friend, Tracy Bowers, agrees.
Tracy met her husband, Ed, at Jose and Tony’s. “We had our engagement party here,” she says, adding that owner Shawn Bernarding closed the bar for a wedding and reception after-party, in October 2017.
Siblings Jan and Bob Ferguson are nostalgic as well. “We’ve seen Steelers Super Bowl and Penguins Stanley Cup wins,” says Bob. “We had our dad’s 90th birthday party here, and his wake.”
Kate Abel, now a Dormont borough council member, says she essentially grew up here. Her parents, Hope and John, used to come in when they were dating. When they got married and had Kate, the family became restaurant regulars.
“I’ve been coming here since I was three. A lot of the people here came to my high school graduation party.” Longtime bartender Stephanie McDine “made me my first legal drink, a strawberry margarita.” They’re very good, she adds.
The long history of Jose and Tony’s is a little hard to put together, but everyone has a piece, it seems. Brenden Clark, who grew up on Questend Avenue, remembers when the building housed Alan’s Bicycle Shop and an insurance agency. In 1969, a restaurant called the Taco Shop (or Taco Shack), opened, making it almost certainly one of the first places in Pittsburgh to serve tacos. Ron Teti and Joe Borza, sales representatives for the Pittsburgh Press and Post-Gazette, were the owners by the mid-1970s. They’re the ones who named it Jose and Tony’s. In 1998, they sold it to Shawn and the late Guy Brown, whose photo hangs above the bar.
Stephanie McDine has worked at Jose and Tony’s for more than 15 years. “I’m so grateful for the lifelong friends and memories I’ve made over the years. My fellow employees and customers are like my second family. You don’t come across places like this very often.”
“It definitely feels bittersweet after 21 years,” says Bernarding. “There are a lot of things I love about the place.” But the pressures of working a full-time job in addition to owning a restaurant have built up over the years: “You have to make a lot of sacrifices. I’m ready to reap the rewards of the ones I’ve made.”