Back in the ’80s, I went to college two hours northwest Pittsburgh. Customarily, when we came home for Thanksgiving break, everyone met on the night before the big holiday at the Saloon in Mt Lebanon. I don’t know why. We were from all over the area, but that’s where everyone went, and it was packed to the brim with college students.
Thirty-five years later, the booths and the big hair are gone, but the tradition remains.
The Saloon, its owner Jim “Shep” Sheppard and his son, Keith, are as familiar and beloved a fixture in this community as any landmark. They can both be found delivering drinks, clearing tables, refilling supplies and doing whatever needs to be done to help the place run smoothly. And they’ve done a great job for almost 50 years.
They don’t need to rely on nostalgia to keep them relevant though, as they have excelled in keeping up with the times. Keith has transformed the rooftop bar into a rather cool space, with renovations that included a retractable louvered roof that closes when it detects rain. There’s also new turf for a cushy walking surface, portable heaters, slushie machines and one of the best sunset views in the South Hills.
Keith has also expanded and upgraded their bourbon and liquor selection to satisfy the most stalwart of connoisseurs. I’m a beer drinker myself, so I appreciate the large and ever-changing selection of craft beers on tap, and I always make sure to check in on my Untappd app to get my profile picture and beer selection at the bottom of the beer list screen, like a teeny tiny wall of fame.
As with any longtime establishment, The Saloon certainly has its own urban legends. Back in the ’90s, Penguins players would come for lunch after practice at Mt. Lebanon Ice Rink. Sometimes after a game, they would play pool in the basement before joining the crowded bar for ladies’ night. And there are more stories than you can count about people meeting their significant others there.
Many evenings, you can find Shep and his entourage gathered in the back corner of the bar, like they … well … own the place. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to sit there, always accept because you are now considered among the Saloon elite!
The Saloon also is a popular haven for date nights, reunions, birthday parties, multi-generational gatherings and the place to watch the game, whether it be The Steelers, the Pens or your favorite college team. And it’s the only bar in town where you can cheer the Blue Devils to their state championship victory! (We’re all pulling for a repeat.)
Located in the heart of Uptown, the Saloon is convenient in case you’ve had one too many and you need to leave your car and walk home. And if you’re visiting from out of town, staying at the hotel across the street, it is the obvious destination to immerse yourself in the local culture.
But, you can’t have a great bar without great bartenders and the Saloon’s bartenders are top notch! With Jon, Tony, Chris, Joe, Megan and Susannah (who else am I forgetting?), you’ll never wait for a drink. They are professional, friendly, attentive and highly skilled at remembering and producing your large drink orders. Their superpowers guarantee that my Amstel Light will be on the bar before the words even leave my lips! And it’s always accompanied by a smile!
These days, the night before Thanksgiving is still a college student tradition that guarantees a line out the door and around the corner, so many of the regulars decide to go somewhere else. Let the kids have their fun on that one night. But we’ll be back later in the week, you can be sure!