This week I took a trip to a Pennsylvania bar that claims to be the smallest in all the state.
Monk’s Bar is at The Priory Hotel, a boutique offering in a former Benedictine monastery in Deutschtown on Pittsburgh’s North Side — 614 Pressley St., to be exact. The lobby was so quiet at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday that you could hear a pin drop. And I did not run into any hotel guests before finding the desk receptionist who pointed me in the direction of the bar, which measures just 10 by 18 feet.
While I was unable to confirm the bar’s “smallest” claim through calls to the state’s tavern association and liquor control board — spokespeople for both said they don’t track that information — it is indeed tiny.
There were just three leather stools practically mushed together at the bar (seen as a duo here), and 11 chairs and several small tables total elsewhere in the room. (Here’s a video.)
I was the only person there for most of my visit. A few guests staying at the hotel popped their heads in to get a glimpse of the pint-sized place or "mini-bar." Some were familiar with it; others were fascinated.
The highlight of my night was the lone bartender, Maureen Sullivan, who emerged from a small back room to greet me.
“I like talking to people. It’s so fun,” she said when asked if I could interview her for this story.
Sullivan has been a bartender for 33 years — two of those years spent at Monk’s. She said her fascination with the Priory led to her taking the job. “It’s nice to talk about history,” she added.
Sullivan meant it. She offered a history lesson and tour of the hotel after only 10 minutes of chatting. She said the building went up in 1888 and served as a priory (hence the name) for Benedictine monks and priests to gather and live communally. Some were ministered to an adjacent church called St. Mary’s. Sullivan eagerly walked me around, showing me the building’s much larger dining areas and the Grand Hall where special events like wedding receptions are held.
The bar debuted in 2011. In a past life the space served as the priory’s library and contained vaulted archives and valuable documents. The vault now holds a boatload of booze. The Priory’s website touts a “huge collection of top shelf liquors, an excellent wine list, and an ever-changing list of microbrews.” (Monks were no strangers to alcohol either.)
The bar’s name isn’t the only allusion to the building’s past. Two framed sheets behind the bar explain the Priory’s history, and an oil painting of priests gathering at a dinner table hangs on a nearby wall.
While Sullivan went to retrieve snacks, a patron asked me if she needed to ring the bell to get the barkeep’s attention. An overhead sign reads: “For whom does the bell toll? It tolls for … Monktini.”
That’s the name of the bar’s most popular drink (and Sullivan’s favorite to make). Personally, I am on a side mission to becoming a martini girl (so far not successful), but I wanted to give this one a try, and I’m happy I did. The martini consists of raspberry infused vodka, Chambord, and fresh lime juice. The plum-colored concoction had a slightly bitter fruity aftertaste but left me feeling fancy. Did I mention the glass was huge?
I had arrived at the bar expecting literally very little, and I got it. But I also received exceptional service, a history lesson, and a big league cocktail. Sullivan wasn't sure about the bar's claim of being the smallest licensed establishment in the commonwealth. But after one massive Monktini, I wasn't sure it mattered anymore.
—Tanisha Thomas, Newsletter writer / reporter