Did you know Spotlight PA is a nonprofit? Learn more about our nonpartisan journalism »
Skip to main content
Main content

Inside the 'smallest bar' in Pennsylvania

Monk’s Bar is at The Priory Hotel, a boutique offering in a former Benedictine monastery in Deutschtown on Pittsburgh’s North Side.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

July 21, 2023
Inside this edition: Last place, beach runs, PA versus the world, 'cuddly urns,'  VR mural, Picklesburgh returns, and the 'smallest bar' in Pennsylvania.
🏆 Q&A: It was a busy week in Pennsylvania news. Were you paying attention? Prove it with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: Another Jan. 6 conviction and the end of legacy admissions.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

What Pennsylvania city is featured in the popular zombie survival video game The Last of Us, the same that inspired the HBO series? Bonus points if you can name the bridge you venture across while playing it.

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One race worth following: Philadelphia Inquirer reporters recently put their wheels (and legs) to the test to determine once and for all what is the fastest route from Philadelphia to Ocean City, NJ (paywall). 
» One cup worth watching: The Women's World Cup kicked off this week, and Pennsylvania players have made it to the big stage, including several from Penn State and Slippery Rock Universities.

» One story worth reading: Nicole Ayers of Nazareth told TikTok how she'd stored her sister's ashes in a stuffed animal. The post went viral, and now she's selling "cuddly urns" to others, per WFMZ.

» One mural worth seeing: A new mural in Sunbury gives people a chance to use their cellphones to interact with the artwork through augmented reality. WNEP explains how it works and where exactly to find it.

» One crowd worth facing: A big dill in Pittsburgh, the very popular (and crowded) Picklesburgh festival returns this weekend with more room. This year, the festival will occupy several downtown streets.

Test your knowledge and celebrate the one-year anniversary of Spotlight PA's State College bureau from 4:30-7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 6 upstairs at Axemann Brewery in Bellefonte. 
The top stories published by Spotlight PA this week.
» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» Post-Sandusky misconduct reforms falter at Penn State

» Dark money group applies school voucher pressure in Pa.

» Democrats have lost their Pa. House majority again

» What past Pa. budget impasses can tell us about this one

» What’s next as Pa. prepares to spend $1.2B on broadband

» How does municipal planning work in your community?

» Higher bar, Capitol guns, and Pa.'s full-time legislature
The Monk's Bar in Pittsburgh, which calls itself the smallest licensed establishment in all of Pennsylvania. (Tanisha Thomas / Spotlight PA)

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

Our favorite quote about Pennsylvania — or from a Pennsylvanian — this week.

“They’re a little rambunctious at times, but I like getting into the water and showing them essential skills that are important to have later on in life."

—Milan Howell on the children she watches over as a Philadelphia lifeguard; Howell spoke to The Inquirer for its "My Summer Job" series

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.

Reader Rena Z. reached out to share this photo of a Unisphere-esque sculpture in Erie after a recent PA Local trivia question on Pennsylvania's connections to the iconic one in New York City. 

An outdoor Unisphere-esque sculpture of a horse pulling a globe.
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

Pittsburgh is one of the stops main characters Joel and Ellie make during their venture in The Last of Us video game. Sadly, the city did not make the cut for the hit HBO series and was replaced by ... Kansas City.

A second season is in the works and likely to be impacted by the ongoing actor and writers' strike in Hollywood, per Screen Rant.

Thanks for reading PA Local. We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 

Support vital journalism for Pennsylvania. The future of local news is in your hands. Donate now.
Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

Copyright © Spotlight PA / The Philadelphia Inquirer, All rights reserved.

Spotlight PA
PO Box #11728
Harrisburg, PA 17108-1728


You're receiving this email because you subscribed to PA Local.

This email was sent to: <<Email Address>>

Receiving too many emails from Spotlight PA?

To change your newsletter subscriptions and frequency, you can update your preferences.

To stop receiving fundraising messages, you can update your preferences and select "Opt out of Fundraising."

To stop receiving ALL EMAILS from Spotlight PA, including all of our investigations and newsletters, you can completely unsubscribe here.