Bars where Pete has had a Drink (5,807 bars; 1,754 bars in Seattle) - Click titles below for Lists:

Bars where Pete has had a drink

Sunday, February 12, 2023

#5001 - Le Mardi Gras, Pittsburgh, PA - 2/10/2023

Joe Costanza, legendary former owner
Le Mardi Gras, Pittsburgh, PA

Le Mardi Gras is a smoky, anachronistic, classic dive that seems to divulge a faded, classy past. Upon entering for the first time it immediately feels comfortable, evoking a history of fond memories and animated conversations, and surely just as many that have been blacked out of memory.

This location has been around only since 2002, but it brought the murals and, at least it seems, the vibe, from the old location a couple blocks away and around the corner. The original opened in 1954 at 742 Bellefonte Street (that building has long since been razed), and in the early years catered to the city's elites. The bar history on the web site mentions members of  Duquesne Country Club, Rolling Rock Country Club, Ligonier Country Club, Sewickley Country Club, and Fox Chapel Country Club; an article on the wall notes that one would not be served without a jacket and tie. Later the bar was known for its mix of classes and people, professors chatting with welfare recipients, city officials with some of the town's most unusual characters, etc.

Le Mardi Gras, Pittsburgh, PA
The bar history also lists visits from various celebrities including Rocky Marciano, Harvey Kietel, Sammy Koufax, Sam McDowell, Billy Conn, Steven Carlson, Alice Cooper, George Clooney, Russell Crowe, John Kerry, and Ted Danson. Then there were the ink-stained wretches from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and Pittsburgh Press, as well as author Richard Florida, and all the professors from various local universities.

Probably the most prominent physical features are the New Orleans Mardi Gras themed, smoke drenched murals from the original place. These were done some 60-some years ago by Tom Kouris, who taught at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for many years and is said to have been another regular of the bar. Several of the featured characters were based on Pittsburgh personalities, and modeled by other Mardi Gras patrons. 

Le Mardi Gras, Pittsburgh, PA

Another character, long-time owner Joe Costanza, hangs beside the bar, in a lighted portrait and gilt frame. "Papa Joe" ran the place during most of those halcyon years, dispensing advice along with strong drinks, and to many across the city known as simply "the greatest bartender in the world." There's no doubting that he was a remarkable character. Among the other memories, another framed article on the bar walls from a 1978 Pittsburgher Magazine includes these anecdotes:

  • 'People like Bud the Bandit, Eata, Frank the Mexican, Clyde, P.L., Antonia, the Cagneys, Dirty Dan, Red, Officer McGovernor, Darce and The Lion. Joe boasts "we get them all -- judges, writers, cops, thieves, politicians, you name it."'
  • "Joe remains the dominant force behind the saloon's popularity. He's the reason dozens of folks will stand butt-to-butt on a Friday or Saturday night, bellowing over the blare of that crummy music, squinting through the dim, smoke-filled air, squeezed into a room that would comfortably accommodate one third their number."
  • 'Joe seems happiest when he's dealing. For a dollar, he'll pour you a very heavy shot. But for down-and-outers, he's been know to barter a handful of change for some odd combinations of scotch, gin, wine and 7-ounce beers. He has his own currency too, as drinks are purchased in hogs and bits -- half-a-hog, six bits, a hog-and-a-quarter and so on. And his concoctions he calls spindoolies.'

Trista with bar manager Scotty
Le Mardi Gras, Pittsburgh, PA

When Joe died in 1993, his son Rich took over the place and has run it since. Today Le Mardi Gras is known for having a very different personality than its Shadyside neighbors, for its friendly bartenders, it's cocktails made with fresh squeezed juices, and the incomparably heavy pour of its drinks (e.g. its "shots" are basically rocks glasses filled to the brim). We enjoyed chatting with bartender, bar manager, and bar fan Scotty, who described bits of history and about restoring the murals and decor. Scotty is currently working on a more comprehensive history for the web page (which could probably use the upgrade -- a glance at their page source reveals a history of porn links).

Le Mardi Gras, Pittsburgh, PA
The bar has been described as "Pittsburgh's first and last cocktail bar." The former may well be true, and although I haven't yet verified it with any primary sources, it was saluted as such in an official commendation from the Pittsburgh City Council. The "last" term is said to refer to some special liquor license that has been grandfathered in, though current state liquor license data doesn't seem to contain any uncommon license today. Regardless of the license history, many of its patrons will tell you it's the only REAL cocktail bar in town -- a description that seems to draw more from its nod to tradition and its mix of people than it does to anything in the drinks.

In any case, and despite the cigarette smoke, this is the sort of old school bar with personality that I could easily see becoming our regular place if it were just a little closer to us. I expect we will often return when in the area.


731 Copeland St, Pittsburgh, PA 15232 - (412) 683-0912
Est. 2002 in current location; 1954 original location
Web site: 
Reviews: pghcitypaperyelp - thrillest

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