Eighth and Hays: Homestead’s new wine bar is lit
March 22, 2017
If you haven’t been paying attention or don’t care to, you probably haven’t noticed Homestead’s redeveloping communities; its many long-standing, family-owned businesses; or any of the newest establishments to grace Eighth Avenue. After all, just beyond city limits, the borough lacks the convenience — and until recently, the draw — of Pittsburgh’s most frequented neighborhoods. Surrounded by retired steel mills and dilapidated properties, Homestead’s the kind of place you’d never expect to find a contemporary, effortlessly inviting wine bar.
Enter: Eighth and Hays — a contemporary, effortlessly inviting wine bar. It opened in early November 2016 (on the corner of Hays Street and aforementioned hot-spot Eighth Avenue), but it’s got the panache of a place decades older. Inside, warm lighting and earthy tones complement an ideal balance of brick walls and wooden furniture. The vibe’s casual, the servers are actual rays of sunshine, and the menu is filled with all of our favorite weekend things: cocktails, wine, cheese.
Founded by Karen and Joe Ducar — whose names sound familiar because they’ve owned Duke’s Upper Deck Cafe, the sports pub next door, since 1988 — and operated by their daughter, Pamela Wantland, Eighth and Hays isn’t just a family affair. It’s the vibrancy this part of Homestead has been craving. Believe us: The local buzz is real. But we’d also drive hours for one of these wood-fired pies. (Definitely more on that later.)
Wielding a bachelor’s degree in supply chain management, Wantland traded a corporate career for a stake in her parents’ business. “I started to teach myself about wine, read as much as I could, and started working with suppliers to develop our wine list,” she says of the transition. Today, the general manager and self-taught sommelier has everything to do with everything alcoholic on these menus.
Particularly extensive: the vino selection of “premium” and “high quality house wines” that took her “about a year” to finalize. “You don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a great bottle of wine,” she advises. “It just takes some research.” OK — this girl gets us. And not just on the wine front, either.
Using homemade simple syrup, plus fresh juices and herbs, Eighth and Hays’ cocktails are boss. We’d describe most as modified classics; the Mexican Mule is made with either mescal or tequila, for example, and the Cosmopolitan features fig-infused vodka and elderflower liqueur. As a nightcap, give the Tiramisu Martini a shot. Freshly brewed espresso, tiramisu liqueur, vanilla vodka. YOLO, right?
But seriously. Back to the pizza. We all ordered one; we all experienced that super-awkward group thing where there’s no talking, only eating, for a good five minutes. To clarify, that brick oven isn’t here for show. Those slices came to us from the heavens, wood-fired and charred in all the right ways.
The guy behind the pie is executive chef Kevin Harris, who’s been part of this crew since day one. His speciality is pizza, obviously. But he’s also developed a fine selection of equally enticing grub: paninis, cured meats, even homemade desserts.
“We’re so lucky to have found such an amazing staff,” Wantland tells us, though we’ve got a feeling her employees knew the place would take off from the get-go. It’s homey, sophisticated, and walkable from the Waterfront, for starters. But it’s also one of few eateries in the neighborhood that’s owned independently.
“I think a lot of people are sick of the same old chains,” says Wantland. “They want something new, fresh, locally owned. And Eighth Avenue is starting to become just that.”
If its growing business landscape is any indication, Homestead seems to be morphing into a place that feels more like a destination than a wrong turn. This side of the Monongahela might not ever be as family-oriented as Highland Park, as polished as Shadyside, as green as Regent Square. It probably won’t be able to offer the Strip District’s walkability, or the South Side’s sheer number of storefronts. But Homestead has always done things its own way — and that’s exactly what we love about it.