Park House bar serves up history, atmosphere
Photo by Brady Langmann
Park House owner Zamir Zahavi has made the Historic Deutschtown bar a place for all to enjoy its unique history and good tunes.
By Brady Langmann
The owner of Pittsburgh’s oldest tavern likes to take selfies.
During January’s ill-fated Steelers playoff game, Zamir Zahavi, 55, comforted patrons by cheesing for pictures; all of which he dutifully uploaded to Facebook.
Despite over 120 years of history to its name, staying with the times is nothing new for Zahavi and Historic Deutschtown’s Park House.
When the building was built in 1892 by former Allegheny County Jail warden James Marshall, it was designed with a then-popular Victorian flair, which can still be seen in its stamped tin ceiling and brick walls. Leasing the land from famous Pittsburgher Mary Schenley, Marshall rented the building to various tenants until the 1920’s when the building transformed into a bakery and candy store.
After Prohibition was lifted in 1933, Pittsburgh suddenly found itself in need of local bars, which is when the shop converted into the Park House Tavern. According to Zahavi, this made it the first licensed bar in Pittsburgh after Prohibition, launching a history that has seen the place become everything from a dive bar to an upscale establishment in the years leading up to Zahavi becoming the most recent owner in 2004.
Raised in Israel before moving overseas to study at the University of Pittsburgh, Zahavi describes himself as “a little bit of a character.” His wide-ranging interests have shaped the current incarnation of the Park House making it by far the most eclectic one yet.
People flock to the Park House for Zahavi’s signature falafel, which is a traditional Middle Eastern dish comprising a deep-fried ball usually stuffed with chickpeas and fava beans. And despite not being a chef by trade, Zahavi has garnered local fame for the dish.
“I am the Falafel King!” Zahavi exclaimed. “I’m the first one to bring falafel to the Northside. It fills you up, and it’s really tasty, and you can’t get it anywhere.”
Aside from the tasty menu, Zahavi has managed to bring in crowds with something equally unique, bluegrass music. Wednesday is “Bluegrass Jam” at the Park House, which has featured popular bluegrass groups such as Northside’s own Shelf Life String Band.
Zahavi says such nights attract a younger crowd and makes it lively.
“Young people keep this place going,” Zahavi explained. “When I say young, I don’t mean grinding (dancing) and stuff like that, you know, people with a vision, movers and shakers in the industry, in their fields, they just like to come. Till they start a family and have a house, then they don’t come here so much.”
Although Zahavi has made the Park House into one of Pittsburgh’s most diverse bars, he has ensured that it has kept its welcoming, relaxed environment.
“The Park House is actually one of the very few bars on this street that’s still a neighborhood bar where people come from all over just to sit and enjoy the atmosphere,” Zahavi said. “It’s a very relaxed atmosphere. There’s no tension here whatsoever.”
As for the Park House’s future? For now, Zahavi plans on sticking with the current formula of falafels, bluegrass tunes and affordable beer.
“It’s going to stay the way it is. I think if they try to change it, it’s going to lose its appeal,” Zahavi said. “Older people like coming here, because they’ll sit down, and nothing’s changed. They just like to see certain things stay the same, and that’s important.”
Brady Langmann is a contributing writer from the University of Pittsburgh.