January 8, 2013, has been declared by City Council as Church Brew Works Day in the city of Pittsburgh to recognize the work of the restaurant’s founder/president, head brewer, and staff. Council’s proclamation highlights the success of this group in adapting a vacant church “into a premiere, nationally recognized craft brewery, neighborhood fixture, and regional asset.”
The Church Brew Works is probably the most infamous of Pittsburgh’s adaptively reused churches. Its notoriety stems from the fact that the brew house is located in the former altar. A friend of mine told me that this positioning bothers her and if she eats at the Church Brew Works, she has to sit with her back to the altar. I have heard that other people consider it sacrilegious to have the brew house on the former altar area and that these people refuse to patronize the restaurant.
This building was formerly an Eastern European Catholic Church and was purchased in 1996 to be converted into a restaurant and brewery. I interviewed the founder/president for a paper on adaptively reused church buildings in Pittsburgh. He explained that the idea for the restaurant started in 1994. The first building selected for the project was an old fire hall two blocks away from the church. The church was chosen in the end because of the availability of parking and the “great architecture.” It was also easily accessible by car, which he felt was important for the success of the restaurant as Pittsburgh “lacks good public transit.” Five months after the purchase was completed, the restaurant opened.
The church had been empty for two years by the time it was purchased in 1996. The school attached to the church had been closed for twenty-five years. The president felt that this added to the decrease in the congregation. The closing of the mills drove church members away to search for new jobs while the closing of the school drove them away to find a new school for their children. As a result of these pressures, the congregation dropped from 2000 to 200 parishioners. When acquired for the restaurant, the church was “worn out” from a lack of reinvestment over the years and there was additional damage as a result of being completely closed for two years. While the initial renovations of the building were completed in five months, paving the parking lot and completing the patio took longer. Fifteen years later, work is still being done because of the “age of the building.”
Much of the original building was reused or adapted in the conversion from a church to a restaurant. The history section of the restaurant’s website explains how the pews were reused as benches for the tables and the bricks from the confessional that was taken down were used to create the pillars for the restaurant’s sign outside. The original floor and lanterns were restored. The result is a beautiful and unique interior for this restaurant. To see what the interior looks like, check out the website or stop by for a meal. I’ve enjoyed the food the few times I’ve eaten here.