Chris Driscoll used to live across the street from the stately red building on Lincoln Avenue, Bellevue’s main drag. From his porch, he’d look at the building and imagine what it could be.
It was once a single-family house and later became a funeral home. Now, Driscoll and John King, a retired chef, are turning it into a bar and restaurant with outdoor seating and space for private events.
In some boroughs, a new watering hole might not be especially noteworthy. But this restaurant — its name has yet to be announced — will be the borough’s second bar.
Prohibition in Bellevue ended only in 2015. After that, Pa. Liquor Code allowed the borough to have two liquor licenses, the first of which went to pre-existing restaurant Grille 565.
To community leaders, the new restaurant and the soon-to-open Lincoln Avenue Brewery, which were both started by Bellevue residents, are the tipping point for revitalizing the Lincoln Avenue business district. With more to do, Bellevue’s proximity to Downtown and affordability will no longer be a secret, they said.
Bringing drinks to Bellevue
Overturning Bellevue’s status as a dry municipality went up for a vote during the May 2015 Primary and was approved with 63 percent of the vote. But it’s not that simple.
Per the Pa. Liquor Code, the number of retail liquor licenses — which applies to restaurants, bars and hotels, but not breweries — for a municipality is based on the population, with one retail license for every 3,000 residents. That quota, based on the 2010 census, allows two licenses in Bellevue. But since Allegheny County is over its license quota, no new licenses were created for Bellevue to use, Shawn Kelly, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board told The Incline.
So to open a bar in Bellevue, business owners needed to have a license transferred to them or buy one at auction. (The municipality could also have voted to go over its quota, but hasn’t so far.)
A transferred liquor license for Driscoll and King’s restaurant at 366 Lincoln Ave. is pending, with what Driscoll hopes will be a summer open.
Opening a business is risky, so it took two people who live in Bellevue, who know the community, to make that second bar happen, said Driscoll, also a member of the Bellevue Community Development Corporation.
The liquor license for Lincoln Avenue Brewery, 538 Lincoln Ave., is also pending, per the Pa. Liquor Control Board’s website. Founders said renovation will likely be done this summer, though they have yet to set an opening. Lincoln Avenue Brewery plans to offer opportunities for collaborations with local home brewers to create unique Bellevue beers, said Grant Saylor, who co-owns the brewery with his wife Lisa and Amy and Joel Haldeman.
Although a majority of voters were in favor of overturning Bellevue’s alcohol ban in 2015, Bellevue Mayor Emily Marburger heard from some residents who were upset about the change when she was door knocking during her campaign. There was a perception on their part that the town would be overrun with bars or become another South Side, she said. But that’s not the case.
“It’s a situation we can control how to build it,” Marburger said of the concentration of bars.
Building business and community
Revitalization of Bellevue’s business district was a main issue of Bellevue’s 2017 mayoral race. As soon as she took office, Marburger met with small business owners to find ways to share resources and better market the community.
“It isn’t just a pass-through on 65,” she said.
But Tom Fodi, borough council president who also ran for mayor in 2017 said the community of 8,370 as of the 2010 census suffers from a lack of investors coming in and having success. Having businesses launched by locals is a huge stepping stone to getting those outside investors, he said, adding that a decade ago, Lawrenceville faced the same challenge.
It might be easier for a Bellevue resident to see the potential of starting a business in the borough, Marburger added. She said she’d love to see residents go into business, but is focused on making sure the businesses that do come to Lincoln Avenue are the ones that residents want, from tacos to a performance venue.
When it comes to offering alcohol — whether it’s wine, beer or a margarita with tacos — “People are really craving something in this area,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to have a dry borough.”
It’s not just about places to grab a drink. If people go to the restaurants, they might stop at other businesses or make a point to come back later, she said. Fodi agreed, adding it changes the culture and increases foot traffic in the evening.
Jeremy Denniston, owner of Cyclops Cafe which opened in November as a coffee shop that shares a space with Pierced Hearts Tattoo Parlor, said more businesses is a “huge win” for all of the businesses in Bellevue.
The owners of Lincoln Avenue Brewery agreed, saying the community is excited for a change. Right now, Lincoln Avenue is empty at 6 p.m. on a Friday, Joel Haldeman said. “I just get so excited about a place that’s lit up [and] creating a space for the community.”