The assembled journalists were asking pointed business questions of our hosts at Claddagh Irish Pub at the South Side Works in Pittsburgh.
“How do you plan to use the new Fall menu to drive sales?”
“How satisfied are you with current market penetration?”
Because I wanted to look like I fit in I figured I’d better ask a question, too, or risk collegial embarrassment.
“Can somebody bring me another free beer?”
Yes! Yes! Yes!
Few readers know it but for 20 years I’ve kept in my wallet some form of my first freelance business card. It’s a peach-colored dandy with a lovely motif intended to convey a tropical idyll.
Across the top reads: “Palm Features.”
It has an intentional double meaning. On the surface I want respectable business associates to know I write sunny travel features for prestigious publications.
The subversive meaning is for over 20 years my palm has been out, up and reaching for any freebies I can get my hands on.
You have to understand my background. I began freelancing as a full-time correspondent for National Enquirer where it was institutionally frowned upon any time I was busted doing anything that might be construed as ethical.
Yet over the past 10 post-Enquirer years or so I’ve become fastidious about ethics. Many of the organizations who run my work refuse to run stories based on free trips, meals, etc. So on that side I’m obligated to refuse freebies.
That’s why the rise of this deadbeat blog has been such a welcome boon.
This blog has no ethics.
So when a friendly VP with a Chicago public relations firm called and said he’d seen www.EightDaysToAmish.com and wanted me and a guest to enjoy a fall menu preview at the Claddagh I didn’t hesitate.
Being one of the South Side’s most enthusiastic social ambassadors, I was already familiar with Claddagh. It’s great.
See, I reside in Latrobe, but I live -- and I mean really live -- in Pittsburgh.
It’s rather rare.
I’ll never forget watching the news in the bar my Latrobe bar the day after the Steelers won the 2009 Super Bowl. A buddy of mine stared up at the South Side revelry and said in wonder, “You know, someday I hope to go to Pittsburgh and have just one beer on the South Side. It just looks like so much fun.”
Dissect that statement and you’re to be forgiven if you conclude I do my drinking with 8 year olds. But this guy was 50 and he’d never been to Pittsburgh’s South Side an hour away.
I decided such petty parochialism needed demolition. Within a week we had a van, a designated driver and about a dozen of us bound for the ‘burgh. Now we do it once every six months or so.
I’d already enjoyed Claddagh, but not like last night. They had trays of salmon cakes, beer-battered shrimp and chicken pot pie all served to the lilting strains of a four-piece Celtic band.
Authentic Irish touches abound. Claddagh not only imports fine Irish whisky, it also imports fine Irish people. Restaurant manager Paul Kennedy is an Emerald Islander who was brought over to run the restaurant. He couldn’t have been a more engaging host.
I’m convinced he’d have kept pouring me Jameson all evening if Val and I hadn’t had to split. And that would have suited me just fine.
It would have been a near-perfect evening even if someone had had the audacity to present a steep bill to a guy with a Palm Features business card.
As we drove home, my wife and I marveled over how the South Side has evolved. Thirty years ago it was a dangerous ghost town.
Then saloon-keeper Bobby Pessolano had the vision to open one red hot tavern, Mario’s, and launch a renaissance that turned the South Side into Pittsburgh’s most lively destination. It’s my favorite neighborhood in my favorite city and if you’re ever in town you call me first and we’ll do it all up right.
We’ll drink beer in Nadine’s and Jack’s, chow on paella at Mallorca, smoke cigars in Bloom’s and spend many enchanting hours in Claddagh where they lavish even humble bloggers with charm and cheer.
Claddagh and the rest of the upscale South Side Works shows just how someplace once so desolate and godforsaken can one day mature and become prosperous.
I wonder if that’s ever going to happen to me.