Max’s Allegheny Tavern resides on a quiet, unassuming street, nestled between brick churches and two-story houses. The interior of the bar is dim and quiet, with occasional customers sitting down on brown leather seats or wandering into the dining hall. This room is bright and sunny, decorated with old photographs and paintings of Pittsburgh, serving as a cultural and historic repository. Because the bar is closed at the time, the bartender is kind enough to show me the party room, a former rathskeller. This cool, large basement, originally used for chilling beer, became a famous speakeasy during Prohibition years, allowing the restaurant to continue to turn a profit (“About Max’s Allegheny Tavern.”).
The tavern was founded by George Rahn, who sold his saloon on East Ohio street in the early 1900s and built the Hotel Rahn, operating a bar and restaurant with his wife on the first floor. George, a descendant of immigrants, served traditional German foods and local Pittsburgh beer. This allowed the local German immigrant community to meet, keeping culture and traditions alive. Although Prohibition exacted a heavy toll on the tavern and bar industry, speakeasies like Max’s thrived, providing an enjoyable, albeit illegal, form of entertainment among the poverty and difficulties of the Great Depression. Allegheny County was hit hard by Prohibition, with one third of all workers unemployed. In this environment, illegal gangs flourished, some founded by immigrant Mafias who had moved to America, expanding their empires. However, Max’s Allegheny Tavern did not import alcohol, so its owners and patrons were spared from the violence and illicit actions that other bars faced (Mellon, Steve.).
Upon glancing at the menu, I notice that the food described is a collage of the traditional and the modern. Between Knackwurst with Kraut and Bavarian Nachos, the intermixing of cultures embodied by Pittsburgh is obvious. The food is rich and heavy, and is deemed authentic by many of the Tavern’s patrons. The rich, smoky aroma of the sausages and reubens pervade the cold air, and drift along the tranquil Pittsburgh street.
1- “About Max’s Allegheny Tavern.” About Max’s Allegheny Tavern. Max’s Allegheny Tavern, n.d. Web. 03 May 2014.
2-“German – Building Institutions, Shaping Tastes – Immigration…- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress.” German – Building Institutions, Shaping Tastes – Immigration…- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 02 May 2014.
3- Mellon, Steve. “Pittsburgh: The Dark Years.” Pittsburgh: The Dark Years. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, n.d. Web. 04 May 2014.