Posted by: Justin Hopper | October 20, 2008

Festival of Thirsts

I like to imagine theater bars as little enclaves of the dramatic world’s anarchic traditions – the type of tavern Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole would dive into for a swift half during some second’s soliloquy.

The Backstage Bar at Theater Square certainly has one major hurdle to overcome in striving for this goal: being only a few seasons old, it contains none of the ancient psychic masks and holy corners of a theatrical tippler’s mainstay. But the stage is set for it to get there. First off, it’s got location – just a slide across the boards from the O’Reilly, and an intermission dash from most of the District’s other locales. It’s also got the prerequisite shady-looking outside entrance – on Friday night, upon our arrival, a car was parked on the sidewalk blocking its doors. (There’s an easier way in, through the Cabaret at Theater Square’s main entrance, but what fun is that?)

Most importantly, however, the Backstage has a menu of theater-specific drinks – which, in the case of the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, doesn’t only mean they’re packed with ABV. You’ve got one week left to savor the yumminess, and rue the following morning, of the PIFOF drinks menu. In honor of the Festival, the bar-istas at the Backstage have concocted cocktails for each of the PIFOF’s shows.

Sitting back for a little bit of two-piece New Orleans-style jazz from members of the Boilermaker Jazz Band, and in spite of the autumn chill in the air, I sank my teeth into the Sangria de los Sentidos – a cherry-sweet red sangria that takes Teatro’s sensual overload to heart.

With one of those in the guts, it’s probably not a great idea to order the POP T’art, a fluorescent, candy-yellow beverage that’s as tart as its name implies. But looking forward as I am to 13 Most Beautiful…, and regaled by Boilermaker Paul Cosentino’s stories of playing clarinet for beers and etouffe in a French Quarter dive, it just kind of happened. (Plus, the POP T’art is made with my favorite gin.) The general rule is, once you’ve passed age 29, stick to one kind – or at least color – of liquor in a night, but despite the fruit toss-up sangria and the tart devil’s booze of the POP, things sorted themselves out just fine in this blogger’s belly and brain. In fact, I think I’m fairly certain that, just for a few minutes, I had super powers.

I did not drink, nor do I quite “get,” the Festival feature – the Stemtini, with Mandarin vodka, passion-fruit liquor and sours. The Cherry Pineapple Martini, on the other hand, makes such perfect sense for Kassys it’s almost a joke: Child-like but deadly potent, with the flavors of a mid-summer’s dessert and a morning-after that’d make you stomp around and cry.

Next weekend’s boozing plans will have to include the Jo Stromgren-inspired Water/Melon Cooler: What has watermelon rum got to do with Norwegian avant-garde theater? I think there’s something there, on the tip of my tongue – all I need is a few more sips…

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