Bar Buddies: Hidden Harbor
After an ominously balmy Friday, Zeke and I enjoyed much more seasonally appropriate weather for our Saturday trip to Squirrel Hill's premiere tiki bar: Hidden Harbor. It may have been freezing outside, but the second we walked through the doors of this improbable neighborhood haven we were transported to a wonderful vacation in Hawaii (or a very culturally inaccurate version of it).
The location: The "hidden" in the title is no joke. I've lived in Squirrel Hill for almost a year, and never had I stumbled across or even heard of this bar. It's on Forbes and Shady (easy ride on a 61A or B), around the corner from the Dunkin' Donuts, which was further in that particular direction than I'd ever dared to go. With how "hoppin'" (Zeke unsuccessfully tried to save you from this bit of needlessly quoted slang) it turned out to be, Hidden Harbor seems less like a regular destination for the locals and more like a popular spot for a 30th birthday, bachelorette party, or special outing for hardcore fans of 10-ingredient cocktails in novelty glasses.
The drinks: This place is all about the drinks — if by "drinks" you mean something you probably couldn't afford to make yourself. Hidden Harbor's cocktail menu is impressive. It brushes right past your usual margaritas and daiquiris into the territory of your more accomplished, creative tropical bartender. Honestly, the ingredients list got so complicated I gave up on reading and just ordered something with a funny name and two shark tails. More potent drinks are marked with a shark tail, and two shark tails signal a drink that will really mess you up. If you're feeling especially festive, drinks that can be made frozen are marked with a snowflake, which felt like the wrong symbol given the aesthetic of tropical paradise. I got a drink with "Zombie" in the title, while Zeke's was called "Toucan Tango." Our drinks came in normal glasses (sadly, the novelty cups cost extra), but they were decked out with theme-appropriate garnishes, including dried fruits, actual flowers, and a toucan bendy straw (guess which two out of three Zeke tried to eat). Zeke wants you to know he did not try to eat a bendy straw. Hidden Harbor is not the place to go for cheap drinks — ours ran about 12 bucks each — but it's great for whimsical cocktails that taste good and don't skimp on the liquor. They've also got drinks for two, at least one of which comes in a light-up anime shark mug, as well as beer and wine (but who are we kidding).
The vibe: Hidden Harbor is the faux Hawaiian version of swank. Decor highlights include pink salt candle holders, a wide variety of framed art related to Hawaii in only the loosest way, and the giant tiki head I made Zeke take a selfie with me in front of. The overall effect is exotic fun in an "adventurous white people" way. They've got an actual bar as well as tables of various sizes that would work well for either groups or dates. The waiters were friendly and attentive. You could order food (i.e. tacos and nachos), but at midnight everyone seemed to be there for cocktails and conversation. The music left a little to be desired, especially when they played John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads." There's no real intermingling here, but the noise level is low enough that your friends will actually hear your jokes about the decor and cocktails and music. This is a once-in-a-while kind of bar. Go for the experience and you'll definitely have fun.
Lit or Nah: Hidden Harbor is definitely lit, if you like the people you came with and you're willing to maim your wallet. It's popular on the weekends but not so overcrowded you won't get a seat and have your own space. The bar's also only open until 1 a.m. at the latest, so make sure to make it an event rather than a place you just end up at. In the middle of a Pittsburgh winter, though, Hidden Harbor is definitely a breath of salt and rum-scented air.