The Vault Taproom hosted a launch event on Thursday, Oct. 10 that welcomed people to try the innovative tap system, sample some dishes from the menu, and get a feel for the new restaurant on East Carson Street in the South Side.
After a soft opening in July, The Vault is finding its place in the restaurant scene in Pittsburgh, set apart by its central feature, which is, of course, the taps. When people walk into the storefront, they present their credit card and driver’s license to receive a card with a chip that will allow them to use the self-serve iPourIt system of taps along the left wall of the room.
Above each of the 26 different beer and cider taps and four wine taps are digital screens. When a customer taps the card to the screen, it will light green, allowing them to pour themselves however much they want to drink, measured to the 10th of an ounce. Customers are charged by the ounce. The card has a limit of 32 ounces, but people can ask a staffer to re-up their card.
Co-owner Kyle Wolfe calls the system “low-risk” because customers can try out several different drafts without ordering an entire drink, like at a typical ordering restaurant. If you’re trying out a drink you’ve never had before and aren’t sure you’ll like, you can pour yourself an ounce first, and go from there. Wolfe, a University of Pittsburgh alum, was working as an engineering when he and co-owner Josh Hammaker (a fellow Pitt grad) stumbled on the self-pouring system at a bar in Charlottesville, VA in 2017.
They decided to bring it to Pittsburgh, and two years later, the Vault opened. The iPourIt system was installed in the Oxford Athletic Club in Wexford, PA, but The Vault boasts the very first system within the city. Serving yourself takes a second to learn and get accustomed too, but soon, everyone at the launch event is at the wall trying new drinks and mingling at the tables set aside for the event.
The Vault has a chill but upscale vibe, perfect for a nice dinner after work for young professionals. For college students, it isn’t hard to imagine a large group venturing into the South Side on the 54 bus on a Friday or Saturday night, ready to unwind. In addition to the taps, there is a U-shaped bar on the left of the room that features changing lights and the go-to spot for cocktails.
Then the food arrives. Dubbed “Southern fusion,” The Vault’s menu by Chef Todd Cassell is filled with entrees like honey and black garlic calamari, bourbon blazed pork chop, and duck confit banh mi, representing a great mix of flavors and styles all together at once. Wolfe describes the menu as “familiar food, comfort food, but with a twist.”
For the launch event, The Vault prepared three dishes from the menu for guests to sample. Their signature Nantucket fried green tomatoes, smoked brisket Rueben slider, and grilled pound cake with berries.
At first glance, the breaded and fried orange-gold tone of the green tomatoes looks like chicken, but after a bite, it’s clear that this is a juicy tomato. Topped with spicy whipped feta and a sweet and spicy tomato jam, all the flavors complemented each other really well.
The smoked brisket Rueben is a twist on the classic Reuben. Switching out the corned beef and swiss for brisket and gruyere, the slider (and full sandwich on the regular menu) exemplifies the restaurant’s commitment to unique takes on familiar foods. Other examples of this on the menu are the chicken noodle pho made with angel hair and the “Not your grandma’s mac and cheese” with orecchiette.
The pound cake is also a fun idea — who would think to grill a cake? With some whipped cream and mixed berries for garnish, it’s a nice sweet finish to a heavy meal.
For students, getting to the South Side will be the biggest challenge to try out the interesting elements The Vault offers. For the over-21 crowd, the tap system is incredibly unique and a fun way to test new drafts, especially if your experience is limited to the standard college six-packs. If you’re underage or not prone to drink, the menu itself is varied enough to give it a try.
The South Side is such a vibrant and diverse area, and East Carson is always bustling with activity any given night. I’m excited to go back to the Vault on a normal night, sit down with friends, adventurously select something that sticks out on the menu, and walk back and forth from the taps, using up our cards into the night.