From Steel To Stethoscopes: Nied's Third Shift Bar Patrons Change With The City

Dec 21, 2016

Nied’s Hotel in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood is one of a handful of bars where workers who clock out while most hit the alarm clock can still meet for coffee or a beer. Taverns that cater to third-shift workers aren’t a new concept to Pittsburgh, but over the years, their clientele has evolved.

Owner Jim Nied, 65, said he remembers when the men on the bar stool were blue collar laborers employed by the many nearby industrial plants.

Jim Nied, owner of Nied's Hotel, makes breakfast for his early-morning patrons on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. Nied, an Air Force veteran, says he's changed little about the bar restaurant since he took over in the 1970s, including when it opens.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

“The mills were big business for us,” Nied said. “They were all going three shifts. My dad used to have a lunch hour at four in the morning.”

Nied’s family moved to Lawrenceville from Homestead in the 1930s, as manufacturers were building steel mills along the river. He said his grandparents, who were immigrants from Poland, were bought out by land developers and chose the East End neighborhood.

At the time, Lawrenceville was home to several industrial sites, including a galvanizing plant and cross-pattern shop. And morning after morning, men would pour into his family’s tavern. He took over in the 1970s as the mills were just beginning their exodus.

Robert Kowalski, of Blawnox, waits for his breakfast on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. Kowalksi is a mechanic and says he's known the Nied family and the patrons of the bar for most of his life.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

When the city made the shift from steel to education and medical institutions, so too did bars like Nied’s. Now, the proprietor said his early morning patrons don stethoscopes instead of safety goggles, and nearby hospitals provide a steady supply of younger patrons.

Katrina Gallagher, 27, of Canonsburg works as a nurse at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. She and a few coworkers often stop by Nied’s after their overnight shifts. 

“It’s such a good, fun atmosphere,” Gallagher said. “Last week we did breakfast shots. I’ve never had those. But usually it’s one-and-done, something to blow off some steam.”

Nied said the newcomers don’t drink like the blue-collar gents, but that’s OK with him. (A breakfast shot tastes like pancakes and syrup, and is made with Jameson whiskey and butterscotch schnapps.)

As long as he's around, the bar will never open any later than 7 a.m.

This story is part of Essential Pittsburgh, an ongoing series exploring how Pittsburgh lives, and how it's evolving.