Located in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, The Church Brew Works is a former Catholic Church- turned-restaurant and brewpub. The building is a registered historic landmark in the city of Pittsburgh and its unique transformation is a staple in the local beer scene.
As Pittsburgh grew with Carnegie Steel, Clark Steel, and Black Diamond Steel Works in the 1800s, increasing residential development meant the increasing demand for churches, St. John the Baptist being one of them. Founded in 1878, this Catholic Church served the Lawrenceville area of Pittsburgh. It steadily expanded until the early 1900’s. On June 1, 1902 the cornerstone of St. John the Baptist Church on Liberty Avenue was laid. At that time, there was a copper time capsule placed in the cornerstone. It contains a history of the church, the church record and copies of pertinent articles from local publications. That time capsule is still intact today. The cornerstone has managed to stay and mark the passing of time for not only the parish, but also Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh and United States as well.
In early January 1915, a fire broke out in the sanctuary and caused major damage to the church. New floors, altars and paint were required. The building served as a spiritual sanctuary to its members during the first and second world wars. Those wars also marked the loss of many enthusiastic, energetic members – the young men who died and did not return from these wars. Even with booming industrial giants at its back door, the parish was often plagued by lack of money. When St. John’s seemed to be getting out of debt, the depression struck. During the depression, St. Johns distributed food and imperishables to the members of the congregation and other needy members of the community as well. The parish also opened its doors during the flood in March of 1936. It sheltered people who were ravaged by the record setting flood water levels from all of Pittsburgh’s three rivers.
Beginning in the late 1950’s, Lawrenceville began undergoing a change – much like the city of Pittsburgh. There was a stop in the growth and a gradual decline in the industrial strength of the area. The mills that provided jobs and revenue in Lawrenceville slowly began closing down. The young, vibrant community was beginning to grow more mature. Just as before, people were moving near their jobs and that meant away from Lawrenceville. The school was shut down approximately 20 years before the parish was disbanded. Throughout the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the number of members in major parishes began to decline. Due to financial and organizational considerations, the Diocese underwent a major reorganization in 1993. On the 6th of August in 1993, the church was put under an act of suppression by the Bishop of Pittsburgh.
The building lay dormant for three years until the redevelopment and construction of the Church Brew Works. The sale of this property to Sean Casey for $191,200 was the first time that the Diocese sold one of its churches to a developer. The developer was able to use 10,000 square feet of the church itself, 4,500 square feet of the rectory, and 2,000 square feet of the adjacent dilapidated school. Because of the restoration of the church’s Northern Italian architecture, the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation gave the church Historic Landmark status in 2001.
As much painstaking effort was taken in the original construction of the building, the same care was used when the renovation of the church and the rectory was undertaken. Attention to detail and the reuse of existing fixtures all help to create a spectacular atmosphere. Original pews were hand cut from 24′ length and hand finished to the present 54″ lengths. These “mini pews” were intentionally designed to be longer than the tables to facilitate ease of entry. The bar has been built from the oak planks salvaged from the shortening of the pews. Check out some photographs. The reddish orange hue of the flooring comes from the original Douglas Fir floors. These floors were uncovered and meticulously restored after lying dormant under plywood for 50 years. The original eight lanterns in the center bay were removed, repainted gold and re-installed after complete refurbishment. The lanterns now illuminate the detailing of the ceiling.
The former confessional in the dining room was removed to provide a necessary link to the kitchen. The bricks salvaged from the removal of the confessional have been reused for the pillars on the outdoor sign, the facade on the outdoor ramp and the facade of the new kitchen link. The other confessional remains intact behind the bar and houses “The Church Brew Works” merchandise. Painstaking attention to detail and the integrative reuse of existing fixtures all help to create a spectacular atmosphere to enhance your brewpub experience. By far, the most breathtaking element is the position of the brew house on the Apse. Because the altar was built as a centerpiece of the church, the steel and copper tanks gleaming in the celestial blue backdrop is nothing less than captivating.
This extraordinary view is only paralleled by the quality and taste of our beer. Our brewers use their extensive knowledge of brewing to bring you four of the finest beers you will ever drink. Our North German Style Pilsner, Bavarian Dunkel, British Special Bitter and rotating Blast Furnace Stout are all hand crafted.
Nestled in the historic neighborhood of Lawrenceville, The Church Brew Works opened in 1996 as the first and only Brew Pub in the country to be located in a historic church and has grown to be awarded the title of the Best Large Brewpub in America at the prestigious Great American Beer Festival.