Banks reborn as nightclubs, restaurants and a spa
By The Tribune-Review
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Back in the day, banks were built with a grandeur and strength in both material and design.
These magnificent shrines to commerce were built with tall granite columns, marble counters and brass cashier cages. The structures spoke of trust, reliability and permanence.
Fast-forward to the next century, and enter the world of credit cards, ATM machines and online banking.
The permanence of those banks as imposing buildings remains, but many have been renovated into new establishments, such as clubs, coffeehouses, condos, restaurants — and even a spa.
Here are a handful found throughout the area — and one with plans for the future.
CARSON CITY SALOON, SOUTH SIDE
You want a nightclub, you want a big, sturdy, solid building. Something that the bass from a Timbaland or Kanye West track isn’t going to shake apart. So why not a bank?
Carson City Saloon inhabits a space built for the German National Depository in 1896. It also was a Mellon Bank, then a Citizens Bank. Typical for its time, the massively imposing, thick-walled neoclassical building conveys fortress-like safety and stability. It’s an attractive structure, if not particularly festive or fun.
But inside, it has been totally transformed into a spacious, high-ceilinged cavern of sports, television and beer. One thing that remains from its bank beginnings is the giant, steel walk-in vault in the far back wall. Once, it probably served to reassure customers and intimidate potential robbers. Now, it’s just another decoration on the wall between the kitchen and the digital jukebox.
Carson City Saloon, 1401 E. Carson St., South Side. Hours: 11:45 a.m.-1:45 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon-midnight Sundays. Details: 412-481-3203.
PERK COFFEE GALLERY, WEST END
The vault of a West End bank is now a treasure house of coffee, wraps, soups, sandwiches and an ever-changing selection of home-cooked entrees. New to the scene as of Nov. 17, Perk Coffee Gallery began serving customers in the safe deposit vault where generations of banking clients once stored their valuables.
Toni Herd, a Munhall resident and the owner of Perk Coffee Gallery, was looking for a space to open a coffee shop and art gallery that would become part of the West End’s revitalization. An artist friend told her about this available space.
Constructed in 1927 for the West End Savings and Trust Co., the building had been subdivided into an indoor mini-mall for shops and a National City Bank branch office.
Herd fell in love with the tiny space, especially when she learned she could fill the adjoining vault with tables and chairs for her customers.
She offers homemade dishes such as macaroni and cheese or green beans and smoked turkey alongside the lighter options that include vegan wraps, red beans and greens salads. The $6.25 Saturday lunch special menu features smoked and barbecued ribs or chicken, collard greens or baked beans, a corn muffin and a choice of cole slaw or potato salad.
Right now, most of Herd’s customers are people who work in the neighborhood. But there’s a number of art galleries nearby, and the walls of Perk Coffee Gallery are lined with original artworks created by Herd and other local artists.
“I’m hoping the area will become a place (for artists and their customers) to hang out comfortably,” she says.
Perk Coffee Gallery, 22 Wabash St., West End. Hours: 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays, 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Details: 412-773-1057.
ROCKWELL’S RED LION RESTAURANT, ELIZABETH
The building that houses Rockwell’s Red Lion Restaurant in Elizabeth originally was built for the First National Bank of Elizabeth in 1906. The bank closed its doors permanently seven years later. The building housed a drugstore and a second-hand store and stood vacant until the Rockwell family purchased and renovated it, opening the restaurant May 14, 1980.
Framed old photos on the restaurant walls are a reminder of life in Elizabeth as far back as the late 1800s.
The restaurant is run by Orrie Rockwell Jr. and his children, Lynn McHolme, who runs the business office, and Orrie Rockwell III, who is the chef. The menu changes periodically to feature seasonal dishes. Chef Orrie’s specialties include roasted duck with blackberry and black cherry demi-glaze ($21.95), salmon with blueberry glaze ($16.95) and chicken with apricot glaze ($14.95).
The restaurant will hold a Christmas wine tasting and dinner Dec. 22. Cost of the four-course meal is $40.
Rockwell’s Red Lion Restaurant, 201 Second St., Elizabeth. Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays. Details: 412-384-3909.
THE VAULT COFFEE & TEA BAR, BRIGHTON HEIGHTS
There are banks, and then there are savings and loans. The former typically is a marble-floored financial institution whose Doric columns and gilded ceilings radiate fiduciary gravitas. The latter is the bank’s folksy cousin, with functional carpeting and color schemes that recall the Brady Bunch rec room.
It makes sense that The Vault Coffee & Tea Bar, a mainstay of the Brighton Heights business district, should take up residence in a former savings and loan. Its homely intimacy serves its quirky sensibility well.
You won’t find a bank vault in The Vault — at least not on the main floor. But you will enjoy spotting vestiges of its former life while you wait for barista Matt Haberman or owner Bradley Richards to make your espresso.
The small lectern where folks used to fill out deposit slips now holds napkins. Beneath a sign that proclaims “Today’s Interest Rates” is a menu that touts stuffed grape leaves, Chicken Feta Mojo, bagels or toast. Another sign invites customers to “angry up” their usual cup of Joe with a shot of espresso.
The original office couches, where anxious customers waited for loan approval, now serve as posterior magnets in the small upstairs balcony. It’s strewn with laptops and back issues of Spin. If the coffee doesn’t wake you up, the loud blue walls will.
Customers Michele Knickerbocker and Michelle Ligon, both nursing students and moms, park themselves by the counter, where bank tellers reportedly served customers from behind bulletproof glass.
“I have two kids, and you can bring them here,” Knickerbocker says. “People don’t act annoyed that they’re around.”
The Vault Coffee & Tea Bar, 3619 California Ave., Brighton Heights. Hours: 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. Details: 412-734-1935.
THE SEWICKLEY SPA, LIGONIER
Money-related puns abound with satisfied patrons at The Sewickley Spa, who often tell the owner that they got a wealth of a wonderful treatment with rich pleasures. Given that their pampering took place in a former bank vault, there’s no better way to describe it, says Dorothy Andreas Tuel, owner of the Ligonier spa that is housed in a former Mellon Bank building.
“People really get a kick out of it,” she says. “It’s a conversation piece as well as a relaxing treatment.”
Andreas Tuel — who also owns The Sewickley Spa at Sewickley, and The Sewickley Spa at Wisp Resort in Maryland — opened the Ligonier location in 2001. She says she was thrilled to discover that the Mellon Bank building was available, after looking around Ligonier for a new spot.
With plenty of open spaces, the bank building was easy to convert into a spa, she says. The building, with its granite columns, still retains some of its turn-of-the-century bank look, and some banking remnants — like a $20 bill from the 1940s — were found during the renovation. Inside the spa, visitors can get pampered with more than three dozen treatments, mostly skin and body therapy.
The Sewickley Spa, 112 N. Market St., Ligonier. Hours: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesdays, 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. Details: 724-238-3878.
PITTSBURGH ENGINEERS BUILDING, DOWNTOWN
The former bank that now houses the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania was built in the heart of Pittsburgh’s financial district, Downtown, at the turn of the last century by famed architect Daniel H. Burnham. He also designed the Flatiron Building in New York City and Pittsburgh’s Union Station, now the Pennsylvanian, among many other buildings.
Members and guests of the Engineers’ Society have the privilege of eating inside the bank vault during daily lunches. But you’ll have to make friends with an engineer; unfortunately, the club dining room is not open to the public.
DISCOVERY & INTERACTIVE SCIENCE CENTER, GREENSBURG
A former Mellon Bank building in downtown Greensburg could become an interactive, hands-on science center if Douglas Lingsch and his wife, Mari-Pat, can make it happen.
The Bedford couple hope to open the Discovery & Interactive Science Center — run as a nonprofit, similar to the Carnegie Science Center — in the fall of 2008 or 2009.
The granite-block structure was built in 1928 for the Barclay-Westmoreland Trust Co. and has been vacant since Citizens Bank closed its branch in March 2005. In September, the Lingsches bought the vacant building for $258,000. Douglas Lingsch says it remains in good condition, and he anticipates spending about $1 million to convert it.
The lobby of the former bank would be completely renovated, and a mezzanine floor would be added to create more exhibit space. The bank’s two vaults — whose 800- to 1,000-pound doors have glass panels exposing the gears — would be part of the attraction.