Keresty Kelly loves having go-to spots around Pittsburgh. She mourns closed eateries such as Joe Mama’s. She also fondly remembers frequenting the recently closed Mad Mex in Oakland for drinks with friends while a student at the University of Pittsburgh, and even for a meal with her parents before graduation.
Kelly’s affinity for legacy is what ultimately led her to purchase The Library on East Carson Street two years ago. Different from the actual Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on the South Side just off the Birmingham Bridge, The Library restaurant was a neighborhood staple for Kelly and her husband, Evan, who live only a couple of streets away.
The couple learned of the bar’s 2021 closing when one day during the pandemic Kelly’s husband, craving a panini, found the doors of the business locked. Kelly said she immediately looked into renting the space and eventually started developing a new bar concept from scratch.
Today, The Library on Carson shares only the name and location of the former bookish food joint. Even its deep red exterior has been repainted to a smart gray. Gone is the photo above the windows of an eye-glassed woman holding a pile of books while “shushing” onlookers. Now, large clean serif letters adorn the business front.
“I’ve lived in this neighborhood for a long time, and I just get really sad whenever places are closing and rebranding, and it makes me happy to have staple bars that have been the same since I was in college,” Kelly said on why she kept the name. “It just can’t not exist.”
After about five months of renovations, The Library officially opened to guests in early February and has since been perfecting its menu and service.
For Kelly, a self-proclaimed bibliophile (she’s currently reading “Yearbook” by Seth Rogan and is loving it), it was important to stay on theme with the literary namesake. The dark academia interior is reminiscent of an old mansion, with vintage mirrors, clawfoot sofas and a functional fireplace, “dark, moody and comfy,” as she described it.
The cocktail menu is a reading list of classic book titles and literary motifs such as “The Catcher and the Rye” (The Library’s take on a Manhattan), “War and Peace” (a Moscow mule) and “Annabel Lee” (gin, St-Germain, lemon and prosecco).
The Annabel Lee, a reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s poem of the same name, was one of the more essential nods that Kelly had envisioned.
“We lived in Baltimore for a while, and I love Edgar Allan Poe, so I knew I wanted a purple Annabel Lee drink in my head,” she said. “The other [drinks] are just best-selling classic novels.”
The food menu, however, deviates from novels and writers and is closer to traditional bar food. Still maintaining a “neighborhood bar” feel, Kelly said the menu is made up of foods that she and head chef Earl Bustamante love to eat and prepare.
Along with different burgers, salads, pizzas and paninis, patrons can opt for hamachi crudo, raw oysters or beef carpaccio.
“He’s a really passionate chef,” Kelly said of Bustamante. “He’s really talented. He has been practicing dough for months and watching YouTube videos, so he’s really proud of the pizza. Everything is from scratch.”
Bustamante said he was excited and nervous when Kelly asked him to come aboard her newest venture. In preparation for the opening, he had been experimenting and testing different food items.
“The first day was pretty hectic, but as the week went on it became easier,” he said. “[Customers] said it’s been good, and then every time there’s feedback I’m like, ‘OK, so we’re gonna work on that so it’s good for next time.’”
“It was really nice to see family and friends come out and support and [to] meet people from the neighborhood,” Kelly said of the soft launch in January. “We have so many great neighbors. It was good. My heart still hasn’t stopped racing.”
The restaurant’s second level opened just in time for St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Outfitted with large televisions for game days, a pool table, dart machines, a second bar and a Havana-themed patio (a nod to Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban ties), the upper level is “super chill” compared to the main bar, Kelly said.
Another benchmark she hopes to reach is the incorporation of brunch before June. She dreams of creating a morning menu of “hangover soup,” lox bagels and pancakes.
Although Kelly graduated with a degree in psychology, her background in food service and restaurant management is plentiful, having worked in restaurants her whole life. In fact, she met her husband while they were both working at a bar in college, and she now owns an eatery in the North Hills.
“It’s like a puzzle, owning a restaurant, trying to make all the pieces fit and finding where they fit and you know that you can put it all together,” she said.
Although Kelly’s mom can’t quite figure out why her daughter is obsessed with the restaurant business, she and the rest of Kelly’s family and friends are proud of her newest endeavor.
“She’s always like, ‘You should just be happy.’ I’m like, ‘This makes me happy,’” Kelly said. “I’m obsessed.”
Neighboring businesses have also been very receptive to The Library’s opening, Kelly and her husband shared.
“I think everyone sees it as, hopefully, we can just boost up South Side,” he said.
“Everyone’s been like, ‘Thank you for investing in the neighborhood,’ ” she said. “I don’t think running away is a solution for solving anything.”
Learn more at https://www.thelibrarypgh.com.