Located on the edge of Swissvale and Swisshelm Park, The Pub in the Park may seem off the beaten path, but has established itself as a true neighborhood treasure for the community members who know it well.
With a philosophy of community engagement and a real connection to his customers, owner Bill Murray has built up a welcoming Irish pub and gathering space for his neighbors to come together and support one another.
Along with pouring the perfect pint of Guinness, they offer 14 beers on tap and a full menu of pub grub, including jumbo wings, burgers, and loaded fries.
By popular vote, The Pub in the Park was crowned the Best Chicken Wings in the Burgh in our social media wings giveaway. We had a chance to chat with Bill about his recent crown, his passion for community fundraisers, and how he grows his pub with customer feedback!
First, can you introduce yourself and your business?
My name is William Murray, I own a bar-restaurant called Pub in the Park and it's located between Swisshelm Park and Swissvale.
How did you get started with The Pub in the Park?
About 17 years ago, my partner and I were looking for a new business idea. We talked about sandwich shops and a couple other things. We found out through mutual friends that The Pub in the Park was up on the market. We checked it out and fell in love with it the very first time we went there. The clientele is amazing––it’s an absolutely wonderful place.
It's a hidden gem. The location itself––it's tucked away, so it's not easily, readily accessible. You'll never going to be just driving down the street and run into The Pub in the Park.
What has been the most rewarding part about running this business?
Just getting to know the people, making new friends. It's just amazing––you actually have to become a part of it to understand how good it is. It's unbelievable the people that come in there.
What's been the most unexpected part of running your business?
I would say the camaraderie and the people; I never would’ve thought that the people who come into my business and see me on a daily or weekly basis would become some of my best friends and family!
Have you taken any big risks that have paid off?
Ten years ago, we did not have a kitchen. We had closed the kitchen back in 2004 or 2005 because we had such a hard time keeping cooks. Believe it or not, the hardest thing about having a kitchen is when the economy is good, it's hard to keep people working because there are so many available jobs. So a few years ago, my manager came to me and said if we want to grow the business we need to put the kitchen in. We spent about $100,000 and put in a state-of-the-art kitchen upstairs.
How does it feel knowing that you've been voted Best Wings in the Burgh?
Absolutely amazing, because there was a lot of tough competition! I've had wings at a lot of the other places. Bigham Tavern has a great reputation for their wings and it's well deserved. A couple of the other places as well. I still can't believe we won.
What types of wings do you offer, and what's your favorite wing?
As far as sauces go, we have Dumpster Sauce, which is a very original sauce. It's like a peppery buffalo sauce, sweet and spicy. We have Carolina Creeper, which is a spicy barbeque and is my son’s favorite. We have Carolina Gold, a mustard sauce. So those are some of our great sauces.
As far as our rubs, we have our wing seasoning, wing dust, which is more of a spicy wing seasoning. We have salt & vinegar and garlic parm. Oddly enough, my favorite sauce is mixing dumpster sauce and spicy together. That's my absolute favorite!
What kinds of community events do you host?
Oh my goodness, we do a ton of community events! One of the things we are most famous for at this point is fundraisers. We will do a fundraiser for anybody who needs it.
For instance, we will be having a fundraiser in September for a young lady who has Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes. We have done fundraisers for people who have passed away. We've done fundraisers for people with cancer, leukemia. I've met so many great people through these fundraisers, and I’ve lost a few of them which is very sad. But I was very blessed to at least have them in my life for a short time.
Besides fundraisers, we just did a murder mystery dinner on Monday. We do karaoke for the community all the time, probably once a month. We have trivia night two nights a week, and it's two totally different crowds.
It seems like your events are very impactful and very connected with the community.
They really are, and the reason I think that is, is because we don't typically create the event and have the community then come to the event. What usually happens is someone in the community or one of our customers will come to us with an event idea or a fundraising idea and we will help them implement it along their parameters. We'll have them give us their ideas and then we'll tweak it a little bit––just because we've been doing it so long and we know what works and what doesn’t. But it really ends up being their idea, their baby, especially when it's a fundraiser to help out someone they care about.
I'm sure that plays into your pub's loyalty.
Yes absolutely, because everyone that comes to The Pub in the Park knows they're not just a customer; we treat them like family, because that's how we see them. And they know that when they come in, they can expect a level of friendship and service and…I can't even explain it.
I talk to my partner about it all the time. I've grown up in bars on the East End and I've never experienced anything like what we have at the pub, and our customers are to thank. And my manager, Jennifer Roberta, is also a huge part of it.
Where do you draw inspiration for new dishes and menu items?
The main place where we draw inspiration is what our customers want. We might have a special one day—something as mundane as a stuffed pepper—but we'll have people come in and eat it and they'll give us suggestions. Within the next couple weeks, we will make sure to implement those suggestions as quickly as possible.
What advice would you give to new business owners?
If there's one thing I can say to people over the years: anybody who is thinking about starting a new business like this––just listen to your customers.
Listen to them, let them have a voice, and then not only do they feel happy that you've listened to them, but then they feel like they’re a part of the business. Obviously, you can’t accommodate every single person with every single request. But you're going to hear a trend, and if you give people what they want, they're going to show up for it.
In the next year, what are the top goals you want to accomplish at The Pub in the Park?
We’d like to get even better tied into the community. Swisshelm Park is a growing community and there are new people moving in every day, so there are new opportunities every day for us to either be successful with them or be a failure with them. We really have to make sure that we are keeping things fresh, listening to new people, and making them feel welcome in our establishment.
The Pub in the Park is located at 7034 Blackhawk St, Swissvale, PA 15218. They are open Monday through Saturday from 11:00am to 2:00am, and Sunday from 10:00am to 2:00am. Check them out here!
Want to learn about other well-loved local businesses in Pittsburgh? Check out our interview with De Fer Coffee & Tea, a cafe and small batch roastery located in the Strip District, where specialty beverages, food, art, and music meet.