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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Chiodo's owner built bar into Homestead icon.

Tuesday August 28, 2007 @ 1:28 AM
From Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
By Bonnie Pfister

Joe Chiodo, owner of the iconic Chiodo's Tavern in Homestead that for nearly 60 years was a must-visit for campaigning politicians, historians and steelworkers, died Sunday. He was 89.

Located on West Eighth Street just a few blocks from the storied U.S. Steel Homestead Works, the bar was noted for its wide selection of imported beers, its "Mystery Sandwich" and its quintessential, gruff-but-lovable owner who personally tended to all his patrons.

Opening during the post-war steel boom of 1947 while Mr. Chiodo was in his 20s, the bar outlived the 1986 closure of the steel works before shuttering in March 2005. A plaque in the parking lot of a Walgreen's drug store marks the watering hole's location.

"He was a great Pittsburgher, and he ran a great bar," said Thomas Barry, owner of Barry's Public House and president of the South Side Bar and Restaurant Association. "It was a later-day Pittsburgh landmark." {Continued click READ MORE below}

Mr. Chiodo, of Munhall, developed diabetes a few years ago and earlier this month began undergoing treatment at a Squirrel Hill rehabilitation facility, said family friend Mark Fallon.

During the steel era, Homestead was a campaign stop for virtually every politician passing through the Rust Belt, and Chiodo's provided a colorful place to mingle with the locals. Mr. Chiodo's decorating technique was to attach random items to the walls and ceiling, including sports and steel industry memorabilia, antique weapons, old telephones, baby buggies and a vast collection of brassieres.

"It had ambience by the bucketful," said Ronald Baraff, director of museum collections and archives at the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area. "You walked in, and everywhere you looked was some artifact. People would bring Joe stuff -- some piece of themselves, their work, the region. And there were so many layers: 47 years worth of materials."

Nephew Joe Chiodo, who worked at the tavern on and off since his teens, said the famous "Mystery Sandwich" evolved from a ham and Swiss with kraut to include hamburger and kielbasa. "People would give him vegetables in the summertime, and he would put them in the sauerkraut," he said. "He wanted something like a Reuben sandwich, but different."

Fallon said he began frequenting Chiodo's around age 4. "My dad drank in there, and my mom would make him take one of the kids so he'd return at a reasonable hour," Fallon said. "I met my wife there, and after our wedding reception in 1990, the whole wedding party went there, my wife in her wedding gown and me in my tux."

In the early 1980s, Mr. Chiodo began introducing imported and micro-brewed beers, which augmented his clientele with college students even as the mill workers saw their future diminishing. After the steel works was transformed into the upscale Waterfront shopping area, many historians and locals were appalled by plans to replace the venue with a pharmacy.

Fallon said Mr. Chiodo had offers to purchase the tavern. He doubted Mr. Chiodo would have been willing to see someone else at the helm of a venture he had nurtured like a baby.

"It would have been tough deep down," Fallon said. "He wasn't going to let anybody else raise his child."

Mr. Chiodo is survived by his wife, Florence, and several nieces and nephews. Funeral arrangements and burial will be private.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburghlive.com, Bonnie Pfister can be reached at bpfister@tribweb.com or 412-320-7886.

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