On a recent business trip to Pittsburgh, I experienced something that really surprised me. I went out to dinner with some co-workers to a microbrewery/restaurant known as Church Brew Works. The name is very appropriate. It is in an old Catholic church building (St Mark’s) which is on the city’s registry as a historical landmark. There is a nice plaque on the outside of the building about its history.

It is a unique concept for me to open a restaurant, let alone a brewery, in what was once a place of worship. But I tend to think towards the utilitarian side, and I became really curious how they remodeled the inside of an old church to make this happen. I also home brew my own beer, so the engineer in me also wanted to see the brewery equipment.

As I entered the restaurant I saw, at the back of the building where the altar was, a large set of brewing equipment for making the beer (pictures below). It emitted a glossy shine from the stainless steel tanks, almost like a mesmerizing aura. And it is, dare I say it… a glorious site. It’s the scale of brewing that a home brewer sometimes dreams about doing.

And then, I catch myself and hear my thoughts wandering to things like “this must be idolatry to be amazed at the site of beer brewing equipment on an altar,” “how could this happen to a place of worship,” and other mental monsters. It was only a defensive response. Any building is only a place of worship when it is actively maintained and honored as such by the group who uses it. This church building, for whatever reason, was abandoned. It’s place in Pittsburgh history preserved by its protection as a recognized landmark, but its time as a place of worship is over.

So I go in to the restaurant with my coworkers and we are led to our seats by our waitress. We proceed to have a very good dinner, and drink some of the beers made here in the building. I had a good time, and I like the place. The beer I chose off the on-tap menu (a Czech-style Pilsner) was very well made.  The stained glass is still in the building which maintains the buildings original character, as well as the original wood and marble architecture, large columns, etc. All are quite beautiful. The place is very open with a lot of space, and there is a lot of echoing (reverberation) when people talk which actually adds to the social atmosphere.

In some ways, it reminded me of dining in a museum cafeteria during a visit, but with the cafeteria being right in the museum instead of a separate food court.  It’s OK, as long as nobody stains the Rembrandt painting.

If you are in the city of Pittsburgh in the future, I highly encourage you to stop by and check it out. Ultimately, it may just be a great (tongue-in-cheek) way of manifesting something we often quote on the internet.