A Tradition of Brewing Up Holiday Magic

Brewer's Bar continues a long family tradition of caring for the LGBTQ+ Community.

Photo by Josh Englert.

Brewer’s Hotel & Bar, in partnership with other local organizations including 5801 Video Lounge, the Steel City Softball League (SCSL), and the Barons of Steel, is celebrating the fifth year of the “Andy Usner Christmas Drive,” a holiday giveaway that provides gifts and home-cooked meals to those in the LGBTQ community whose families have turned them away.

“The first year we did this, we gave out around 80 gifts, last year there were about 500,” says Carol Held, the current owner of Brewer’s and daughter of Andy Usner. “This year the gifts are rolling in. Every year we keep doing better so I’m hoping to double what we did last year.”

Carol’s generosity has caught some attention around town, earning her the PNC Bank LGBTQ+ Small Business of the Year Award at the Three Rivers Business Alliance Excellence In Business Awards. At the event, the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation approached her about partnering for next year’s holiday drive.

“After I won that award, my 8-year-old grandson said, ‘I’m so proud of you, Doe’ (my grandkids call me “Doe”) and that just warms my heart,” says Carol. “I told him, you know buddy, awards are nice to get but I don’t do this for awards. Some people are mean because of how someone loves others and it’s not ok to treat gay people differently.”

Steel City Softball League the Rogues teammates. Michael, Lane, David, Jeffrey, and Kyle (front). June 1993.

Carol’s father, Andy, had a long history of supporting the queer community. When SCSL was founded, it was a constant challenge to find umpires due to the stigma surrounding queer people and those associated with them. Andy, a Pittsburgh police officer at the time, stepped up without hesitation and even brought along other ally officers to ensure the players could recreate safely.

Andy’s allyship and support didn’t end there. Andy also opened the lodging above the bar to community members who had been displaced by their families for being queer. During the early years of the AIDS epidemic, many gay men spent their final days living at Brewer’s, being embraced and supported by Andy and his family.

“Things were always a little strapped for us,” says Carol. “My mom was a stay-at-home mom and my dad was a detective for the city of Pittsburgh but he believed every human life was worth it so he would even pay for the burials of these men who died of AIDS.”

Newspaper clipping from The Pittsburgh Press, Thursday, February 9, 1989. Click to view the full article.

Today, Carol has continued to provide a home for tenants who struggle to find stability and holds the holiday drive every year in honor of her father, continuing his commitment to the LGBTQ+ community. “I’ll help anyone in need. This is so personal for me. It’s not just Brewer’s, this bar stands for so much more. I get teared up any time I talk about the bar, thinking about all the stories, all the men who passed away here.”

If you’d like to support the fifth annual Andy Usner Christmas Drive, gifts and cash donations are welcome. Recommended gifts include gloves, hats, warm clothes, blankets, and hygiene products for adults.

Brewer’s Bar is open on Christmas day so stop by for a little holiday cheer and say hi to “Doe!”

Brewer’s Bar may be the oldest gay bar in Pittsburgh but Carol and her husband have been busy remodeling the place from top to bottom, including the new bar and dance floor space: The Underground!

Brewer’s interior circa 1986.
Roy Gloeckl resides in the southern hills of Pittsburgh, performing communications specialties for a local university. He is a lifelong gaymer who has yet to “catch ‘em all.” He is an actor who wants to be a cartoon. And yeah, he totally has a favorite dinosaur. Follow him on Instagram and tell him yours.