Kenny-Spritz-ett, Cathy on Acid and more: Hem’s staff chronicles history behind their famous shot pitchers


Nate Yonamine | Senior Staff Photographer

People sit around a table with pitchers of drinks at Hemingway’s.

By Elle Kenney, Staff Writer

Hemingway’s Cafe, a bar and grille located on Forbes Avenue, is known for their shot pitchers. According to John Elavsky, owner and president, “shot pitchers” are mixed drinks created entirely by his staff. 

“They’re kind of just a mix of alcohol and juices and soda and whatever else. I don’t know exactly what goes in them,” Elavsky said. “My staff kind of makes them up. And they’re really, really good at it.” 

The bar has been called Hemingway’s since 1983, when it was bought from Pittsburgh Pirates player Frankie Gustine. They are open Monday through Wednesday from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Thursday from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. On Friday and Saturday, they’re open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. All of their pitchers typically cost $9, but some are $5.50 on select days. Their most popular pitcher is the Long Island, which is the Thursday special, and is one of the “strongest” pitchers according to the owners. Other popular pitchers served include the Pink Whitney, Spiced Rum and Coke, the Olivia Rodrigo, Cathy on Acid and the Kenny-Spritz-ett.

Mackenzie Keenan, the general manager, said her sister Katie Keenan and another former bartender first created the pitchers around 17 years ago. She said at the time, they were only $5 each at regular price, but due to inflation the prices have gone up. 

“When we first started it was five for $5,” Mackenzie Keenan said. “Then they went up to like $6, then $8 and now they’re $9 and then we have the daily special for $5.50 every day. With the prices of everything just going up, they had to as well. Still, the price stayed pretty consistent over time.” 

According to Katie Keenan, a bartender at Hem’s, there are many ways they create new pitchers. She said sometimes they just want to test different flavors of liquor, while other times they want to try a newly released liquor. The pitchers are also sometimes inspired by previous drinks or pop culture. 

“I really like to try different flavors and different liquors,” Katie Keenan said. “So sometimes when a new liquor comes out, you try a pitcher with that and then if it sells well we keep it on. And if it doesn’t sell well then we’ll take it off.”

Katie Keenan also said the pitchers initially began as 20-ounce drinks with candy necklaces in them that were meant to be poured into shot glasses and shared among friends. Over time, they developed into 32-ounce single pitchers. 

“That’s why they’re called shot pitchers — because they started as a pitcher of a mixed shot, a drink to share with your friends,” Katie Keenan said. “And then over the years they evolved into like [an individual] drink, so they’re still called shot pitchers, but nobody does shots of them anymore.”

One of Katie Keenan’s personal favorites is The Walking Dead pitcher. It consists of Bacardi Raspberry, raspberry schnapps and pineapple juice. She also highly recommends the Cathy on Acid, which includes Bacardi Mango, pineapple juice and cranberry juice.

Rachel Maniet, a junior chemical engineering major, was at Hemingway’s over the weekend enjoying the Pink Whitney Saturday Special. Maniet said she liked how cheap their daily specials are.

“I like that they’re $5 on different days of the week,” Maniet said. 

Maniet said she couldn’t decide what her favorite pitcher is, but said she had a soft spot for the Long Island pitcher. 

“The Long Islands on Thursday are kind of crazy,” Maniet said.

Katie Keenan said the drinks range from mild to strong, with the Long Island being the strongest. According to Elavsky, the pitchers are “all pretty equal,” and while some are slightly stronger, their main focus is on taste. 

“Sometimes, you know, stronger doesn’t always taste better,” Elavsky said. “We’ve had some complaints in the past that ‘that’s too strong’ or ‘too much alcohol,’ and we’ll adjust it a little better, or do whatever we have to do.”

Each pitcher is garnished with gummy bears, although some drinks use different types of candy. For example, the Orange Crush Shot pitcher is topped with Pop Rocks candy. Elavsky said they know many students enjoy having candy in the drinks, so they try to mix it up.

“We put gummy worms in most of them and the students always liked that,” Elavsky said. “We try to switch them up a little bit, like for the month of February we have a one called the Love Potion to honor Valentine’s Day.”

Originally, the pitchers used Dum-Dum lollipops instead of gummy candies. According to Katie Keenan, they ran out of Dum-Dums one weekend, so they temporarily replaced them with gummy worms. However, the customers ended up preferring them over the lollipops.

While Hem’s is well known for their shot pitchers, according to Katie Keenan, they also have food and a long list of cocktails that many people don’t know about. 

“So I think our drinks menu … is very extensive,” Katie Keenan said. “We have an actual, pretty big and good drink menu for anywhere in the city. And then our food is actually really good.”

According to Mackenzie Keenan, Hemingways’ Cafe is an important staple in the Pittsburgh community.

“A lot of the places that Pitt students used to go to have shut down over the years, especially because of COVID and everything,” Mackenzie Keenan said. “A lot of [alumni] come here and they love coming back here, because it’s one of the few places that’s left as a Pitt staple.”