Now Open: Bar Botanico in Lawrenceville

The 45-seat restaurant offers thoughtful craft cocktails and unique (family-style) takes on contemporary American cuisine. Their grand opening is set for December 1.

by Aadam Soorma
November 25, 2019

Lawrenceville’s newest restaurant is ready.

Located at 4325 Butler Street, Bar Botanico officially opened its doors on December 1.

One of many plants found inside Bar Botanico’s airy, welcoming space.

After working in an Italian restaurant in San Francisco, Kelsie Sinagra returned home to Pittsburgh with her husband, Jeff. Together, they spent about two years preparing to launch Bar Botanico – which is Italian for botanical.

“Although our name is Italian, Bar Botanico is contemporary American cuisine with a global influence,” Sinagra explains. “Our bar is focused on cocktails with house-made ingredients and unique spirits. We love the local distilleries and feature them, alongside some unique brands.”

L to R: Chef Rafael Vencio, Co-Owner Jeff Walter, Co-Owner and General Manager Kelsie Sinagra and Assistant General Manager Kieran Seitz at Bar Botanico in Lawrenceville. Photo: Kevin Gubish

Step into the clean, inviting dining area and you’ll note the presence of plants amidst a warm vibe.

“We put thought and time into designing the space,” explains assistant General Manager Kieran Seitz. “We wouldn’t really call it minimalist, but rather a friendly, fresh air feeling.”

Guests can be seated in either of the countertop dining sections for table side service, including this one that faces Butler Street. There is also traditional bar seating and a full dining section further past the bar.

Teaming Up with Chef Rafael Vencio

When it came time to interview chefs, the Bar Botanico team landed on Smallman Galley alum Rafael Vencio, a creative, ethnically Filipino chef with a wide range of restaurant experience.

Chef Rafael Vencio will lead the kitchen at Bar Botanico. Photo: Kevin Gubish

Chef Vencio’s popular Kanto Kitchen pop-up series celebrates ‘Immigrant American’ cuisine with unique flair and community-forward dishes. His multi-faceted track record led to a unique approach for Bar Botanico’s food offering.

“I conceived the food program from what I call ‘manageable inventory,’” Chef Vencio says. “We take things you might find in your own home pantry – cooked legumes, cooked root vegetables, cooked grains – and bring them into the fine dining experience.”

With an emphasis on sharing, Bar Botanico’s food menu leans into family-style dining – wherein portion sizes are meant to serve groups of 3 or 4 guests together.

The family-style ‘dinner set’ at Bar Botanico includes a meat, fish or shellfish option. Veggie and vegan options are also available. Photo: Kevin Gubish

Drinks at Bar Botanico

Guests will note the small but solid wine selection along with some local beers, including the East End Big Hop, Cellar Works Helles Lager and the Hop Farm Fresh Pot of Porter.

Non-beer drinkers can get Lawrenceville’s Arsenal Dry Cider.

Where the bar especially shines, however, is on their thoughtful, elevated take on cocktails.

We let the staff surprise us with a Bartender’s Choice, which is served exactly as it sounds.

“Our cocktails include twists on classics,” Seitz explains. “Some are new, but we want them to speak to everybody. Our bar staff is encouraged to be creative.”

House-made syrups and beautiful garnishes are all presented at a high-level.

A peek at Bar Botanico’s soft launch cocktail list. They plan to slowly expand their cocktail offerings over the next several weeks.

“Our aim is to bump up to 25 cocktail offerings in about six months,” says Seitz. “The cocktail menu will be presented in a book with a focus on taste / style, rather than reading from a list of ingredients and feeling intimidated.”

Very Local recommendation: with a talented team behind the bar, it only makes sense to let them flex a bit. We recommend the Bartender’s Choice – tell them what you normally drink, then sit back and enjoy the surprise.

Promoting a Chef’s Choice Menu

Bar Botanico’s approach to food is based around curating a full experience rather than boasting a flagship, specific menu item.

An array of family-style dinner sets, available at Bar Botanico. Photo: Kevin Gubish

Reflecting on his Filipino heritage, Chef Vencio is excited to share a piece of that experience with guests.

“I always impart some of my background into the dishes that I cook,” he explains. “Lawrenceville is the perfect ‘testing grounds’ for what we have planned.”

“Come with no expectation. In the mood for tacos? Cool. In the mood for burgers? Cool. The more you come back, the more we recognize you and we can cook for you.” -Chef Rafael Vencio. Photo: Kevin Gubish

Adhering to Sustainable Restaurant Practices

Chef Vencio’s passion is on full display when he talks about the impact of food waste.

“At the core of what I aim to instill is minimize waste,” Chef Vencio says. “Look at where we are in Pittsburgh. Chefs are putting their best foot forward. I’m aware of the negative impacts of food waste, both as a business AND as a restaurant.”

Smoked mussel pasta at Bar Botanico. Photo: Kevin Gubish

Bar Botanico’s in-house approach to up-cycling aims to connect the back of house (kitchen) with the front of house and bar staff.

“Our plan is to start small. We learned that tomato water (resulting from Chef’s pizza sauce) can be sent up to the bar and mixed into some cocktails,” Seitz explains. “In reverse, excess pineapple trimmings (from zesting a drink) can actually be sent back to the kitchen and used as dessert shavings.”

Know Before You Go – Bar Botanico

Bar Botanico officially opens on Sunday, Dec 1 and plans to be open seven days a week. Guests will be seated first come, first served. Parties with more than six guests are encouraged to make a reservation.

Brunch will be served on weekends (Saturdays and Sundays, 11am to 3pm). Bar Botanico plans to serve Commonplace Coffee in-house. The kitchen will close at 3pm on weekends, then reopen for dinner at 4:30pm.

“Come excited and come with an open mind,” says Sinagra. “Let us take care of you.”

A ‘Bartender’s Choice’ cocktail, garnished with lemon peel at Bar Botanico.


Photos by Aadam Soorma and Kevin Gubish. Follow Kevin on Instagram

Bar Botanico
Getting there
4325 Butler St, Pittsburgh, PA 15201, USA
Mon-Tue Closed
Wed-Thu 5–11pm
Fri 5pm–12am
Sat 2pm–12am
Sun 2–9pm
More Info

In 2012, Aadam moved to Pittsburgh. He's currently parked (sans chair) in Lawrenceville and plans to stay a while. On the weekends, you'll find him driving a small green bus (Porter Tours) as he leads tours at local breweries. Got a fun story idea? DMs are open: @asoorma.

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