Hilton Head bars create a bit of Pittsburgh on the Atlantic Ocean

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE
By Maria Sciullo
Online Article Here

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Evgeni Malkin’s framed, black Penguins sweater hangs near the bar, not far from a lineup of other Pittsburgh sports jerseys.

A yellow sign, shaped like a directional arrow, points the way to the restrooms. Anyone with a love for the Thunderbolt immediately will recognize the nod to Kennywood Park. It’s a typical black-and-gold sports bar, but in the air there’s a whiff of the Atlantic Ocean, not the Mon.

Outside in the stifling, 100-degree heat, Helen and Mark Alberts were cradling a large flat box and a container of salad. Part of the bustling takeout trade at Giuseppi’s Pizza, they were surrounded by kids in shorts and flip-flops, the ladies in brightly colored florals.

Visually, Mr. Alberts stood out in a black Steelers tee and a black Pirates cap. Yet in spirit, he fit right in. This might be South Carolina, but in certain places, whatever force is strong with Pittsburgh sports teams is as much a part of the island landscape as palmetto trees and gators.

“We come here every year,” said Mrs. Alberts, who lives in Wooster, Ohio. She and her husband still have family in Western Pennsylvania.

Longtime visitors to Hilton Head and other parts of the Low Country know they can stop by any number of area bars and restaurants and feel right at home. There are two Giuseppi’s in the area, owned by Edinboro University grads and former Sigma Tau Gamma brothers.

Callahan’s is another sports bar/estaurant at the southern end of the island with Pittsburgh presence. In the Charleston area, Steel City Pizza’s decor must be a puzzling sight to outsiders.

“I met Tony [Acruri] and Steve [Carb] my first day of college,” said Giuseppi’s Jim Lonero, whose parents still live in Collier. His partners grew up in West Mifflin and Squirrel Hill, respectively. There is yet another Giuseppi’s on the island, a smaller Sea Pines Center location originally owned by Mr. Carb but sold a few years ago.

That one as well is dripping with Western Pennsylvania sports memorabilia.

Yinzer stuff of all stripes crowds the brick walls of the Shelter Cove Giuseppi’s. A framed Negro League Pittsburgh Crawfords shirt hangs next to a photo of the Homestead Grays. A Robert Morris University hockey sweater is near the front door, donated by three grads who stopped by for a beer dinner event awhile back.

“I just like the diversity of our memorabilia,” said Mr. Lonero, whose Holy Grail of fandom is to find a Mike Ditka jersey. He said that roughly half of the items were donations by Pittsburgh fans just happy to have a place to call their own.

Pennsylvanians comprise about 9 percent of annual visitors to the island, behind Ohio (13) and Georgia (11). According to Jack Reed, director of the island’s visitor and convention bureau, that’s roughly 125,000-150,000 from our state. Judging from the frequent sighting of popular Salty Dog Cafe shirts in Pittsburgh, there’s a strong concentration of vacationers from Western Pennsylvania.

The American Hockey League holds its annual Board of Governors meeting in Hilton Head each July, which is how Jason Botterill, associate general manager of the Penguins, came to make Giuseppi’s a regular stop.

“I think it’s a bit of a local phenomenon. To me, it’s just another example of something that’s blown me away since coming to Pittsburgh,” Mr. Botterill said.

“To me, it just illustrates the enthusiasm and the passion this city has for its sports teams.”

Jim Schmid and his partner, Marty Mohar, are from New Jersey and upstate New York, but they knew a good Pittsburgh thing when they saw it. They bought Casey’s in 2012 and kept the theme.

“We’ve got a big Pittsburgh clientele in the Hilton Head community, and even during vacation time we’ve got people coming in to watch the Pirates and hockey. It’s a fun group; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Casey’s was packed during the Stanley Cup run. At other times of the year, its satellite subscription beams games from all over the sports world via 42 TVs and soon, four big screens. Pittsburgh games are moved front and center.

“I’ve never had any complaints,” said Mr. Schmid, who is pro-Steelers unless they happen to be playing the Philadelphia Eagles. There are college nights and other promotions throughout the year.

“Not just because I own Casey’s, but I think it’s the best place to watch sports because it’s all around you,” he said. “Our claim to fame is, we’re a little neighborhood spot where we try to know your name as you enjoy your sports.”

Of course, Giuseppi’s isn’t just for the black-and-gold, which explains the Ravens jersey across from the bar.

“It’s gotten to the point where we will take memorabilia from people who aren’t necessarily from Pittsburgh — Cleveland Browns fans, Baltimore Ravens. I look at it as good business; these are people who patronize my restaurant. If they want to put a banner up, let them put a banner up ....

“... as long as their team finishes over .500, I won’t take it down,” Mr. Lonero added, laughing.

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.