The Church Brew Works

By Emily Wolfe 

October 2020 

As its name suggests, the building that houses Lawrenceville’s Church Brew Works began life as a house of worship—St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church. Now, like many of the church buildings that left empty around Pittsburgh, St. John the Baptist has found new life after transformation, open seven days a week to any congregants who want to sit at a repurposed pew and sample one of the brewery’s offerings.  

large brick building with circular window in center and cross at the top
“Outside Church Brew Works,” Sai Koros. Church Brew Works, formerly St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church, as seen from the entrance. 

St. John the Baptist was constructed in 1902 for the English-speaking Catholic congregants of Lawrenceville. While the brick building’s original bell tower is no longer intact, the stained glass windows and vaulted ceiling have been preserved in their original appearance. The church weathered a fire in 1915 and the flood of 1936, but struggled in the second half of the twentieth century as Pittsburgh’s industrial decline caused the area’s population to shrink. Due to dwindling congregations and a shortage of priests, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh merged a number of its parishes in the early 1990s, closing dozens of church buildings that were no longer needed. Before the reorganization, the diocese encompassed more than 300 parishes; afterwards, the number was closer to 200. Lawrenceville’s St. John the Baptist was one of 39 churches that was deconsecrated during the reorganization process, shutting its doors to congregants in 1993 and going on the market shortly after.  

Three years later, in 1996, the building reopened its doors to the public as a brewery. The church’s original oak pews were shortened to fit at tables spaced out throughout the brewery’s restaurant area. The leftover wood from the pews was used to build the bar at the space’s left-hand side, and the “brew house”—the steel and copper tanks that form the brewing system—was installed in the place of honor in the apse at the far end of the room. Beers available for order include an on-theme “Heavenly Hefeweizen” and a “Pious Monk Dunkel” lager. 

The Church Brew Works is far from the only empty church in the area to undergo a change in purpose. One church building in Pittsburgh’s Strip District had a 15-year run as the “Altar Bar” nightclub before becoming the home of a new congregation in 2016. A former Homestead church is now home to a ropes course. The Sphinx Cafe, a now-closed Pittsburgh hookah bar, began its life as a church, as did Millvale’s Mr. Smalls Theater. Like the Church Brew Works, the trendy businesses that move into these locations tend to spotlight their history, embracing their new homes’ past lives as houses of worship. 

Featured Image

“The Church Brew Works Menu,” Sai Koros. The cover of Church Brew Works’ menu displays its slogan, playing off of the Biblical seven days of creation.

Further Reading 

“History.” Church Brew Works. Accessed 25 Oct. 2020. 

Kennell, Lexi. “Altered: Repurposed Pittsburgh Churches.” The Pitt News, 11 Oct. 2017. Accessed 25 Oct. 2020. 

Totten, Nick. “Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.” National Trust for Historic Preservation, 10 Dec. 2015. Accessed 25 Oct. 2020. 

How to Cite 

MLA: Wolfe, Emily. “The Church Brew Works.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh, 15 Jan. 2021,

APA: Wolfe, E. (2021, January 15). The church brew works. ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh.

Chicago: Wolfe, Emily. “The Church Brew Works.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, January 15, 2021.