Pittsburgh’s Regent Square neighborhood is getting a new coffee shop and arts house as Joe Davis opens “Biddle’s Escape” at 401 Biddle Avenue, in the northwest corner of Regent Square at South Trenton Avenue.
The shop features beads, bead art, cultural artifacts and curiosities, food and drink — all wrapped around premium organic fair trade coffee. Performance art — possibly in the form of readings and live music — may occur, as well.
The proprietor, a native of Baltimore and self-proclaimed world traveler, has lived in Regent Square for 20 years. During his travels he’s collected a stunning mix of artifacts from foreign cultures and also has developed expertise in bead art.
Davis, who lives with his young daughter in a big old house directly across Biddle from the new shop, previously owned History Bead Trading, a similar but smaller bead and coffee emporium at 406 South Craig Street in Oakland. Local residents will recognize his house because of the matrix of old vinyl LPs and rusty bicycles he’s cryptically affixed to his yard fence.
He said the new business centers on fair trade organic coffee, which he is buying direct from farmers in nations like Costa Rica and Nicaragua. “Fair trade” is a political and cultural concept that seeks to provide better economic conditions for producers by operating outside the realm of government tariffs and multinational food corporations.
Fair trade food items are considered by many to be superior in quality, unadulterated by corporate production and processing methods, and also to be a better deal for the agricultural workers who actually produce them.
To support these gustatory and artistic delights, Davis has created a bright open space decorated with some of his tribal masks, icons and other exotica. It also features an outdoor deck for enjoying food, drink and entertainment, in season.
Davis said he has owned the building (which is painted green and purple) since 1998 and it is thought to be at least a century old. He also claims, with a straight face, that the ghost of a young boy seems to haunt the basement. This has not been independently verified by the Regent Square Civic Association, but it makes for great neighborhood lore.
Now housing Biddle’s Escape on the ground floor and a fancy luxury apartment on the second floor, the structure is remembered by neighborhood old-timers as a one-time paint store. That was back in the days when there were grocers, tailors, barbers and other small businesses in that tight little community — before it was decimated and its main street (South Trenton Avenue) severed by creation of the Trenton Square apartment complex.
Davis says he is a great believer in Regent Square and sends his daughter to the Environmental Charter School, right up the street. He particularly is enthused by the neighborhood’s continuing reinvigoration in the Biddle-Trenton-West sector as new owners adapt fine old structures for commercial and residential uses — setting them up for a second century of utility.
Biddle’s Escape has no dedicated parking lot, but on-street parking isn’t too bad in the neighborhood, though sidewalks and lighting are less-than-ideal. Nearby attractions, within 200 feet, are a pet groomer, an antique shop, two real estate firms, Ed’s Auto Service (repair and inspection), a psychologist, and the home office of the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association.