Jim Nied is a warm, humble guy with a bright smile and infectious laugh. It was truly a pleasure to while away a Tuesday afternoon with him at his now-closed family-owned business, Nied’s Hotel. As one hour turned into two, then three and almost four, it was clear that the hilarious and poignant stories about this Lawrenceville institution and the people who loved it are endless. That’s not surprising—although the barstools are empty, Nied’s Hotel still feels like home with a plethora of photos, band posters, and other decoration plastered on the walls.

    Jim Nied

    Jim Nied

    Opened by Jim’s grandfather, Thaddeus “Ted” Niedzinski, Nied’s was originally located in Homestead but was forced to move due to the expansion of the mill in the area. “They closed on August 30, 1941, and reopened in Lawrenceville August 31,” says Jim. “This place was an Irish bar called the Dublin Hotel when he bought it. The man who sold it to my grandfather had a piece of advice—that he change his last name because it was so long and Polish.”

    Ted Niedzinski did just that and Nied’s Hotel was born. It served as a boarding house and local watering hole for decades, opening at 7:00 a.m. serving breakfast, all types of bar fare, and of course, their famous fish sandwich. Jim says the restaurant sold up to 400 hand-crafted fried fish sandwiches a week, and double that amount during Lent.

    Jim’s father Paul Nied ran the business until 1977, when Jim joined him after attending Duquesne University and serving as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. The Nieds are a proud military family—Paul served in World War II and was honored for his service with a Purple Heart. Their commitment to serving our country shows—there are still framed photos and medals on the walls even though the bar is now closed. “My dad always wanted to meet a general,” says Jim. “Luckily we were able to make that happen for him. In fact, he ended up meeting more than one. My friend Harry Hayden was the right-fielder for the Nied’s Hotel softball team,” says Jim, “and he and his brother Mike are like family.” Harry’s brother is Air Force General Michael Hayden, who served as the director of the National Security Agency and CIA during the George W. Bush administration. In 2016, Nied’s Hotel hosted a book signing for General Hayden, with a line that stretched around the block with people waiting to get in. “He’s a real down-to-earth guy,” says Jim. “He’d hop right behind the bar and start pouring beers for everyone.” A signed photo of the Pittsburgh native still hangs on the wall.

    Nied’s Hotel was also a popular music venue that hosted all types of shows and events, many of them fundraisers. Comedian Jim Krenn did stand-up comedy here, and legendary Pittsburgh rock-n-roll outfit The Nied’s Hotel Band was formed in 2003 when singer John Vento began a studio recording project titled “Nied’s Hotel” as a tribute to Jim. Many more songs were inspired by the goings-on and people at the bar. Pittsburgh musician Slim Forsythe lived above Nied’s for quite a few years, and there’s now a “museum” upstairs that is dedicated to him and his work.

    “We never charged a cover but I always paid the bands who played here. Sometimes if they knew I didn’t make money they’d try to give it back, but I wouldn’t take it,” says Jim. He even created a small outdoor amphitheater for bands to play, the sounds of music and laughter wafting throughout Upper Lawrenceville for all to enjoy. “You know, in all these years, we’ve never had a noise complaint and no one’s ever called the police. Can you believe that?” laughs Jim.

    Community involvement, kindness, humor, and generosity are hallmarks of the Nied’s Hotel family, especially Jim. He currently sits on the board of Lawrenceville United and is an active member of the Catholic Youth Association, which provides a variety of services for Pittsburghers of all ages. Although 2018 ended on a bittersweet note on December 30 when the bar closed for good, Jim is happily looking to the future. When asked if he misses anything about working at the bar, he says: “I miss joking with my customers and Barbie, who cooked here for 50 years. But I’m getting on in age and my wife and I had some health issues that needed to be addressed. I guess what I’m saying is of course I miss the good parts, but it is kind of a relief not to have to work so hard and take care of the things I didn’t enjoy doing, like bookkeeping.”

    Although the renaissance Lawrenceville has seen in recent years is exciting and change is a constant no matter what, Nied’s Hotel and Jim’s marvelous sense of humor, compassion, and fish sandwiches will be sorely missed by the Lawrenceville community and all of Pittsburgh. And if you’re wondering whether The Nied’s Hotel Band is still playing around town—they are.

    Aleita Hermanowski is a freelance writer who grew up working at a family business in the Strip District. She lives in Bloomfield with her two favorite people—her cat, Bug, and dog, Billie. You can read more of her work at aleitahermanowski.com

    Author’s note: I want to thank Jimmy Nied for taking the time to sit down with me, reminisce, and make me laugh until my stomach hurt. I’ve known him for most of my life. He and his father were customers of my dad’s business in the Strip for nearly 50 years. Thank you, Jim, for putting a little more love, laughter, and fun into the world—we’ll miss you.

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