THE RED DOOR
An Historical Memoir of the Squirrel Hill Cafe
by Jan Cavrak & Leslie Mcilroy
ISBN: 978-1-59948-838-7, 154 pages, 7 X 10 hardback, $45 (+ shipping)
Book released: November 10-13, 2020
For those who prefer to pay by check, the price is $49/book (which includes shipping and applicable sales tax) and should be sent to:
Main Street Rag
PO BOX 690100
Charlotte, NC 28227-7001
The Red Door — An Historical Memoir of Pittsburgh’s Iconic Squirrel Hill Cafe
The Red Door is not just a memoir, although it is told primarily through the eyes of Jan Cavrak, who has worked at Pittsburgh’s historic Squirrel Hill Cafe (affectionately known as The Cage) for nearly 40 years. It is an exploration of what transforms a public space into a tangible community. It ponders the oeuvre — what collectively makes a space a destination — why people from all walks of life converge under a roof to celebrate the small ways they can be comforted, celebrated, challenged voiced and heard. For years
The book shares personal memories from patrons and personnel alike, across the spectrum: friendship and anger, marriage and divorce, love and longing, hunger and humor, homeless and home, especially home. If anything comes through the work of capturing individual moments and experiences at The Squirrel Hill Cafe, it is the clichéd notion of a “home away from home,” a safe and welcoming place.
Regulars, “newbies,” residents and passer-byers all gather every day of the week — planned or unplanned — to affirm a necessary sense of belonging. No judgment, no motives, no need to engage or disengage. A diverse community of Pittsburghers who share The Cage as their common denominator.
The book was written over three years of intimate collaboration between Pittsburgh natives Jan Cavrak and writer, Leslie Anne Mcilroy, who bartended at The Cage for almost 10 years in the 1980s/90s.
It also contains a wealth of photographs that help bring the reader into the ambiance and multeity of The Cage experience, including name-droppable contributors like novelist Stuart O’Nan, reporter Eric Heyl, producer Minette Seate and a tribute to the missed and memorialized Anthony Bourdain, who visited The Cage a year before he passed to film his Pittsburgh version of Parts Unknown.
Which brings us to the food (kind of) — a menu that has long served the Pittsburgh community well: burgers and hot balls, fries and chicken wings, the historic omelets and Lord knows, the sardines and hard-boiled eggs, all a decadent spread; the flavors of history and hallowedness that satisfies the hunger of The Cage appetite.
Finally, we invite you into an unsolicited chapter of testimonials (“A Page in the Cage”): first-hand accounts of everything from fights and fervor, workings and shortcomings, day-to-day struggles, conflicts, people (beautiful and bastard), all the making of an iconic Pittsburgh institution that continues to thrive. How? Because, according to Jan, what really makes The Cage The Cage, is everyone who walks through The Red Door. A community of lovers and seekers, losers and dreamers, doers and decadents. Welcome home!
Jan Cavrak is a Pittsburgh native who grew up in the east end of the city and raised her family here. Her daughter Amy, son-in-law Howard and grandson Alex live in the South Hills while her son Larry, his wife Suzanne and their sons Nicholas, Matthew and Andrew live in Maryland. Jan has worked as a server (waitress and bartender) at The Squirrel Hill Cafe since 1980. She makes a home with Bill Chaffey in Swissvale, where she grew up. Today, Jan spends much of her off time enjoying her cabin in Bedford and with her family and friends (especially Sandy). She loves music, road trips and an occasional sweet. Jan plans on working at The Cage until she drops there.
Leslie Anne Mcilroy won the 1997 Slipstream Poetry Chapbook Prize for Gravel, the 2001 Word Press Poetry Prize for her full-length collection Rare Space and the 1997 Chicago Literary Awards. Her second book, Liquid Like This, was published by Word Press in 2008 and Slag by Main Street Rag Publishing Company as runner-up to their 2014 Poetry Book Prize. Leslie’s poems appear in Grist, Jubilat, The Mississippi Review, PANK, Pearl, Poetry Magazine, the New Ohio Review and more. She won the 2018 Gemini Flash Fiction contest for her piece, “The Old Point.” Leslie was co-founder of HEArt — Human Equity through Art — and works as a copywriter in Pittsburgh, PA where she lives with her son Silas.
In The Red Door, Leslie Mcilroy and Jan Cavrak tell the smoky, intimate story of a Pittsburgh neighborhood bar. The Squirrel Cage is many things to many people, and here they get their 15 minutes of bar story fame. Of course, all good bar stories end with a shot or a beer, or in this case, a shot and a beer on a bar stool with the light fading through the front windows. The quiet heroine of this tale is Jan Cavrak, who has seen it all and back again. Listen to her when she says keep your tank full and your apron on. ~Sherrie Flick, a Pittsburgh-based whiskey drinker and author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness and two short story collections, Whiskey, Etc. and Thank Your Lucky Stars
The Red Door is a very Pittsburgh book — Informal, down-to-earth, honest, with a big heart. But it is also a very American book — the Squirrel Hill Cafe is a classic representation of the “Third Place” that builds community, a place that is not work, and is not home, an in between place where new friends are made and new memories in at atmosphere that creates a neutral leveling of status and baggage. This book is a wonderful mosaic of storytelling, history, detective work, research, bullshit, and photographs that together tell the story of a memorable institution. ~Jim Daniels, author of numerous collections of poetry, most recently The Middle Ages (Red Mountain Press, 2018) & Thomas Stockham University Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University
Through exceptional storytelling, The Red Door: An Historical Mémoire of The Squirrel Hill Cafe, by Jan Cavrak and Leslie Anne Mcilroy, captures a small and often overlooked slice of American life. You hear the conversations, some discrete, others loud and brash. You smell the strangely intoxicating mix of cigarettes, fryer grease and cheap cologne. You see and feel the customers and characters. But, most of all, you wish there was a Squirrel Cage in every city, a place where all are welcome and accepted, a home away from home. ~Rege Behe, Pittsburgh writer and journalist; former book editor, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
(From the jacket)
Every corner of America has its own special gathering place: a restaurant, a bar, a neighborhood grocery store. Places like these are where neighbors come when home is not enough; when they need the sound of other, familiar voices. It’s a comfort zone, a home away from home.
The Squirrel Hill Cafe is one such place.
But what makes a place a community magnet? The people and their stories. Whether it’s the owner, the staff, the regulars, the people who just stop in for a bite, a drink, an event. It’s these interactions that draw us in and bring us back.
In The Red Door, Jan Cavrak and Leslie Anne Mcilroy give us a slice of life view from both sides of this Pittsburgh landmark’s windows; its staff and patrons, its heritage as told through photos, records and, in many cases, the voices of those who frequent the place. We see a history of immigration and citizenship, of generational change, of familial and sometimes traumatic events that shape a community through the lens of this community treasure.
Open the red door. Order an IC light with that burger and fries, some soup to warm the bones. Come home or become a new member of the extended family.
~M. Scott Douglass
Main Street Rag Publishing Company