Club Cafe in Pittsburgh's South Side is a unique performing arts venue in that it is incredibly small, yet attracts some of the best up-and-coming musicians there are.
So when the guitarist of one of our favorite bands (Chris Eldridge from the two-time Grammy nominated Punch Brothers) came into town to perform with one of his closest friends (guitarist Julian Lage- Grammy nominated for the Best Contemporary Jazz album), we bought tickets in a heart-beat.
A Small Music Venue in the South Side
We arrived about five minutes after doors open to find a line wrapping around towards the end of the block. We didn't expect to be able to grab a seat at this point as we knew the venue only had what is said to be “limited seating,” but were pleasantly surprised to find that there were a fair number of prime seats overall (roughly 25)- naturally, all taken. We were fortunate enough, however, to grab two of the ten or so seats at the bar meaning one very simple thing: more beer for me!
Now, when we say seats at the bar, we should highlight the fact that we really mean you're going to be at the bar. This area is separated from the stage by the only standing room area in the joint but, unlike other venues, is still in the same general space as the stage. So while you may still be close, odds are good you're going to peer between shoulders to catch a glimpse at the stage if the show is sold out and you sit here (the main seats, however, had great views regardless).
This may be a downside, but it also is worth noting just how small this venue really is, because even the furthest seat at the bar is no more than twenty feet from the stage. It is an intimate setting through and through, and the “limited seating” offering is simply a pleasant by-product of Club Cafe's setup.
Or, Maybe, Club Cafe is a Good Bar for Live Music
It would be easy for us to classify Club Cafe as a small music venue with a bar like we did above, but, really, I think a better way to put it is that it is a good bar for live music.
The reason for this is because in most places we've been to in Pittsburgh for live music, we go for the musicians and the venue is an after thought. Sure, we may grab a beer or a bite to eat, but really we don't care about any of that because we are there to hear the bands. The same could be said about Club Cafe, as in this particular instance we did go for the band, but the opposite could be said about the bar itself.
The reason for this is that you could go to any dive bar in South Side, pay a $5+ cover charge, have access to a bad draft list and an equally bad band, and have a mostly decent and not really memorable night. But at Club Cafe if you can tolerate a higher cover charge (in this case a reserved ticket) of about $20, you'll be entertained by acclaimed musicians and be surrounded by other patrons who have the same exact goal in mind (try that at any of the other bars in South Side- I dare you).
But at its heart Club Cafe is still a bar with a decent performing space, so we have to ask: what about the drinks?
The beer list included many local and regional favorites, as well as national staples at decent prices of around $6 a draft. Cocktails ranged from $9-$12 and had some fairly unique creations that were plays off of tried-and-true staples, but were somewhat of a let down.
The jalapeno cherry paloma was not particularly spicy and had a strong taste of the cherry juice, while the barrel aged gin Manhattan was also fairly mild as far as fortified cocktails go and had a strong taste of anise from the Galliano. Not bad in the grand scheme of things, but perhaps not worth $10 either when the beer was much more affordable.
Overall, Club Cafe is one of those places you go for the whole package. This small bar brings in some very skilled performers that are still in the early stages of their careers despite receiving significant national and international recognition. The beer and cocktail list is decent, and is a notch above similar performance bars in the South Side. This all comes together for an intimate experience in a great bar setting that we hope to return to very soon- if our favorite musicians don't outgrow the venue first!
Club Cafe is located at 56 S 12 St in Pittsburgh's South Side. Performance schedules may vary.
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