Much to the chagrin of music lovers in the city, Pittsburgh's concert scene often gets poor reviews. Sure, a super group may play at Heinz Field once a year, a few big bands will play at the impossibly frustrating First Niagara Pavilion, and smaller but still well known bands may show up at Stage AE from time to time.
The frustration music fans have stems not from a lack of venues, we do have quite a few in the area, but more from the fact that for whatever reason, the huge bands people want to see just don't come here like in other cities. (To be fair, the music scene of lesser known groups can be quite good if you are looking for it).
Luckily for us, one of our favorite bands, the bluegrass-inspired Punch Brothers led by MacArthur Fellowship award winner Chris Thile (a musical God if there ever was one), loves to play in Pittsburgh and often hit a new venue during each visit. The most recent of which led us to a night out at Mr. Small's Theater in Millvale, where we have one of the most enjoyable music experiences in recent memory.
Mr Smalls is a Church Turned Theater
When you see Mr. Smalls from the front, you just know it is going to be good on the inside. The theater is a de-sanctified church that was converted into a music hall. The inside of the theater is covered with colorful tapestries adorning the walls and a disco ball hanging from the ceiling.
The church design is used to its fullest with the choir balcony and organ loft being converted into semi-private box seating, a side annex being home to a short-order restaurant, and the basement and other nooks and crannies around the facility being used for several bars to suit those who cannot walk a single step further for another drink.
If we're giving out points for style, Mr. Smalls would take nearly all of them.
The Premium Balcony is a Must
We were ready to brace the crowds for the standing room only floor, as per our usual goal of being as close to the stage as possible, but a last second decision resulted in us purchasing access to the premium seating in the upper balcony for $20 per person on top of the cost of the ticket.
This is where things get cool, because the extra reservation fee is not just an extra cost to get a seat, but also applies directly to a bar and restaurant tab. So where other venues may take that money and run, all you are doing at Mr. Smalls is committing to spend that much at the bar, which I'm more than likely to do anyway. Throw in a private staircase, reserved seats, a waitress taking care of you, and being removed from general admission crowd, well, please take all of my money right now because I will be doing this every time we return to the theater in the future.
The $20 price point was for the cheaper seats in the section, which admittedly had a bit of an obstructed view as you can tell by our photos. The prime seating costs roughly $40 per ticket and a middle price seating goes for $30 and are the seats we would probably venture to try on a return visit (what is three more beers between the two of us in the long run, really?).
It is worth noting; however, that premium seating does come with a bit of a trade-off, namely patrons may be more prone to having conversations and you can hear more of the noise from the nearby bar which may distract you slightly from the musical experience. But with all things, the pros far outweigh the cons and the balcony seating is one we intend to do enjoy many times in the future.
Now if we can only get more of our favorite bands to come to the city.
Mr. Small's Theater is located at 400 Lincoln Avenue in Millvale. Premium balcony seating runs $20-$40 per ticket and, based on our experience, two burgers and three beers runs at about $40.
Looking for more unique music themed activities the city? Why not check out practice at the Pittsburgh Banjo Club, check out the self-playing musical instruments at the Bayernhof Museum, or enjoy live jazz at Riverview Park Pittsburgh in the summer.