Last Updated on August 3, 2021 by Jeremy
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When you think of Pittsburgh's music scene, your first thought is likely not about the North Side. If you do consider this side of the city, it is likely about the concert venue Stage AE or even one of the stadiums when big named musicians come to town.
But the North Side has far more than just these if you're looking to take in a live performance. In Deutschtown, for example, the music scene thrives on Wednesdays thanks to the Pittsburgh Banjo Club's free practice at the Elks Lodge and the Shelf Life String Band playing at Allegheny City Brewing in the summer months.
If you time your visit appropriately to hit both, it ends up being a lovely night out with great beer, an array of musical styles, and an overall experience you just can't get anywhere else in the city.
Shelf Life String Band at Allegheny City Brewing
If you have made your way over to the North Side for music in the past, you may be familiar with Shelf Life String Band. This bluegrass group was a staple at nearby Park House Tavern (recognized as the first bar to open in Pittsburgh after Prohibition) and made for a great stop after enjoying Banjo Night at the Elks Lodge.
Unfortunately, Park House Tavern closed at the end of 2020 (and as of publishing this article in August 2021, is set to re-open with new owners) which meant Shelf Life String Band needed a new home.
Thankfully, nearby brewery Allegheny City swooped in, built a beer garden right on East Ohio Street just around the corner from the taproom, and invited the band to be regulars on most Wednesday nights as well. The only difference is that instead of starting later in the evening (where we'd visit after an hour at Banjo Night), the show is a bit earlier- typically 6:30 to 9 pm.*
Since Banjo Night at the Elks Lodge begins at around 8 pm, the solution to this problem was simple- we flipped the order. 90 minutes of bluegrass with a lovely beer from the brewery starts the night, and then at just before 8 pm we migrate our way to the Elks Lodge just a few blocks over for old-time banjo music!
*We recommend checking Allegheny City's event calendar and social media to see if the band is scheduled. As the beer garden is outdoors and the brewery is rather small, at this time we're unsure on plans during inclement weather or outside of the summer months- so we recommend re-confirming that the band will still be playing prior to visiting.
Pittsburgh Banjo Club at the Elks
If live bluegrass at a brewery is what we'd consider a normal music outing, Banjo Night is the exact opposite- this one is unique. On Wednesday evenings, The Pittsburgh Banjo Club comes together at the Elks Lodge #339 on Cedar Avenue to practice their iconic four (and sometimes five) stringed instruments. As the group is available to be hired for events and parties, you can imagine that they have to have regular practices to stay on top of their craft.
But rather than having these practice sessions be private, they open them up to the public, free of charge, from 8 to 11 pm on Wednesday nights!
You really have to experience this one for yourselves to appreciate it all, but Banjo Night is one of those events that is so distinctly Pittsburgh. There are the folks that have been going weekly since the club was founded in the 1980s, there are the transplants who only recently moved to the city, and just about every other category in between. Everyone gets along, talking and listening to the fantastic banjo players. A 50/50 raffle makes its way around to raise money for charity, and the cheap beer at the bar is the cherry on top (they offer a healthy mix of domestic staples as well as craft beverages for an incredibly respectable price point).
Over the years this group has gathered somewhat of a cult-like following, and shortly after the beginning of their practice at 8 pm the lodge is always completely full of attendees of all ages listening to the music, dancing, singing along (lyrics are available by the entrance), drinking, and having a grand old time.
But just a word of warning before you go- grabbing a seat even just for two after practice starts can be tricky. We normally get lucky together squeezing in at a table with new friends or at a bar, but if you are going with any appreciable group size beyond that reservations are strongly encouraged. Otherwise, don't be surprised if it is standing room only!
Overall, whether you hit up the North Side on Wednesdays for the Pittsburgh Banjo Club at the Elks Lodge, bluegrass at Allegheny City Brewing (when the band is scheduled, of course), or take in a bit of both like we do (as well as many, many others), you've got some great options to consider in this unassuming stretch of Deutschtown!
Elks Lodge #339 is located at 400 Cedar Avenue and hosts the Pittsburgh Banjo Club every Wednesday from 8pm to 11pm. Allegheny City Brewing is located at 507 Foreland Street and as of 2021 regularly hosts Shelf Life String Band on Wednesday; however, this one may not be as consistent as the banjo club so we recommend re-confirming the schedule prior to visiting the brewery for music.
For more live music in the North Side, check out MCG Jazz!