Nick's Fat City


Pittsburgh's Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Stars Where the Boss Jammed
Nick’s Fat City on 16th and Carson Streets was the hottest showcase club for fans of Pittsburgh’s mainstream rock acts during the 1990’s. For twelve years it was the place to see the Clarks, the Gathering Field with Bill Deasey, Brownie Mary, Donnie Iris, Grapevine, the Buzz Poets and more. Even the Boss, Mr. Springsteen, came twice to jam with his friends Joe Grushechy and the Houserockers. National acts also made their way to Southside club including Warren Zevon, Hootie and the Blowfish, The Strokes, and Carbon Leaf .  Billed as 'Pittsburgh's Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Stars' it housed a showcase collection of Pittsburgh music memorabilia  and honored Pittsburgh music legends with stars on the indoor walk of fame. 

Southside Revival

In the early 1980’s the huge Southside J&L Steel Mill closed turning Pittsburgh’s Carson Street into a ghost town of empty shot and a beer mill worker bars, churches, and shops. Pioneering investors Bob Pesselona and Td Nypaver brought the Southside back to life opening the popular restaurant Mario’s South Side Saloon on 1514 East Carson Street in 1983. With patrons lining up to get into Mario’s they opened Blue Lou’s Bar in 1988. They sparked the Southside renaissance. Today Carson is the liveliest street for entertainment in Pittsburgh with over 100 restaurants, music venues, and drinking establishments. 

Wanting to establish a theater-like music venue for Pittsburgh bands on the Southside, Ted Nypaver and Bob Pessalano in 1989 bought two adjoining buildings containing a bar and a doctor’s office on Carson Street. But the residents of the Southside organized the South Side Nuisance Bars Legal Defense Fund to fight the establishment of more bars. A three year legal battle was fought over the right to open a Southside music venue. In April of 1989 the city of Pittsburgh Zoning Board halted construction of the planned music venue saying it would add to parking and traffic problems. Pessolano appealed the decision to the Commonwealth Court. On December 1990 the Commonwealth Court reversed the Zoning Board decision and allowed construction to begin. 

Pessolano and Nywaver invested about $500 thousand on renovations. Architect Gene Rees was hired to design a new art-deco style night club. Both buildings were gutted and a second story was added to create a 3,400-square foot showcase. Installed were a large thrust stage, a black and white terrazzo stone checker board dance floor, a lower and upper bar, and seating for two hundred. With standing room total capacity was 600. The venue was adorned with musical flourishes. Behind the stage was hung a large 20 foot black Fender Les Paul guitar.  The counter tops of the bars were painted to look like piano keyboards. A wall of video monitors behind the upstairs bar allowed patrons to view the show whilst waiting for drinks. The club’s art-deco chrome and neon exterior was clad in sleek 1920’s style black carerra glass, with stainless steel doors, an old movie style ticket booth and a large neon marquee. 

The Rock N Roll Hall of Stars

Pessalona worked with Joe Rock, manager of the Skyliners and the Jaggerz, to select influential Pittsburgh music stars to be honored in the hall of stars.  Fifty eight musicians and bands were honored with inlaid 3 foot stars in the indoor walk of fame including Henry Mancini. Stephen Foster, Perry Como, Bobby Vinton, the Skyliners, Marcels, Jaggerz, George Benson, Billy Eckstine, Shirley Jones, Lena Horne, Billy Price, the Silencers, the Granati Brothers, Larry Lee Jones,. Porky Chedwick, Jimmy Roach and Steve Hansen, B.E. Taylor, Joe Negri, Joe Grushecky, Johnny Angel, Clark Race, and the Decade

Pittsburgh Music memorabilia lined the halls and walls. Two rows of 50 guitars autographed by Joe Negri, Tony JanFlone Jr, Anne Feeney, the Frampton Brothers and others festooned the side walls. Donnie Iris’s yellow suit jacket from his "Back On the Streets" album cover hung on a side wall.  Also hanging from the walls were Kenny Blake's sax, Spider Rondinelli's drumsticks, Porky Chewick's T-shirt and Donnie Iris' spectacles along with . Framed T-shirts and tour jackets.   There was also memorabilia from national artists who performed in Pittsburgh including Steive Ray Vaughan's autographed snake-skin boots, Jethro Tull's flute, and a neon shrine to Elvis. The bar offered drinks named after Pittsburgh musicians such as Iris Eyes and Blue Velvet.

Grand Opening July 1992

The club was named after Pessolano’s daughter Nicole and the old Fat City Lounge in Swissvale (home of the Silencers and Norman Nardini). The grand opening of Nick's Fat City was held on Tuesday, July 7th 1992. The first show was broadcast live by WDVE FM. The opening night act was the Pittsburgh All-Stars with Joe Grushecky, B.E. Taylor, Pete Hewlet, Frank Czuri, and Rick Witkowski 

With its doors finally opened Nick's Fat City offered live entertainment Tuesdays through Saturdays. But the going was slow due to strict Liquor Control Board rules. As he had combined two separate buildings Pessolano had to apply for an extension of the liquor license into the stage area, which had been the doctor’s office, and the new second floor. Until the license was extended drinks could only be sold on the original bar side of the venue. A chicken wire fence was installed to separate the bar from the rest of the club. Customers who bought beers at the bar had to carry them past the chicken wire into the stage area unopened in a paper bag. That inconvenience kept many potential customers away People asked for months “Is the fence still up?' " The full liquor license was granted after three months in December of 1992.

Pittsburgh's Rock N Roll Showcase.

Once the chicken wire came down Nick's Fat City became the club where many Pittsburgh area bands established their fan bases, held their CD release parties made live recordings, and took their final bows.

The S.P.U.D.S - Special People Under Doctor's Supervision and the opening act Thunder played the first New Years Eve show at Nick's Fat City in 1992. The Iron City Houserockers reunited for a reunion show on March 6, 1993.  The R&B band Sputzy and the Soul Providers had the crowds dancing at Nick's in 1993.  The Clarks and new bands the Gathering Field and Brownie Mary made their first appearances at Nick's in 1994. 

Holding CD release parties at Nick's in 1995 were the Flash Cats, Dharma Sons, and Sleeping Giants. The Affordable Floors made their last performance ever at Nick's in the summer of 1995.

Going into the 21st century the Voodoo Babies, Buzz Poets, and the Vibro Kings were popular acts at Nick’s.

Nick's Fat City celebrated its 10th anniversary on July 10, 2002 with a show starring the Clarks, Too Tall Jones, Grapevine, Shonuff and Uncle Sam.

Other acts that appeared at Nick’s Fat City were Push, The Juliana Theory, The Nixon Clocks, New Invisible Joy, Kelly Affair, Bitter Delores, Shari Richards, Solara, Cheryl Clay Band, Chris Robinson, Earth Mud, the Redwalls, Mercury, Breaking Benjam, the Ravonettes, the O.G. Plays, Big Bean Theroy, Evanescence, Ike McCoy Band, Redwalls and Loko Phylum.

The Clarks Bar

The Clarks, who grew to popularity at the Graffiti showcase in Oakland, started their long run at Nick’s Fat City in 1994 and made it their home base. They played many multi-night sold out CD releases shows. On Sept 18 and 19 of 1998 they recorded the live album “The Clarks Live”. They appeared at Nick’s through 2003.

The Pot Brownie Band

Taking its name from Mary Rathbun, who was arrested for dispensing marijuana brownies to cancer and AIDS patients, Brownie Mary, was one of Pittsburgh's most popular rocks acts during the 1990s. They formed in 1993 led by vocalist Kelsey Barber. After winning the Graffiti Rock Challenge in 1994 they released the CD “That’s Me”. Playing the college circuit they built a fan base that stretched from Columbus to New York to Sarasota Florida. Nick’s Fat City was their home base in Pittsburgh. They released the album "Naked" in 1998 on Atlantic's Blackbird/Sire label and toured the country playing 250 dates opening for Dave Mathews, Green Day and Fuel. Brownie Mary called it quits playing their last gig at Nick's in January of 2000. The band returned in 2002 with the indie release “Collide” before their final breakup. Kelsey released a solo album, "Falling Forward," in 2004.

Gathering Field

Bill Deasey and Dave Brown formed the band Gathering Field in the summer of 1994 to record an indie CD. They began playing regular no-cover nights at Nick's Fat City in the Fall 1994 and quickly became one of Pittsburgh’s most popular live acts. The “Gathering Field” CD released in November of 1994 featured performances by Rusted Root's Liz Berlin and percussionist Jim DiSpirito, the Clarks' Scott Blasey, and the Affordable Floors' Eric Riebling,  In 1995 they recorded the single “Lost in America” that WDVE aired. Capturing strong local sales with the single they signed with Atlantic Records to release the “Lost in America” album in 1996. Gathering Field played its last gigs at Nick’s in 2002, before Bill Deasey formed his own band and recorded a solo CD.

Donnie,...Donnie

Donnie Iris played to several packed houses at Nicks during its 12 year run.  One is recorded for posterity.  In September of 1997 Donnie Iris and the Cruisers recorded the album "Live! At Nick's Fat City" that includes their hits "Love Is Like a Rock" and "Ah! Leah!" and The Rapper".

Harvesting the Grapevine

Grapevine, formed in Jan of 1997, was another Pittsburgh area band that found a popular following and launched a successful album from the stage of Nick’s Fat City. With a sound influenced by the Black Crowes and Goo Dolls they earned their first radio airplay with the song “Comfortable”. They released the ‘Star’ album in August of 1999 on the Clark’s King Mouse label.  WXDX (105.9) aired five songs from Star and WDVE put the single ‘In My Head” in rotation.  With strong regional sales the album was named in the top 5 albums of the year for 1999 by the WXDX staff and was picked as the number 2 Pittsburgh album by the Tribune Review.  Grapevine headlined the stages of the 2000 and 2001 X Fest playing before 18,000 at the Star Lake Amphitheater. Grapevine broke up in 2001 but reformed in Oct 2003 returning to play for their fans at Nick’s.

The Boss Reports to Work as a Houserocker

Two of the highlight shows at Nick’s Fat City were performances of Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers. Bruce Springsteen became a Houserocker for those shows. In 1995 Springsteen produced, co-wrote songs, and appeared on Grushecky’s American Babylon album. To launch the album Springsteen joined the Houserockers for a five city tour of New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Chicago. The tour, titled the "October Assault”, kicked off with two nights of shows on Oct. 20 and 21,1995 at Nick’s Fat City. Norman Nardini opened the night. The Houserockers did four songs and then Grushecky announced "OK. It's star time on the South Side." He introduced "the newest member of the Houserockers” Bruce played guitar and sang vocals on the songs from American Babylon starting off with “What Did you do in the War” Jamming out Grushecky and Springsteen did Bruce’s "Murder Incorporated" and "Light of Day” along with "Down the Road Apiece." Springsteen even sang the Houserocker’s signature tune "Pumpin' Iron". They played five hours doing three rousing encores until the audience and performers were spent. It was a high intensity night of rock and roll. 

Bruce returned to Nick’s Fat City on Monday March 15, 1999 to celebrate the release of Joe Gruschecky’s “Coming Home” album. The Houserockers played the songs of ‘Coming Home’ during the first set. Joe co-wrote four of the songs with Bruce. The band returned to the stage for the second set with their side kick Bruce. Coming on stage with no introduction he wore a black T-Shirt showing off his guns and Florida State baseball cap. The packed house screamed "Bruuuuuce." The band tore into “Never Be Enough Time” with Bruce doing a piercing Telecaster solo. Together Joe, Bruce, and the Houserockers ripped through American Babylon song book. For the encore they did Bruce’s “Ramrod” from the River album, Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl”, Down the Road A piece and ended the night with “Rebel Music” from Grushecky Glory Days album.

Nick's Glory Days End

Nick's Fat City closed its stainless steel doors on December 31, 2004.  The music stopped and the club sat empty for months.  Gary Hinston, who booked acts at Nick's speculated that business fell off with the break up of the top drawing acts Brown Mary, the Gathering Field, and Grapevine.  The Clarks moved on to bigger venues selling out the 8,000 capacity I.C. Light Amphitheater.  In the 2000s Nick's faced competition from from several Southside music venues Club Cafe, the Rex Theater, Club Laga, and Excuses   The market for live music dropped dramatically in 2003 and 2004. Young single Pittsburghers were moving away by the thousands to find work in other cities and the older with children crowd wasn't going out to see bands. During 2003 and 2004 Club Laga went under and the large strip district showcase clubs Rosebud and Metropol closed.   .

Dancing at Diesel

Adam and Nick DeSimone purchased Nick’s Fat City in March of 2006 with their father’s help. They gutted the building sending the Pittsburgh music memorabilia and the indoor walk of fame to the Pittsburgh music venue rubble pile. It was buried along side of the remains of the Syria Mosque and the great jazz clubs of the Hill District. The giant Fender Les Paul Guitar was auctioned off at a WDVE benefit. Donnie Iris took back his yellow suit and lent it to the Beaver County Musicians Hall of Fame.  The Pittsburgh Rock N' Roll Hall of Stars became a trendy dance club.

Modeling their club after trendy upscale New York City nightclubs, the DeSimone Brothers installed a new sound system, a DJ booth and walls of flashing LED lights. The towering two story dynamic color morphing LED lighting installation creates an animated backdrop for the dance floor. Additional LED light fixtures spread across the club generate hundreds of colors and unique patterns.

Naming it Diesel they opened in June of 2006.  It is a billed as a posh ultra cool club the "Fuels" Pittsburgh's entertainment scene.  To gain entrance to the elite club potential patrons wait outside in a rope line hoping to be granted permission to enter.  Inside DJs blast Hip-Hop, Techno, and Top 40 for the dance crowd.  Those with more cash can watch the dancers in the exclusive balcony VIP lounges.  The club has hosted private parties for Derek Jester, Bruce Springsteen, and other celebrities.  

Diesel occasionally offers live bands. But it gets very little coverage in the local press as it is no longer a major player in the live music scene.  However the Clarks and Gathering Field reunion band have appeared at Diesel.

Diesel celebrated in sixth anniversary on July 13, 2012 hosted by celebrity DJ Lil John.

Off to the Vineyards

After 25 years in business BobPessolano retired in 2007 and sold Mario’s and Blue Lou's to a group of Pittsburgh investors. He moved to California to start a vineyard. Pessolano and Nypaver left behind one of the most vibrant entertainment areas in North America –da South Side.
The Clark's New Year's Eve 1996/1997
Gathering Field 1996 with
Vanida Gail and Jackie Murphy of the June Rich Band
Downstairs Bar
Pittsburgh Rock All Stars at the Bar
Joe Grushecky and Houserocker Bruce Springsteen 
Donnie Iris Live
Clark's Live
Brownie Mary
Grapevine
Diesel