Walnut Street in Pittsburgh's Shadyside neighborhood was a vibrant of center Pittsburgh music from the 1960s into the 1990s. The Razzberry Rhino, the Fox Cafe, Lou's and the Casbah hosted solo musicians and small blues, folk, and rock acts. National and Pittsburgh area jazz artists appeared at the Encore, the Gaslight Club and the Balcony. After the bars closed at 2 P.M. music fans and drinkers continued to party at the Gaslight Club, Madri Gras, the Hollywood Social Club on Walnut, or the Democratic Club on Ellsworth Avenue.
1960s Brings Hippies & Music
The five block shopping district of Walnut Street before the late 1950s was a small neighborhood main street with an Isaly's that sold chipped ham and sky ice cream cones, a Kroger's grocery store, the Shadyside movie theater, Shiller's Drug Store, a post office, the Pet Pad, some coffee houses and book stores, the Fox Cafe bar, the Surrey and Gentry clothing stores and a corner Texaco gas station. Old timers played chess sitting outside of the coffee houses. The only people who shopped there were Shadyside residents. Walnut Street began to change in the beat era of the 1950s. Bohemian beatniks came to Walnut Street to hang out at Dalton Herbert's Cappuccino Coffee House and other Shadyside coffee houses. Walnut Street was renamed "Expresso Row". Students sipped coffee and discussed poetry and jazz. Patrons brought in their own guitars and bongo drums to perform. The Le Mardi Gras cocktail lounge opened in 1954 on Copeland Street. Two businessmen, Will Shiner and Dick Handler began to transform the sleepy bohemian street into an entertainment mecca in 1959 opening the Encore jazz club, the Gaslight, and the Pizza Pub, Gazebo Deli, and Pup Tent restaurants.
Walnut Street became Pittsburgh's Haight-Ashbury/Greenwich Village area in the early 1960s. In 1963 the Pittsburgh Press printed an story titled "Our Greenich Village" described standing room only crowds at the Encore, the Fox Cafe, and the Casbah. Crowds of young well dress people surged on the sidewalks waiting in lines to enter the bars. Police patrolled the streets. The Shadyside Theater showed art films by Andy Warhol and Frank Zappa. On weekends the sidewalks were jammed with people. A constant flow of cars and motorcycles cruised Walnut Street to take in the scene.
In the anti-war era of the late 1960s Shadyside was "peace, love and waterbeds." according to Edward D'Alessandro a long time producer of the Shadyside Arts Festival. Bags End, the first head shop in Pittsburgh, opened on Ellsworth Avenue selling rolling papers, army uniforms, and vintage clothes. They even sold marijuana over the counter. The owners of the "Opening Nite" store were arrested for selling pants made out of U.S. flags. District Attorney Robert W. Duggan said "the Shadyside district is becoming a hangout for the maladjusted youth of Western Penna I don't think the people of Pittsburgh want a Greenwich Village in the heart of one its finest residential areas ". The Loaves and Fishes coffee house which seated about 35 opened at 709 Bellefonte Street in August of 1966 by minister Dick Mowry of the Calvary Episcopal Church to reach disaffected youth. Pittsburgh Police arrested thirty patrons of the Loaves and Fishes on suspicion of marijuana possession in May of 1967. Only two were charged and the Loaves and Fishes agreed to cooperate with Police to allow searches aand keep juveniles out of the coffee shop.
Sonny Stitt, George Benson, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Mingus, Charlie Byrd, Ella Fitzgerald, Admad Jamal, Earl Hines, Mary Lou Williams, Roy Eldridge, Stanley Turrentine, Art Blakey, Slide Hampton, J.J. Johnson, Jonah Jones, Yank Larsen, Morganna King and many other jazz greats to appear at the Encore. Art Swiden and Bobby Davis managed the club. With the success of the Encore in Shadyside Shiner in 1971opened the Encore II on Liberty Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh.
Betters recorded his first album "Harold Betters at the Encore" live at the club in 1962. During his time at the Encore Betters earned national recognition. He scored a hit in 1964 with his recording “Do Anything You Wanna” which peaked at No. 74 on the Billboard Top 100. He released twelve albums on Reprise and Gateway Records. He performed nationally on the "Tonight Show", “The Merv Griffin Show” and did the “Mike Douglas Show” four times, including a performance with Louis Armstrong. He was named in the the "Best Trombonist" category of the Playboy readers’ poll. Downbeat Magazine called him "Mr. Versatility".
Trombonist Randy Purcell and his band the Pittsburgh Rhythm Machine became the regular featured act at the Encore iin the late 1970s. Shiner closed the Encore on May 13, 1982 ending its 25 year run. Harold Betters came back to play the final week of shows. Shiner remodel, enlarged, and relaunched it as Brendan's Restaurant. Today a Victoria's Secret occupies that location.
The Gaslight Club
The private Gaslight club at 738 Bellefonte Street decorated with 22 nude paintings opened in seamy controversy in 1961. Public Safety director Louis Rosenberg wanted the "obscene" pictures removed saying he would padlock the club before it ever opened. But an hour before the grand opening he relented and allowed the club to open on May 23, 1961. Owed by Will Shiner the Gaslignt was a posh three story private membership club that grew to 5,000 members. To join members had to pay a $25 fee. It was a males only club until 1972 when a judge ruled that it had to accept female members. As it was a private club it could operate after hours. The Gaslight was billed as a "Gay Nineties" style club. Shiner invested $200,000 to build and decorate the club. It featured a fine dining restaurant upstairs and speakeasy lounge downstairs where jazz artists performed. The Gaslight club presented Maxine Sullivan, Earl Hines, Harold Betters, and Jimmy McPartland in 1970. Pittsburgh performers who worked at the Gaslight include pianist Luke Riley. singer Teri Rini, the Bobby Martin Band, Frankie Vestri, and Neil Strecher. In November of 1972 it hosted a production of the racy play 'Oh Calcutta!". The Gaslight closed in the early eighties and became the Cheese Cellar and later Pasta Piatta.
The Fox Cafe
The Fox stood empty for several years. Dick Handler, owner of the Gazebo Restaurant, bought the Fox Cafe building in 1976 using it to store restaurant equipment. Handler opened Humprehies Corner Saloon on that site in June of 1981. It is now called Doc's Place.
The Pizza Pub obtained a liquor license in 1966 despite protests from Shadyside residents that there were too many bars bring in rowdy crowds to Shadyside. After the Pizza Pub became a bar it offered live music. It became a hangout for bikers and ''bohemian junkies". In 1976 Shiner leased the pub to Froggy Morris owner of the very successful Zelda's Greenhouse disco music bar in Oakland. Froggy renamed the Pizza Pub the "Razzberry Rhino" and relaunched it as a disco in 1976. After the disco concept flopped at the Rhino, Froggy in 1978 made it a live music club. It was an L shaped club with the bar upfront and a backroom room with a small stage. They were lots of tables. The acts that performed at the Rhino included Red Hot and Blue, The Crackers, Leggs Diamond,Sunstroke, Tom Anzalone, Little Ramus, Tight Squeeze, Dynamo, the Loan Sharks, Dan Baker and the Hotshots, Jimmy and the Dukes, Boystown, and The Shades. The DC Fitzgerald Band became the house band in 1978, They had been playing the Gaslight Club regularly and when it closed due to fire damage Froggy offered them a regular spot at the Rhino. The DC Fitzgerald band played the Rhino every Sat afternoon, ran the jam night on Tuesdays and sometimes played on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. They worked at the Rhino through 1980.
Nickelodeon's the Children’s Cable Network purchased all 65 episodesand broadcast it to 57 million homes. Frank won several awards including an regional Emmy for his television programs.
Froggy sold the Rhino to his manager, John Plavetich in 1982 or 1983. The Rhino closed in 1986. A Banana Republic clothing store opened at the location in November of 1986. It was the first brand name retail chain store to open on Walnut Street,
During i's 18 year run the Balcony was the center of Pittsburgh's jazz scene. Many national acts wowed Pittsburgh jazz fans at the Balcony including MyCoy Tyner, Pat Martino, Mose Allison, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, sax player Tim Eyermann, organist Jack McDuff, Archie Shepp, John Scofield, Joe Lavano, scat singer Jon Hendricks, Jack DeJohnette, Monty Alexander, guitarist Phil Upchurch, and singer Mark Murphy. Pittsburgh jazz greats who appeared regularly at the Balcony were pianist David Budway, Walt Harper, guitarist Joe Negri, saxophonist Kenny Blake, Etta Cox, guitarist Kenny Karsh, singers Billty Price and Chismo Charles, drummer Roger Humphries, singer Maureen Buday, Max Leake, Sandy Staley, organist Gene Ludwig, Randy Purcell, Spider Rondinelli, Tim Stevens and others. Drummer H.B. Bennett booked the acts and in 1988 formed the 18 piece Balcony Big Band that performed every Monday night. The Balcony Big Band recorded the album titled “Seasoned to Taste.” The Balcony closed in December of 1997. The last show, held on New Years Eve, was star studded jam session with Kenny Blake, Joe Negri, Eric Johnson, H.B. Bennett, Sandy Staley, the Budways, the Peck Family and more. The club was packed for the send off. The club became a Pottery Barn store in 1998.
Lou's Bar and the Gorilla Toast
across the street from Noah’s Waterbeds. Lou Fratangelo bought the building the house the bar and the bakery in 1946, His son Nick inherited and manager Lou's. Lou's began as a neighborhood shot and a beer place. It had an L shaped bar along the side and back walls and a few tables. In the 1970s when music took hold on Walnut Street Lou's built a stage to host live bands. Having limited space a "make do" the stage was built high above the back bar. Patrons sitting at the bar strained their necks looking up at the performers. The rickety stage became a subject of heated betting pool. Regulars made bets on when the stage would collapse, but it survived an onslaught of performers. Among the many performers who risked their safety to climb up to Lou's high stage were Harold Betters, Jimmy Spaienza with his band Jimmy and the Dukes, Bob Beach's Dixie Dogs, the Core, Force Field, Armadillo Brothers, Emmitt Frisbee, Endless Summer, Flow, Billy Jay Hood, the Sandhills, Brenda Jones, and Paradise.
One summer owner Nick Fratenelo installed a top the side bar a nine-foot tall gorilla mannequin that a friend of his got from a fun house. One evening a bartender named Dennis tapped on a glass to get everyone's attention and lifted a waitress up into the furry arms of the Gorilla, a la Fay Wray. It was the beginning of a nightly ritual at Lou's. Every night the crown clamored for the "Gorilla Toast". At midnight a bartender lifted a waitress into the Gorilla's arm and everyone drank a toast.
Nick Fratangelo closed Lou's in 1984 and it became the Walnut Street Pub. He held on to the property as the concern location was worth at least $2 million. Today the corner of Walnut and Filbert is the site of the Mercurio pizza and gelato shop. After Nick Fratangelo sold Lou's he went on to open the infamous Climax Gentlements Strip club along Route 22 in Delmont, Pa that featured the world's first drive through $5 peep show.
Shadyside Arts Festival
Diddley Jr., Chismo Charles, Kenny Blake, the Balcony Big Band, Deliberate Strangers, Pure Gold, the Jazz Explosion All Stars with Tony JanFlone Jr and Robbie Klein, the Duquense University Guitar Ensemble with Kenny Karsh, and many others popular acts have appeared at the festival.
Shadyside Goes Upscale
In the 1990s national retail chains drove up the rents on the bars and clubs of Walnut Street driving them out of business. The music is gone from Walnut Street. Today upscale consumers visit Shadyside to shop at J Crew, The Apple Store, Talbots, the Banana Republic, Beneton, Moda, Pandora and the Gap. In the evenings Walnut street is now again a quite street. The music scene moved on to Carson Street on Pittsburgh's South Side which is home of the Rex Theater, Club Cafe, Diesel, Charlie Murdoch's Rock Piano Bar, Excuses, the Smiling Moose, and dozens of bars. The neighbors of the South Side now complain that there are too many bars and too many rowdy bar hoppers as Shadyside residents did back in the 1960s.