Pittsburgh's Greenich Village Where the Music Played
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.
Shadyside from the Sixties through the Nineties was inhabited by baby boom generation undergradute and graduate students from nearby Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham College, and the University of Pittsburgh along with young professionals and older long time residents. Apartments could be had for $100 to $200 a month. The shady green tree lined streets and large turn of the century homes made Shadyside a quiet neighborhood away from the noise and congestion of Oakland. On relaxing evenings Pittsburghers strolled the five blocks of Walnut Street wandering from bar to bar to sample the live music, enjoy adult beverages and run into friends. There was no cover charges at the bars. One could see several acts in one night just by crossing Walnut Street from the Rhino to pop into Lou's or the Casbah. You could catch a set of DC Fitzgerald or Frank Capelli at the Rhino and stroll across to Lou's hear the reggae rock band the Core and make it to the nightly Gorilla Toast, or saunter down to the Encore to watch trombonist Harold Betters. If you still wanted to party you climbed the steps of the after hours Democratic Club to watch Billy Price. -
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.
The first live music venue to open in Shadyside was the Encore. Will Shiner and his wife started going to the Casbah on Walnut for cocktails in 1957. He said that the small bar was so crowded that he could not get in on many nights. Seeing a business opportunity Shiner opened the Encore jazz club on 5505 Walnut Street in 1959. He served cocktails, steak, and live jazz. Shiner booked legendary jazz stars 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. Trombonist Harold Betters was the main attraction at the Encore for 17 years. He started playing Saturday afternoons at the Encore in 1960 and expanded to play five nights a week. Fans line up around the block to get into his shows. His shows were so popular that the Encore became known as the "House that Betters Built". 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
At 5442 Walnut Street stood a bar originally called the Nicholas. Harry Fox took ownership of the bar in January of 1945 and renamed it the Fox Cafe. During the early 1960s and early 1970s the Fox Cafe, owned by Fred Kushner, was a hot R&B Club. Janice Joplin appeared there in 1968. Gravel and the band the Pinto Beans were Fox headliners in 1970, The Rhythm Kings with lead singer Billy Price became the house band 1971. They performed six or seven nights a week and did matinees at the Encore. Price met guitarist Roy Buchanan's manager at the Fox in 1973 and left the Rhythms Kings to tour and record with Buchanan. Kushner closed the Fox Cafe in 1975. 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.
Will Shiner purchased the building at 5534 Walnut Street near the corner of Ivy Street that had housed the had housed William Lifsitz's tavern in the 1940s. Shiner and Handler parntered to open the Pizza Pub restaurant there around 1959. 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. One of the most popular of the Rhino's frequent performers was singer and guitarist Frank Cappelli. He began playing the Rhino and Froggy Morris's Mt. Lebanon venue Bimbos in 1978 earning $100 to $200 a night He continued to perform regularly at the Rhino until he moved with his family to Denver in 1982. He returned to Pittsburgh in 1988 and signed with A&M records in 1989 to release four children albums. He also hosted the syndicated children's television show Cappelli and Company that was aired on WTAE and in Boston, Baltimore, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Dayton from 1990 to 1993. The show went national in 1993 when 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,
The Balcony was a nicely decorated upscale restaurant and jazz nightclub. Richard ''Muzz'' Meyers and Bob Feldman opened the Balcony at 5520 Walnut Street in March of 1980. Located in the building that once housed the Shadyside movie theater, the spacious club had a seating capacity of 120, a large wide stage, great sight lines, and good food. 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.
The Casbah on 5431 Walnut Street started out as Pittsburgh first intimate cocktail lounge in 1952. It was owned by Pop Harter who sold it to Eddie Edlestein in 1957. In the early 1960s during the folk singing craze it became a folk music club. It was a small club with a bar along the back wall. Performers played in the corner behind the front door. In the early 1970s the Casbah ran an open Hootenanny audition every Monday night. Performers who appeared at the Casbah included the Coachman, Bill Besterman, Patti Florida, Masha & Bill, Joe Billota, Ralph Stand and the Brotherhood. Reported Joni Mitchell may have played there once. Today it is the site of Capppy's Cafe.
Lou's Bar and the Gorilla Toast
Lou's Bar and Grill was a small one room saloon that stood on the corner of Walnut and Filbert Street. It was next door to Prantl’s Bakery, home of the almond Tort, and 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
The Shadyside Artist Festival was founded in 1970. To promote the event the organizers spread news flier, word of mouth, the then fledgling underground music radio station WDVE. A stage was set up in the parking lot behind Rollier's Hardware store. Rick Engler, who had the office of his concert promotion business "Go Attractions" on Walnut booked the bands. The psychedelic groups the the Marshmallow Steam Shovel, Children of Stone, Rebecca and the Sunnybrook Farmers, and Engler's band the Grains of Sand performed. A group of 18 local artists set up tables on the sidewalks of Walnut Street. Almost 10,000 people attended the first year. Since then the annual three days festival has grown to draw 200,000 with 140 artist booths and demonstrations by The Carnegie and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. The jazz singer Mark Murphy, Bo 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.
Our 'Greenwich Village" - Gilbert Love Pittsburgh Press August 20 1963
Groovy Times Shadyside Festival's Organizers Recall Ragged Beginnings As A Hippie Scene
By Scott Mervis Pittsburgh Post-Gazette August 11, 1995
After 18 Years, Balcony Owner Marches To Different Drummer -By J. Mikel Ellcessor Pittsburgh Post-Gazette December 31, 1997
Fox Cafe Opens - Pittsburgh Post Gazette January 29 1945
Fred Kushner Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Apr 4, 1990
Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! Another Encore Readied - By Roy McHugh Pittsburgh Post Press May 10, 1982
At 85, Harold Betters remains ‘sentimental’ about jazz career – By Laura Szepes Daily Courier (Connellsville, PA) - March 21, 2013
Triangle Tattler: Encore Exits -By George Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Apr 27, 1982
Rosenberg Lifts Nude Ban .Gaslight Club In Shadyside Keeps Paintings by Vince Johnson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Mar 24, 1961
Shadyside -Pittsburgh Post Gazette July 3, 1985
Woman's Suit Opens Men's Club To Women .Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Mar 7, 1972
The Night Beat - by Lenny Litman Pittsburgh Press - April 27, 1970
Casbah - The Night Beat - by Lenny Litman Pittsburgh Press - March 2, 1971
Nightspot Off Hook ..Loaves And Fishes Police Reach Pact - Pittsburgh Press May 11, 1967
Flour Power: From Lou's Bar to Mercurio's Pizza, The Turning Of A Shadyside Corner By Deborah McDonald .. Pittsburgh Post Gazette -- April 9, 2013
As real estate prices soar, Walnut Street faces another life change By Dan Fitzpatrick and Teresa F. Lindeman, Post-Gazette September 26, 1999
Strip Club Goers do laps for drive-through dances - Gainesville Sun September 18, 2000.
Local Lodge Loses Permit To Sell Liquor .Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Mar 31, 1942
Nightlife Conditions Ripped in Shadyside Walnut Street Neighbors Protest Pizza Palor's Appeal for Liquor- Pittsburgh Press Oct. 27, 1966
Disco Madness Seizes City, More On Way .- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Aug 16, 1976