125 W. Station Square Drive, Station Square
412-528-4847 or www.zensocialclub.com
Zen Social Club: trendy, posh, sophisticated, furnished with an Asian-inspired decorating scheme and martini menu. That's where I was sent on Saturday -- to venture behind the velvet ropes and infiltrate the world of tanned skin, shiny hair and designer handbags.
Founded in 2008 by the Pittsburgh Generation X Association, Zen Social Club is a private haven for trendy twenty- and thirtysomethings in a reborn Station Square. PGXA aimed to create a hip night spot, a la Miami or New York, as a refuge from bars that serve cheese fries. The club is open to members seven nights a week, but the club throws its doors open to the public for its Saturday dance event, Evolution, featuring DJ Digital Dave.
In preparation for my trip, I looked up "Bottle Service" on Wikipedia and recruited my friend Jackie to accompany me into the realm of dance floors and stiletto heels. With Jackie's burgeoning dreadlocks hidden in pigtails and my hair ironed flat, we both sported short skirts and tall boots, hoping to be mistaken for people who belonged in this exclusive scene.
What we found was a dark red interior, saturated with a rich, sanguinary shade that emanated from the Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and the word "Zen" projected onto a curtained wall. More lights illuminated the tower of liquor bottles in the center of the circular bar. The waitresses matched the décor, clad in a sort of Las Vegas Halloween-devil costume with a red bustier visible beneath the mostly black attire. The bouncers, meanwhile, blended in with the mostly standing crowd in their Johnny Cash-like outfits.
As it turned out, we'd crashed a 10-year high school reunion: a throng of 28-year-olds dressed to impress in everything from denim to full suits. In the center of the glitz, the Asian-infused martinis and the best these reuniting alums could muster, the lone television showed the Penguins' Matt Cooke beating on a New York Ranger. (No matter how much class a cocktail dress may exude, this is still Pittsburgh.) Still, there was not a single sports jersey or draft beer in evidence, and most of the guests ignored the spectacle on the flat screen entirely. Instead, they gravitated toward the bar for bottled beer and cocktails with skinny straws.
Low tables line both sides of the room, and to the seats near the Buddha statue we went: Jackie, with her $4.50 gin and tonic, and I, with my $2 cranberry and vodka. Our deep-red lounge chaise looked like the left half of Salvador Dali's lip couch. Behind the velvet rope to our right, silver ice buckets filled with liquor sat atop several tables in the VIP section.
Seated, we gazed around the lounge, our conversation vying with the roar of voices that muted Prince's "1999" and a bevy of techno jams. At 10 p.m., no one was dancing yet, focusing instead on fueling their courage at the perpetually crowded bar. A second bar wasn't far away: Three bartenders guarded a store of top-shelf liquor alongside a dance floor whose blue light shone through the slats of a wooden partition. But the action was up front, and we chose instead to observe the alumni mingling, just as patrons in an upper loft-type area were doing.
Eventually, it was time to leave for the more cavernous dives where the wild things are. And we went out into the night, carrying with us a couple of butter mints, and memories of our glimpse into the chic realm of la vie en rouge.