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Pittsburgh Winery provides a new, intimate place for local and touring acts 

"The venue itself kind of reminds me of a speakeasy, because you don't really know it's there."

A few storefronts aside, the 2800 block of Penn Avenue looks practically vacant. This is the part of the Strip District that seems to mostly be driven through, rather than stopped in. A tall, four-story building near the corner of the block bears the name Franklin Savings and Trust Company. Through the 1920s-era barred gate, once used to keep out bank-robbers, are barrels and barrels of wine and a steep set of steps leading to a stage — graced one night in June by an Americana band from Knoxville, Tenn.

"The venue itself kind of reminds me of a speakeasy, because you don't really know it's there," says David Manchester, guitarist and vocalist of Arlo Aldo, which has played the venue more than once. "But it's such a beautiful little gem."

Arlo Aldo on this particular evening is opening a show for Knoxville's The Black Lillies, playing to a capacity crowd in the basement of the Winery. The 99-capacity space lends itself to intimate performances, with a feeling of warmth and closeness between the performer and the audience. The crowd, either standing or sitting at candle-lit wine-barrel tables, sips zinfandels, malbecs and petite sirahs and sways to the inviting bluegrass and Tennessee twang.

The winery-slash-music venue is owned by Tim Gaber, bass player for the Buzz Poets and wine aficionado. After years of working as a booking agent, promoter and musician, Gaber got involved with wine-making as a hobby about 15 years ago. As the music part of his life was winding down, his interest in wine ramped up. His hobby progressed into studying wine-making and working with California vintners. Pittsburgh Winery opened its doors almost two years ago.

"I made a place that I wanted to hang out in," Gaber says. "Just like the wines. We make wines that we love.

"It all comes together here now. I'm very fortunate that I've kind of been able to tie all my passions together under one roof."

Open to the public Wednesday through Sunday, 2815 Penn Ave. is a tasting room, just like the ones in California, from where the winery's grapes are imported. But now, around seven nights a month, the winery closes its doors only to reopen later in the night for live music, with local and national acts.

Gaber books some of the music for the winery's basement — its walls lined with wine barrels, and featuring a full array of lights — but gets help from fellow wine-and-music-lover Tim Wolfson. Gaber books more singer-songwriters acts, while Wolfson books bands he's met while traveling, via Music Night on Jupiter, the company he runs with his wife, Debby.

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