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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Last Call at the Smithfield Cafe

Posted By on Wed, May 30, 2012 at 5:41 PM

"Kitchen is Closed -- Bar Still Open," read the hastily hand-lettered sign on the front door of the Downtown landmark last Friday night.

Longtime owner John Petrolias, whose Greek-immigrant father opened the restaurant in 1933, had announced its closing the day after the bank foreclosed on the building.

Located on the 600 block of Smithfield Street, near the intersection with Liberty Avenue, the Smithfield Café was the oldest Downtown restaurant in the same location. Petrolias and his staff, many with decades of experience at the establishment, will say goodbye to customers this Friday at the Smithfield United Methodist Church's annual Strawberry Festival, held across the street from the now-shuttered restaurant.

Friday night, about 9:30 p.m., a couple dozen customers at the Smithfield were drinking and watching the hockey playoffs. The jukebox was gone from the wall, but one customer sauntered behind the oval bar to turn on the stereo, and half of the middle-aged crowd sang along to "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Petrolias, 76, stood at the bar himself, talking with customers and staff and sipping Johnny Walker Red, "lotta ice." He's a stocky fellow with a shock of gray hair, dressed in a suit jacket. His cane hung on the bar rail.

The closure wasn't a complete surprise: The Smithfield had filed for bankruptcy this past October. But Petrolias had told reporters he was convinced he could weather the reorganization. Earlier last week, the restaurant had hopefully posted its summer menu.

"When I leave here tomorrow, I'm going to be shaken up," said Petrolias on Friday. "I have my whole life in this place."

He said he first worked at the restaurant at age 8, when his father, James, told him, "Every time I look at you I want to see one foot in the air."

In 1958, the younger Petrolias, then still in his early 20s, took over the restaurant. Over the years it grew from 60 seats in 1,200 square feet to 285 seats in 6,400 square feet, complete with deli counter. In 1975, Petrolias told the Pittsburgh Press that he served 1,000 lunches a day.

The fare was solid and unpretentious. In the front window still hangs a sign advertising a special of wedding soup and "linguini with red or white clam sauce." The Smithfield was also known for its inexpensive, no-frills breakfasts and friendly service.

But like so many other restaurants, the Smithfield took hits from the rise of fast-food chains. And it suffered as Downtown's retail trade, the source of much of its traffic, withered. The recession didn't help. Petrolias says the statewide ban on smoking in bars, and the county drink tax, also cut into bar business.

Petrolias was an outspoken opponent of both measures, and vocally opposed former County Executive Dan Onorato, who backed the drink tax. That wasn't the restaurateur's first brush with politics: In 1969, when he still lived in Squirrel Hill, Petrolias ran a losing campaign for Pittsburgh City Council. In 1988, he publicly backed presidential candidate George H.W. Bush against fellow Greek-American (and Democrat) Michael Dukakis. (Petrolias remains a Republican committeeman in O'Hara Township.)

The final blow to the Smithfield was the loss of the big building's other major tenant, The Pittsburgh Technical Institute, which occupied the upper floors for 15 years. The school moved out three years ago, and Petrolias was unable to find another renter. "The vacant building was what took us down," he says.

"The saddest part to me is losing my employees," said Petrolias on Friday night. "They are a wonderful, wonderful group of dedicated, hard-working people."

Some of Petrolias' longtime staffers were at the Café on Friday, including Colleen Kelly, the restaurant manager. She started there 32 years ago as a waitress. "I knew it was coming. I just didn't know it was coming today," says Kelly, of Lawrenceville.

"There isn't anybody who hasn't been here for years," she said. Asked why people stay so long, she said, "Because he's been a fantastic boss." Kelly said Petrolias hired some staffers from a local halfway house. "He gives them a second chance and they stay," she said. "Once you work for John, you don't leave."

Petrolias said his breakfast cook had been at the Smithfield for 21 years, and one bartender for 35 years.

Some customers were equally loyal. Kelly cites one person who'd eaten breakfast there for 30 years.

Petrolias said he is unsure what he and his wife will do next. He said they might move to be with their daughter, in North Carolina. "There's a bunch of Greeks down there with restaurants," he quipped.

The Smithfield Café will bid Pittsburgh farewell from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Fri., June 1, in Downtown's Strawberry Way, alongside Smithfield United Methodist, 620 Smithfield St.

Kelly says that as usual, Café staff will serve dishes including cabbage and noodles, pierogies, kielbasa, ham barbecue and hot sausage to complement the church's Strawberry Festival.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: Old Accusers CD release show w/ Code Orange Kids, Colony, Ancient Shores, Breach 5/25/12

Posted By on Tue, May 29, 2012 at 1:51 PM

Even before the start of the Old Accusers CD release show on May 25, the performance area of 222 Ormsby felt like a sauna. Once the venue was packed by the attendees and bands, it became impossible for anyone in the room to stay dry. However, that didn’t stop everyone in the room from having a good time.

Up-and-coming local hardcore band Breach opened up the show. While the crowd was still, possibly due to the heat, there were a few people singing along to songs from the band’s three-song demo. Following Breach was West Virginia-based technical hardcore band Ancient Shores. The band blasted through its set, playing some old songs and some from its debut EP for Baltimore’s A389 Records, Step To The Edge. Colony followed Ancient Shores; a heavy and sludgy band from New York. The band played three new songs during their set, but failed to mention when and how they will be released.

Pittsburgh hardcore’s pride and joy, Code Orange Kids, played next. Opening with the first song on its demo, “Coasts”, the crowd flew into a frenzy for the Kids, moshing and singing along. The rest of the set featured songs from most of the band’s releases (“Roots” from the demo; “Cycles” and “Give” from the Cycles EP, and “My Body Is A Well” from the band’s split with Full Of Hell) including a new song that will be on its Deathwish debut later this year. The band definitely set the bar high as far as energy and crowd participation went.

Following the Code Orange Kids, Old Accusers finally took to the floor for its set celebrating the release of the band’s new album, All Is Shrouded But There Is A Voice Still Howling. The band opened with an interlude from the album, “(But There Is A Voice Still Howling)”; a track that is uncharacteristically chilled out for Old Accusers. At the conclusion of the song, the band jumped into the meat and potatoes of the album, playing “Plight”, “The Arrows”, “Rapture Reflections” and “A Name, A Face” with little stopping. At the conclusion of the new material, vocalist Neal Dudash announced the band had one more song left: the crowd favorite “Skipping Stones”, which would be played for the final time. The crowd took advantage of being more familiar with the song, swamping Dudash towards the end of the song in what turned into a 30-person pile-on for the track’s finale.

By the end of the night, everyone left the venue sweaty and satisfied with the show, including the bands. Old Accusers’ new album All Is Shrouded But There Is A Voice Still Howling is available through It’s A Trap! Records.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

MP3 Monday: Lilith

Posted By on Mon, May 28, 2012 at 1:44 PM

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Welcome to another installment of MP3 Monday!

After a lengthy battle with a name change, Pittsburgh's folk-punk trio Lilith have released their debut 7" EP, Return, via Get Better Records and Out Of This Records. Return follows up the band's self-released cassette Holding Stone from 2011. Check out "Sleepless" below.

[Download link expired, sorry!]

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Warhol, Pittsburgh and POP! at City Theatre

Posted By on Thu, May 24, 2012 at 12:10 PM

One reason this new musical was big news in Pittsburgh, of course, is that everyone knows that Andy Warhola was born and grew up here. (Everyone in Pittsburgh, that is — no doubt most of the world still wonders why the museum named after him is located at the confluence of the three rivers.)

This terrific show's book-writer and lyricist, Maggie-Kate Coleman, and composer Anna K. Jacobs insist that POP! isn't a Warhol bio, and they're right: It's a carnivalesque portrait of him through the lens of his relationships at his legendary Factory, as occasioned by his near-fatal shooting, in 1968. (Here's my preview for CP.)

But POP! does deal with Warhol's roots, and in way that's probably perfect.

The moment comes late in the show, which is structured as a vaudevillian detective mystery, emceed by charismatic transsexual Candy Darling and featuring Factory regulars Edie Sedgwick, Ondine, Gerard Malanga and Viva, plus hanger-on (and would-be assassin) Valeria Solanas. (Pictured are Alyse Alan Louis, as Solanas, and Rapp as Warhol.)

Warhol himself, played by Anthony Rapp, is largely a spectator to the goings-on — also entirely appropriate. But the scene in question comes just as the Factory denizens' discontent with Warhol's passive-aggressive puppeteering begins to boil over ... and POP! starts feeling less like an amusement staged for his benefit and more like something he really can't control.

Andy, who's just been wowed by the appearance of the Pope (as played by Ondine), is suddenly found protesting the proceedings as Candy (the brilliant Brian Charles Rooney) dons a babushka to play Julia Warhola, his beloved mother, complete with Eastern European stage accent.

"Julia" sings:

Me Endy was good Cat'lic
Always go with me to mass
He didn't tell his friends
He come from Pittsburgh working class

 "Mama," Andy protests fruitlessly, "We live in New York now!"

More embarrassing revelations follow, including Andy's childhood health problems. Thus, in a few minutes, Coleman and Jacobs suggest some of the insecurities that helped make Warhol who he is.

Anyway, great show, complete with live band. (Here's Ted Hoover's CP review).

There are five more performances at City: tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m.; 5:30 and 9 p.m. Saturday; and Sunday's 2 p.m. matinee.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Daryl Metcalfe at it again with anti-Planned Parenthood bill

Posted By on Wed, May 23, 2012 at 3:11 PM

Conservative state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Mordor) today again introduced legislation to defund Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania and other organizations that provide abortions.

Flanked by fellow Republican lawmakers and representatives from pro-life organizations, Metcalfe touted what he calls the "Whole Woman's Health Funding Priority Act" which would "prohibit Planned Parenthood and all other abortion-on-demand providers from receiving taxpayer funding."

As we noted earlier this year, the measure would prohibit the state Department of Health from contracting with or providing grants to "any entity that provides non-federally qualified abortions." That means no state money for organizations, including Planned Parenthood, that provide abortions in cases other than rape, incest or a threat to the mother's life. It prioritizes entities like public health departments, nonpublic hospitals and federally qualified health centers, among others, that provide "whole woman" care for funding.

Metcalfe said at a morning press conference "that the war on women is taking place in every abortion facility in Pennsylvania and across this country ... You're putting women's health at risk every time an abortion is performed ... Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize abortionists and their facilities." (Anti-choice activists frequently claim that abortion has harmful effects on women, including elevated risks of breast cancer and mental illness. The National Cancer Institute and others have generally discounted such conclusions.)

Metcalfe and others at the event had especially tough words for Planned Parenthood. Metcalfe has repeatedly objected to any state funds the organization receives for other health services, claiming the agency is "utilizing taxpayer subsidies for their window dressing."

"They provide this testing to bring women in the front door at the same time they have someone in the back room performing abortions."

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania officials contend the bill would disqualify the agency for funds for services like breast and cervical cancer screenings, infertility treatment and birth control education, while noting state and federal law prohibit public funds from paying for abortions in Pennsylvania.

Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, offered a statement reading:

It's disappointing some politicians in Harrisburg would rather block women's access to cancer screenings, birth control, and annual exams than address the real needs of the Commonwealth. Women and families need high quality, affordable health care, not more political meddling.

Planned Parenthood won't let politics interfere with the health care that one in five women in America relies on at some point in her life. Planned Parenthood health centers are open in Pennsylvania today, and they'll be open tomorrow. Women are counting on us to protect their cancer screenings, birth control and basic, preventive care -- and we will fight for them."

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Primus, Gogol Bordello, the Dead Kenny G's live at Stage AE 5/22/12

Posted By on Wed, May 23, 2012 at 2:19 PM

May 22nd was an overcast day in Pittsburgh, with rain forecast for most of the day. Luckily for the audience of the outdoor Primus show at Stage AE, the rain didn’t make an appearance, enabling the dry crowd of around 800 to enjoy the bands.

As the Pirates were gearing up for their inevitable loss to the Mets right across the parking lot, experimental funk band The Dead Kenny G’s took the stage. For those not familiar, they are a three-piece band consisting of a saxophone player, bassist, and drummer. Clad in all-white leisure suits that made the band look like they just came from Don Johnson’s yard sale, saxophone player Skerik greeted the crowd simply by stating “We’re the Dead Kenny G’s!” and kicked right into the first song. The band’s repertoire consisted of nine songs in the half-hour set, rotating between funk, jazz, and heavy metal influences. Drummer Mike Dillon amazed the crowd with his ability to play drums and marimba, mostly at the same time, as well as contributing lead vocals to about half of the set. About halfway through, the band broke into an interesting cover of “Kill The Poor” by their partial namesake, The Dead Kennedys, drawing sing-alongs and fist-pumps from about five people in the crowd. Dillon also made the announcement that the Dead Kenny G’s will be playing at the Thunderbird Café on May 30.

About 25 minutes after the completion of the Dead Kenny G’s, New York gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello took the stage, wasting no time turning up the excitement level and playing off of the crowd’s fervor. With an LED screen looming behind the band donning their logo, the band’s lead singer, Eugene Hutz, stormed the stage. Holding his acoustic guitar and a bottle of wine, Hutz held the audience in the palm of his hand. The band’s set had all the makings of a traditional punk band: barely any breaks in between songs, even the fast ones. Percussionist Pedro Erazo and backup singer Elizabeth Sun were just as animated as Hutz, with all three jumping on the stage monitors and calling out to the crowd to get involved. There was no objection from the crowd, as the energy levels went through the roof during Gogol Bordello. The band’s set included fan favorites "My Companjera," "Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher)," "Break The Spell" and "Start Wearing Purple."

As Gogol Bordello’s set was ending, so was the daylight. This created a perfect environment for the ambience set for Primus: red and purple lighting without any spotlights on the three members of the band. With two giant inflatable spacemen on each side of the LED screen that would be implemented for each song, the band took the stage to what sounded like a pre-recorded Tim Burton song. Primus launched right into its set, jamming out at length on each song, showing the technical prowess of bassist/vocalist Les Claypool and guitarist Larry LaLonde. The LED screen projected images that were just as quirky and weird as the band itself. Among the images were clips from the Thunderbirds TV show, home movies that looked to be from the 1960s, and a mentally unstable cartoon character. The band blasted through its first four songs ("Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers," "Moron T.V.," "American Life," and "Over The Falls") before addressing the crowd, with LaLonde ultimately professing his love for Pittsburgh. The band played through the newer track "Lee Van Cleef" before launching into fan favorite "Mr. Krinkle," which saw Claypool switching to an electric upright bass with no body, as well as donning a pig mask for the duration of the song. The rest of the 13-song set was peppered with the band’s most well-known singles: "Winona’s Big Brown Beaver," "My Name Is Mud," and closing track "Jerry Was A Racecar Driver." After returning to the stage, Claypool confessed there was only time for one more song, and slyly said, "I find Pittsburgh enjoyable and comforting. Every now and then I look up and see that giant banner telling me about colon health," in reference to the Bayer electronic billboard that could be seen from the venue. Following a survey from the crowd, the band kicked into "Too Many Puppies," sending fans into a frenzy to end the night.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

MP3 Monday: Broken Fences

Posted By on Mon, May 21, 2012 at 4:04 PM

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Today's edition of MP3 Monday comes from local indie-folk duo Broken Fences. The group will be releasing its self-titled debut album on June 1st, accompanied by a release show at Club Cafe on the same day. The show also features Judith Avers, Mark Dignam, and Paul Luc. Our May 30 issue will feature a story on the duo; in the meantime, stream or download the band's song "Fairy Tale" below.

[Download link expired, sorry!]

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Atrocity Exhibition 2012

Posted By on Mon, May 21, 2012 at 12:00 PM

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Great contrast Saturday night between the prosaic throngs of drunken college students and bachelorette-partiers out on East Carson Street and the scene inside the Rex Theater, at this annual cabaret. Safe to say there were more corsets, vinyl garments and emptied tubes of white face paint in the Rex than on the rest of the South Side combined.

The show onstage wasn’t bad, either. This year’s Morose & Macabre’s House of Oddities dark-themed performance showcase posited the Rex as a haunted theater, and each of the acts as a ghost re-living the grisly circumstances of his or her death.

The very goth crowd (notwithstanding the occasional zombie, kilt-wearer or arts editor in boring jeans and T-shirt) watched emcee/medium Madame Lilith DeVille introduce a series of mostly musical and burlesque acts. One dancer reprised her death by Jim Jones Kool-Aid cult. Another act was a Brechtian pantomine that ended with the female dancer, wearing a skull mask, stabbing the male partner who’d dispatched her to the afterlife. A third burlesque act opened with the dancer disemboweling herself (though things got a little lighter from there).

Co-founder Macabre Noir contributed her own compellingly creepy dance act. And the music included a lovely bowed-cello-and-vocals interlude from Phat Man Dee.

True, the sightlines aren’t always great when half the crowd’s in either platform shoes or stilettoes. But whether you wanted to peruse the in-house bazaar for lamps made from animal pelvises, watch Cherri Baum (pictured) float through the crowd in spectral array, or just soak up the atmosphere, The Atrocity Exhibition might be one to mark on your calendar for next year.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Landmark Forest Hills pizza shop shuttered -- UPDATED

Posted By on Fri, May 18, 2012 at 1:02 PM

Word has reached our ears that Vincent's Pizza Park -- beloved Forest Hills home of the "Vinnie Pie" -- has been shuttered, following a business dispute that ended up in federal court.

Two other pizza locations bearing the Vincent name, in Penn Hills and Irwin, are still open: Both are separate franchises unaffected by the legal drama. Attorneys for the warring parties are either not available or have not returned calls for comment. [UPDATE: See below]. But in the meantime, here's the story behind the dispute, according to court records:

Continue reading »

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Local Film and Student Academy Awards

Posted By on Thu, May 17, 2012 at 4:00 PM

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Mark Christian was used to Pittsburgh's unpredictable weather, but nothing could've prepared him for nights in Arizona. In roughly two hours, the temperature had dropped more than 40 degrees, and soon, his spirits had followed suit. Sitting on a dolly in the middle of the desert, the Point Park senior couldn't help but think, "This is absolutely the worst experience of my life."

Then, Christian remembered just how encouraging his cast and crew had remained throughout the shoot. "It was that moment where I was I like, ‘I have people that actually care and support me,'" he says. "That was the best moment of the whole week, when I actually realized that every single person there was there for my project."

Christian had helped assemble dozens of people outside Tucson this winter to film "Requited," a 12-minute Western recently selected as one of nine finalists in the "narrative" category at the Student Academy Awards, an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences-sponsored national competition.

The movie, which borrows characters and scenes from a previous short, "The Kid," centers on John, an outlaw bent on avenging his brother's death. Christian wrote the film's screenplay and served as the director of photography. 

Although "Requited" didn't make the final selection round of three films (which was announced this week), Madeline Puzzo, the director and production designer, says she was more than pleased with its performance.

"Just the fact that we were able to compete with some of those other films, especially with films coming from the schools they were coming from — it felt pretty good, actually," Puzzo says. "It was gratifying to get as far as we did."

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