Best of Culture & Nightlife 2012 | Culture + Nightlife | Pittsburgh

Best Of PGH

Best of Culture & Nightlife

Best of Culture & Nightlife
(Drag) Queen of Heaven: When it's really time for Last Call, will you be touched by an angel?

Best Museum in Pittsburgh

The Andy Warhol Museum
117 Sandusky St., North Side
 412-237-8300 or

Andy Warhol was famously not a huge fan of his hometown, but he probably would have liked hanging out at The Warhol. In addition to the museum's consistently thought-provoking exhibits — its retrospective of Debora Kass opens Oct. 27 — the Warhol hosts cult film screenings, innovative musicians and other mind-expanding events, making it a place to be seen ... and, more importantly, to see. 

2nd: Mattress Factory, North Side
3rd: Carnegie museums, Oakland


Best Gallery for Local Artists

812 Liberty Ave., Downtown
412-325-7723 or

Intended to be a venue for any mix of local art or performances, the "gallery" tag may be too limiting for SPACE, which opened in 2004 in the spot of a former pornography store. Featuring five shows a year under its 17-foot high ceilings and within a strict budget, SPACE is guest curated and known for launching Pittsburgh artists. 

2nd: ModernFormations, Garfield
3rd: FE Gallery, Lawrenceville


Best Local Theater Company

City Theatre
1300 Bingham St., South Side
412-431-CITY or

The charm and importance of this small, but mighty company isn't that it merely presents top-notch stage performances, but that it brings new, compelling works from some of this country's great contemporary playwrights. Add to that its Young Playwrights educational program and the City Theatre's impact on the local cultural scene is a great one.

2nd: Quantum Theatre, East Liberty
3rd: Pittsburgh CLO, Downtown


Best Dance Company

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
412-281-0360 or

If there's one thing City Paper readers appreciate, it's a dance company that keeps them on their toes. Pittsburgh Ballet isn't just rehashing the classics: This year, it became the first U.S. dance company to perform choreographer John Neumeier's A Streetcar Named Desire, before touring Israel this summer. But don't worry, traditionalists: The Nutcracker will be back this December.

2nd: Attack Theatre, Strip District
3rd: Dance Alloy


Best Bartender 

Mark Miller, Monterey Pub
1227 Monterey St., North Side
412 322-6535 or

The bartenders that get all the press these days are the ones making cocktails that feature, like, tungsten. But in Pittsburgh, there'll always be a place for a guy like Mark Miller: a bartender with easy-going charm, an honest pour and a longstanding familiarity with a diverse cast of regulars. A quintessential neighborhood barkeep, in a quintessential neighborhood bar. 

2nd: Ray Matthews, Static (Strip District)
3rd: Asante, Shadow Lounge (East Liberty)


Best Cocktail List

Salt of the Earth
5523 Penn Ave., Garfield 
412-441-7258 or

Salt's roster of hand-crafted cocktails may seem brief — there are fewer than 10 — but each has been so carefully created that there's no need for run-of-the-mill backups. The bartenders combine choice base spirits — Boyd & Blair vodka, Wigle White rye, a hand-picked Kentucky bourbon — with mix-ins both expected (fruit juice, cordials) and not (squash, apple butter, beet juice).

2nd: Olive or Twist, Downtown
3rd: Meat and Potatoes, Downtown


Best New Club

1630 Smallman St., Strip District
412-720-1396 or

Opened this past spring, Exit provides a more accessible Top 40-plus companion to Static, our "Best Dance Club" winner. The two are technically attached and, when necessary, can be combined, like Voltron, into the biggest club in the area. 

2nd: Jergel's Rhythm Grille, Warrendale
3rd (tie): Static (Strip District) / Cruze (Strip District)


Best Strip Club

Blush, 135 Ninth St., Downtown. 
412-281-7703 or 

Blush exotic club features totally nude dancers, from talented amateurs to national acts. There's also a full bar, and lap dances are available. There's something going on at all hours of the day, from the free lunchtime buffet to happy hour and amateur nights.

2nd: Cheerleaders Gentlemen's Club, Strip District
3rd: Club Erotica, McKees Rocks


Best Dance Club

1650 Smallman St., Strip District
412-315-7330 or

In a Strip District space adjacent to Exit, Static offers up electronic music all the time: It's the big-room club for folks who are serious about their dance music. DJ Strobe is the club's resident and touring DJs stop by on the regular.

2nd: Diesel, South Side
3rd: Whim, Station Square, South Side


Best Themed Dance Night

NEON at Belvedere's Ultradive
4016 Butler St., Lawrenceville \
412-687-2555 or

After the Upstage shut down in 2006, ending its popular '80s Night, several bars moved to fill the Regan-era dance-night gap. But Belvedere's has managed to make it something of an institution. Featuring DJ Hatesyou most weeks, this '80s Night is the place to be on Thursday nights, whether you're partying with friends, or eyeing up a new dance partner. 

2nd: '80s Night, Lava Lounge (South Side)
3rd: Global House Sessions with DJ Strobe, Static (Strip District)


Best Local Music Venue

Stage AE
400 North Shore Drive, North Side
412-229-5483 or

Versatility is key at Stage AE, which later this month will host Fiona Apple and Insane Clown Posse. Its ability to accommodate outdoor shows, indoor shows and smaller "club-sized" shows makes the venue an attractive stop for national acts, particularly those whose large draw would have, in the past, left them with limited Pittsburgh venue options. 

2nd: Mr. Small's Theater, Millvale
3rd: Altar Bar, Strip District


Best New Bar 

Industry Public House
4305 Butler St., Lawrenceville
412-683-1100 or

With details like exposed brick walls and filament light bulbs, this Larryville watering hole takes its patrons back to this city's industrial past. But the ambiance is just part of the draw. There are 40 beers on tap including several craft brews; 60 whiskeys behind the bar; and a specialty cocktail list with offerings — like the Smokestack — that you won't find anywhere else in the city.

2nd: Jergel's Rhythm Grille, Warrendale
3rd: Bar Marco, Strip District


Best LGBT Bar

5801 Video Lounge & Café

Three separate bars and an outdoor deck ... weekly bingo with drag queen Marsha "Monster" Mallow ... drink and appetizer specials during Steelers games ... This longtime LGBT establishment — a perennial readers' favorite — has so much to offer that it could actually turn people gay. But even if not, the staff is friendly and the vibe welcoming, and thus inevitably crowded on weekends. 

2nd: Cattivo, Lawrenceville
3rd: Blue Moon, Lawrenceville


Best College Bar

Hemingway's Cafe
3911 Forbes Ave., Oakland 
412-621-4100 or

Oakland is home to many an esteemed institution: the University of Pittsburgh, Carlow College, Carnegie Mellon University. And students of those institutions need to eat and drink. Cheaply. That's where Hemingway's Café comes in: good, cheap beer and drink specials; a massive list of draft beer; tasty and affordable pub grub that's half-off late nights; and weekly karaoke.

2nd (tie): Garage Door Saloon (Oakland) / Peter's Pub (Oakland)


Best Bar to Karaoke

Nico's Recovery Room 
178 Pearl St., Bloomfield

Grab the mike, belt out a boozy version of "Burning Down the House," and feel the love from the amped-up crowd. At Nico's, talent is secondary to enthusiasm. You could pick an introspective indie tune, but everybody at the bar wishes you'd go with "Hang On, Sloopy" or some deliciously craptastic Toto song. They want to sing, too.

2nd: Tennyson Lodge, Bethel Park
3rd (tie): Lava Lounge (South Side) / Smiling Moose (South Side)


Best Bar for Smokers

Dee's Cafe
1314 E. Carson St., South Side
412-431-1314 or

Among bars where you can smoke, few are as iconic as this South Side joint. As Carson Street changes around it, Dee's remains the place for cheap drinks, two floors of pool and a companionably gruff rock 'n' roll vibe. The Surgeon General might not like the tobacco haze — but hell, at Dee's they'd probably buy her a drink, too.

2nd: Squirrel Hill Café, Squirrel Hill
3rd: Thunderbird Café, Lawrenceville


Best Bar to Network 

Olive or Twist
140 Sixth St., Downtown
412-255-0524 or

Any place featuring specialty martinis — 30-plus of them, from Tiramisu to Jameson's Ginger — might well lure networkers. Add a location at Downtown's business and cultural epicenter; a sophisticated but welcoming atmosphere, complete with second-floor lounge; and a full menu with treats like spicy calamari, and you'd best slip a couple extra business cards in your wallet before visiting.

2nd: Eclipse Lounge, Lawrenceville
3rd: Meat & Potatoes, Downtown


Best Happy Hour

Mad Mex
Multiple locations,

Actually, that's "Happy Hora," in the Spanglish spoken at this local chain's seven locations. But the deals here — half-off drafts, half-off regular wings, and $7 for a 22-ounce margarita — sound good in any language. Between 4:30 and 6:30 each afternoon, you're essentially getting a free second round of expertly curated microbrews like Brooklyn, Victory, East End and Dogfish Head. ¡Viva!

2nd: Tamari, Lawrenceville
3rd: Kaya, Strip District


Best Bar to People Watch

4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield
412-621-4900 or

Bearded men. Girls in skinny jeans. Lots of dark sunglasses. Brillobox is hipster central for the city of Pittsburgh. A draw, as well, for musicians and artists, Brillobox's second-floor space allows for an eclectic mix of performances. The bar downstairs, in the meantime, provides plenty of cover for the wallflower taking it all in. 

2nd: Local Bar + Kitchen, South Side
3rd: Lava Lounge (South Side) / Belvedere's Ultradive (Lawrenceville) 


Best Sports Bar

Jerome Bettis Grille 36
393 North Shore Drive, North Side
412-224-6287 or

How could a place partly owned by, and named for, a local football legend not win our Best Sports Bar category? The Bettis Grille is located a short walk from Heinz Field and a shorter walk from PNC Park, and offers a comprehensive menu that stretches from a deep-fried cheeseburger to edamame.

2nd: Buffalo Blues, Shadyside
3rd: Silky's, multiple locations


Best Jazz/Blues Band or Performer

Olga Watkins

A repeat winner, Olga Watkins rarely slows down; the blues singer is also a chef and a part-time food writer. Her band's real claim to fame — because it knows how to work a Pittsburgh audience — is "Drink Up Yinz Bitches," an annually updated Steelers theme. But beyond that, Watkins is a prima performer who surrounds herself with great musicians.

2nd: Phat Man Dee
3rd: Sean Jones


Best Hip-Hop Performer

Wiz Khalifa

It's no surprise Wiz tops the hip-hop category this year; by far the most successful rapper to come out of the 412, he put down roots in the area earlier this year, buying a fancy manse in Washington County and proposing to his (now-expecting) girlfriend Amber Rose. His next album, O.N.I.F.C., is slated for release in December.

2nd: Mac Miller
3rd: Tracksploitation


Best Alt-Folk/Alt-Country Band

The Armadillos

When you're reinventing a musical tradition, there's always a danger of coming across as, well, precious. But there's nothing like an accordion to cut through pretentiousness. And this four-piece puts its emphasis on high-octane, danceable fun. And that, no doubt, is why it's managed to establish its own tradition — winning City Paper readers polls — after forming only three years ago.

2nd: Cathasaigh
3rd: Bear Cub


Best Pop/Rock Band That's not The Clarks

Bastard Bearded Irishmen

Outside of St. Patrick's Day or the occasional Irish Festival, you wouldn't think that a band playing Irish music would attract such a large following. But the Bastard Bearded Irishmen have become a 'Burgh favorite over the past 18 months. They play a combination of traditional Irish tunes and originals, mixing Irish flavor with a heavier, rock/punk sound that reflects its members' musical backgrounds.

2nd: Donora
3rd: Meeting of Important People


Best Metal Band

Fist Fight in the Parking Lot

It's not hard to understand the appeal of Fist Fight in the Parking Lot. The four-piece, whose radio-ready rock falls somewhere between Pantera and Queens of the Stone Age, brings a heavy dose of fun to heavy music. Certified badass Abby Krizner fronts the band with a swaggering bravado that would make Phil Anselmo smile. 

2nd: Dethlehem
3rd: Lady Beast