In America's most livable city, we like to count the ways we're behind the times -- it's part of our natural inferiority complex. And though it might seem insignificant to anyone outside the music scene, here's yet another shortcoming of our fair 'Burgh: Bands aren't getting free beer!
This issue came up suddenly one night at a show I was promoting, when a fairly well-known touring band (let's call them "Blue Cheer") demanded free drinks, even though there was no cost set aside for it in their contract. Why? "We've gotten free beer everywhere else on this tour."
I asked around, and sure enough, from New York to San Francisco, Chicago to Austin, most smaller venues that host touring acts offer some kind of free-drink deal. In some Midwestern venues, it's merely free PBR all night. In other, more sophisticated scenes, limited amounts of free "drink tickets" (good for anything from a draft to top-shelf liquor) are prevalent.
But not here. Most venues offer only a band discount; one of the few to adopt a free-drink ticket policy is Brillobox.
The reason Pittsburgh bars are relatively stingy with booze is readily apparent: Pittsburghers drink like fish, but they're also tightwads. Many scenesters and punks intrinsically recoil from a cover charge of even a couple bucks to support a band -- local or national -- when that cash could otherwise net them two cheap beers.
Which may have been part of the blatant abuse of the generous band beer allowances some Pittsburgh rock institutions originally offered to entice local bands. "They would take a cup that had their name written on it, and give the beer to their girlfriends, and then their friends," explains Steve Frankowski, owner of the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern. "They're exploiting the whole thing, because they believe in their minds that they deserve it. We end up being babysitters."
Joel Greenfield, of the 31st Street Pub, who had gladly provided free drafts for his first several years of operation, agrees. "The bands ruined it. I warned them about it for months and months." The Pub now offers band members dollar drafts. "You can't come up to the bar, ask for five drafts, and give four away. The bands all deny it, but they keep doing it, and every time that happens, I lose 10 to 12 bucks. I hate to sound shitty about it, but business is business."