Among them, Privé Ultralounge, which opened in July in the Strip District, represents a striking transformation of an historic address. "1650 Smallman Street" might not ring a bell, but the name "Rosebud" still triggers fond memories for many Pittsburghers. (Memories of the rock venue, that is, not of some old sled.)
But where once the celebs were guitarists and "bottle service" meant having a friend grab you an Iron City from the bar, the space has been completely made over. Sportcoats are now more the order of the day than old Motörhead T-shirts, and "bottle service" means handling your party's drinks yourself, from a bottle of champagne or wine to vodka (the most popular choice) with your choice of mixers. (Bottle service starts around $150 a bottle.)
The garage doors are still there, but inside you'll find a slick dance floor where DJs Nugget, Bill Bara and Bill Bistolas hold court on weekends. On the periphery are enough space-age sofas and multilevel lounging areas to make you think you're in a futuristic furniture store. In warmer months, you can enjoy tapas and cocktails among the patio's cozy wicker furniture and fire pits. And when you tire of shaking your whatchamacallit on the dance floor, kicking back on an oversized suede bed with a Hollywood Starlet cocktail seems a taste of playful decadence.
But for all the futuristic décor and exhaustive specialty martini list, the heart of Privé is the VIP treatment.
For while Pittsburgh might be a shot-and-a-beer town, as Privé manager Dave Lander says, "There is a part of Pittsburgh that wants something [else] that wants something more upscale and high-end." For starters, there are birthday or bachelorette parties: "A once- or twice-a-year thing; they're not going out every week." But there are also groups who routinely come to kick back after work on Fridays.
"You do get a lot of people in our first-floor areas that are into the whole see-and-be-seen," Lander adds. "It's really an amazing feeling to be in the middle of a packed room with a thousand people, and yet have your own entire section where it's not packed, it's not crowded. You can enjoy yourself, you can have the best service in the house and in some ways, be the center of attention." There's also a voyeuristic element, in that most of the VIP levels offer views of the main club, while shielding patrons from prying eyes.
But apart from having a little extra cash to throw around, are any of these VIPs actually, well, VIPs?
"We've had our fair share of celebrities come by," Lander says. "We've had a few Playboy Playmates in, we've had Artie Lang from the Howard Stern show." Then there are the local celebrities Steelers, Penguins and so on. "We try to keep it on the down-low who they are and when they're there, because that's another aspect of VIP: having an evening where they can go out with their friends and have some privacy and not be followed around."
With frequent drink specials and no cover until 10 p.m., Privé also has something to offer those who are VIPs only at the neighborhood bar, and those whose wallets are fat with cultural currency, but not much coin of the realm. Just observe the dress code and try to avoid carrying on like you did back when it was Rosebud.