The irony does not escape Justin Strong, owner of AVA Bar & Lounge, who announced last week that he was closing up shop in East Liberty after a decade of waiting for the neighborhood's revival.
"We grabbed [AVA's space] anticipating development," he says.
Strong is often credited as one of the pioneers who drew interest in the area with Shadow Lounge, a coffee shop-turned-performing-arts-space that promoted an eclectic and diverse range of music acts. Just last summer, as developers jack-hammered and worked on the facade while renovating the historic Highland Building across the street, he said he was eager to take advantage of the changes coming.
But earlier this year, he closed Shadow Lounge. And now, AVA is moving — back to Oakland, where Strong says he got his start.
He's not alone: Another eclectic East Liberty performance venue, 6119, at 6119 Penn Ave., is also packing, announcing its pending closure last week as well.
"We're right at the peak of what we've all been waiting for. It's finally here. Why would we make that decision?" Strong says. "I don't know if it's something in the air. I don't know."
The loss of the spaces, which drew diverse crowds to the East End, is disappointing, says Chris Ivey, a local filmmaker who has produced several documentaries on the changes in East Liberty.
Shadow Lounge, AVA and 6119 "symbolized what the new East Liberty was supposed to be about — a place for everybody," he says. "We had these small gems."
Lauren Goshinski, co-director of 6119, says the space, which they began leasing in June 2012, was always meant to be temporary. East Liberty Development, Inc., which owned the 3,770-square-foot building, had been marketing it for development. It recently went under contract to the firm Alphabet City Company. 6119 will hold its closing party June 28.
"We thought all along we would have a bit more time," Goshinski says, but the sale itself isn't a surprise.
She says East Liberty has had a lot of appeal for those organizing live entertainment. Among its advantages were accessibility and the availability of large, affordable spaces removed from the area's residential pockets.
But that time may be past.
"It seems like such a gold-rush time in East Liberty," Goshinski says. "I don't know where we fit in."
Of her time in East Liberty, she says, "I loved being here. I'm really going to miss it."
She says 6119 will live on; a new location is being sought. "Nothing can discourage me from the concept," she says. "I really think it belongs in Pittsburgh."
Strong says a number of factors led to his decision to move AVA — which will remain open, at 126 S. Highland Ave. until the new lease is finalized and the work on the new location, at 304 Craig St. (the site of the former Luna Bar), is completed later this summer. East Liberty's once-anticipated redevelopment, it turns out, is one factor in the move.
Rent and the costs of renovating AVA — adding a bigger bar plus a commercial kitchen — started to add up. The space in Oakland, with its two floors and a kitchen already in place, seems to make more financial sense, Strong says. And there is parking.
"As I circled twice looking for parking in front of my own place, I'm just like, ‘Yeah, it's not getting better around here,'" he says.
Eve Picker, Strong's landlord, has seen a number of tenants moving out of the property, and new tenants moving in: The partners of the Strip District's Bar Marco, for one, are renovating the spot at the corner of Baum Boulevard and Highland Avenue that once held the Waffle Shop.
In a brief conversation with City Paper, she didn't wax sentimental about the closure of the Shadow Lounge and AVA.
"I think this is just a parting of the ways for us," she said. "And that's just how business is. There's no drama here."
As for Strong, the new spot will also move him closer to the student population — and his roots, he says.
"There are a lot of things that have reached our level or passed us up," he says of the new scene in East Liberty. "We definitely had an impact. I think there's not too much impacting we can do."