When The New York Times boosted Pittsburgh as a quaint oasis where hipsters could take a cultural sojourn, it wasn't impossible to imagine adventurous Williamsburg club-hoppers taking advantage of the offer.
So it goes with Vince Masi, 27. Growing up in Bloomfield and McKees Rocks, he got his taste for Pittsburgh's nightlife at the turn of the decade, and joined a breakdancing crew. But when venues for his dance team dried up, Masi got a promotional position with Red Bull that drew him to Brooklyn, handling on-site sales at the top nightspots.
"The first three years were amazing -- meeting new people every night," Masi says. After working for another beverage line and managing hot DJ team The Bangers, he felt New York's drawbacks outweighed its positives. "The cost of living is out of control," he says. "The cops write tickets like it's a fund-raiser."
Masi recalls that when he left Pittsburgh, nightlife here was mostly "drink-special driven," but on returning, he found some events happening on a New York level. "DJ Nugget was bringing in talent, Nakturnal were starting to do events, and you had [clubs] building a great community around Lawrenceville."
Resolving to add to the mix, he founded the roller-skating jam Down & Derby two years ago, with partner Ben Falvo of design agency Dreamstore. Down & Derby now occurs quarterly both here and in Brooklyn, which is a feat in itself, but Masi also wanted to establish a new venue for the young Pittsburgh party scene.
"One of my inspirations was [large-scale multimedia series] FLUX," he says, but "I looked for a raw space but had no luck." So Masi turned his attention to Bellevue, which -- much like Penn Avenue and Braddock -- has a growing arts component, with a tattoo parlor, skate shop, coffeehouse, antique stores, several restaurants, and an "art and wine" crawl. He found a third-floor spot above the Creative Treehouse arts incubator in a building owned by neighborhood advocate Sam DiBattista.
Masi's space is The Key Room, a large area with steel beams, concrete walls and wooden floors, featuring a DJ booth mounted on old TVs and service areas decorated to look like subway cars, courtesy of graffiti artist Chemist. So far, Masi (operating under the "Talk to Vinny" logo) has hosted Down & Derby and Electric Sweat (an '80s party), as well as last weekend's I Hear Dead People, featuring tributes to Jimi Hendrix and Ol' Dirty Bastard. As a party innovator, Masi comes up with themes that make preparing for the event an event in itself.
"People go to stores like American Apparel just to get outfits for the party, depending on the dress code. I'll create rhymes like 'stonewashed jeans and Flavor Flav clocks, or any outfit worn by Michael J. Fox.'"
Check out www.thekeyroom.com for information on upcoming events.