Alcohol and minors don't mix easily in Pittsburgh clubs, thanks to Pennyslvania Liquor Control Board restrictions. While under-the-radar all-ages shows may allow the odd smuggled-in six-pack, venues such as Mr. Small's use physical barriers to segregate over-21 drinkers from the kiddies. Ironically, these barriers often put the drinkers -- who bring in much of a night's revenue -- far from the action.
Two examples of how this works played out on either side of East Carson Street last Thursday. At the Rex, metal dudes quaffed Yuenglings in a fenced-off bar area, peering around each others' burly shoulders for a glimpse -- through wire mesh and an open doorway -- of the distant stage in the main room. While the inconvenience didn't stop Type O Negative from selling out the $25 tickets -- and blowing the roof off the Rex -- it was a drag.
Across the street at Diesel, Men Women & Children wrapped up its neo-disco set by sending bubbles into the underage crowd clustered around the stage. The over-21s, meanwhile, looked down from the balcony -- actually an enviable vantage point. There, I talked with longtime promoter Jon Rinaldo, now booking Diesel and Club Café. He explained a loophole of sorts in the PLCB guidelines that allows drinkers and underage to mingle, differentiated by wristbands, as is common in many other cities. The only trick, he said, is maintaining a high ratio of security to underage patrons.
"Would hiring additional security for a night be a prohibitive financial burden?" I asked him.
"No, not really," he said. The downside, it seems, is throwing good money after bad: spending more to fill a club with people who will probably spend less.
The Shadow Lounge, which used wristbands for its 18-and-over parties, got a surprise visit from two undercover officers on March 30. According to owner Justin Strong, the officers specified that the drinkers and the underage needed to be physically separated. "And that was exactly what we didn't want to have," Strong says. He cites the inconvenience to responsible drinkers and the disservice to area college students already excluded from many events. "A lot of people get fake IDs just to see shows," Strong says. "It's not even a drinking thing."
Strong's call to the PLCB confirmed that, while the Lounge can use wristbands, they can "mix crowds [only] as long as there's a chaperone, quote-unquote, for every 20 minors." He's now offering free admission to volunteer chaperones, who must be 25 or over, have no other duties that night, and not drink themselves. Strong says 18-and-over shows will continue, but expect the door charge for minors to go up by a couple of bucks to offset the hassle.