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A Guide to Under-21 College Nightlife in Pittsburgh

Guest blogger Sarah Connor helps college kids head out at night, whatever their birth year.

Photo courtesy Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens

College nightlife is often thought to be synonymous with hitting the bars or going to fraternity parties. More than half of all undergrads are under 21, however, and for local students too young for the bar scene — and those not interested in activities focused on drinking — Pittsburgh offers many different options for a Friday or Saturday night out.

Check out a random person’s basement.
Oakland basements have become destinations, as house shows — held in actual houses — have grown in recent years. These shows have been a staple of college nightlife and local music culture in recent years. Rock bands, rappers, pop singers and musicians of many other genres have been able to get their names into the local scene thanks to the casual atmosphere of house shows. A house show will usually consist of local artists and smaller touring artists playing in private venues, often with a small cover charge. Venues have popped up around central, south and north Oakland — in other words, the parts of the neighborhood containing the most housing for Pitt and CMU students. The locations are kept top secret, often revealed when hopeful guests reach out directly to the hosts of the show (ask around), but the houses in Oakland are known to have quirky names. From the Jelly Fox to Ba Sing Se, Oakland residents are never without fresh live music on the weekends.

Hit the South Side without going to a bar. (Yes, it’s possible!)
Many people think first of the bar scene on East Carson Street when discussing nightlife in Pittsburgh. The street is often packed with eager groups going bar hopping, waiting shoulder-to-shoulder for the next round. The scene can make it easy to forget that there is plenty to do in South Side for those yet to celebrate their 21st. The SouthSide Works movie theater is accommodating, and it’s right next to the Cheesecake Factory and shopping at the likes of Urban Outfitters and American Eagle. Celebrate a pre-21 birthday or holiday with a decadent dinner, quick shopping spree and then a movie. (Or, just go for the movie and a slice of pizza, like a normal college kid with $34.51 in their bank account.) Under-21ers can also often attend concerts at venues on East Carson, such as The Rex Theater and the Smiling Moose. Most shows that begin before 10pm are open to all-ages crowds or guests over 18.

Okay, fine: Stay in, binge something and try to forget the week.
College kids are busy, broke and constantly tired. Why bother going out after five straight days of exams, homework and stress? You could make a bag of microwave popcorn and marathon anything on Netflix. You’ve got “Stranger Things,” all three “High School Musical” movies, “Orange is the New Black,” and “House of Cards,” all at your binge-watching disposal. Such activities can be done with friends, roommates, significant others or by yourself, and you can wear pajamas, which is always a plus. No ID required, fake or otherwise!

Get $5 off museum entry and concert tickets (with the student ID you pay thousands for).
Most local museums offer discounted, or even free, admission for local college students with a valid school ID. Plenty also leave the doors open late one day each week; the Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History stays open until 8pm on Thursdays, the Andy Warhol Museum closes at 10pm on Fridays and Phipps Conservatory currently stays open until 11pm every night (see the winter light show). The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra also offer discounted tickets for college students. This perk of having a student ID makes going to a musical, play or concert the perfect date night, girls night or night away from the books.

Cry in the quad.
Failed an exam? Missed an assignment? Just got dumped by your high school sweetheart? Having an existential crisis? Have more loans than dreams? All of the above? It might be time for a good cry. Since every school has some kind of quad and every college student will need to shed a tear at some point, what better way to show the true college experience than having your moment right there in the middle of everything. Best of all, it’s free!

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