Improve Your Wednesdays With the Pittsburgh Banjo Club

The Elks Lodge on the North Side is filled with banjo music, singing, polka dancing and people of all ages.
Img 0398


You can catch me at the Allegheny Elks Lodge on Cedar Avenue every Wednesday night listening to banjo music, singing “Yes! We Have No Bananas” and drinking a beer with volunteer waiter and my new friend, Rich.

Have you heard of the Pittsburgh Banjo Club? It’s been around for 34 years, and it has become my new favorite evening excursion.

Img 0475

There are typically about 20 members who show up each Wednesday, and they play from 8 to 11 p.m. This is not technically a show; rather it’s the club’s rehearsal. According to music director Norm Azinger, people of all ages come to sing, dance, hang out, drink, gossip and eat. Elks Lodge simply becomes a hubspot for a diverse group of people to enjoy one another and banjo music.

The doors open at 7:15 and attendees must be 21 unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. The lodge offers cash-only cheap food and drink, such as fries, chicken planks, cheese sticks, nachos, onion rings and other bar food, including a weekly special.

On my first visit, the special was chicken parmesan with fries for $7. My friends and I grabbed a big pitcher of Yuengling for $8 and shared it.

Rich Ferro, the volunteer waiter, greeted us with a friendly smile and jokes. I look forward to talking with Rich every week now. 

I also discovered my new favorite song at the banjo club — “Yes! We Have No Bananas.” This is one of the many singalongs. John, who leads the tune, even performs a verse in Italian. 

Every person I have met at the banjo club is welcoming and friendly. Tracey Sartoris, a four-year Elk member, takes the food orders and sparks up lively conversations. 

Img 0483

“We just came down and we liked the music, but we also liked to see the different generations kind of come together and enjoy the music,“ Sartoris says. “The songs they play aren’t obviously current songs, but the younger generation enjoy them just as much as the older generation, and that’s so fun to see.”

The Pittsburgh Banjo Club has created its own cult following, which includes David and Peggy Bach. 

“My wife, Peggy, and I came to banjo night 30 years ago, we lived in Bellevue, and we loved it. Right after we came, we ended up moving to Florida. We’ve been in Florida for 30 years,” Bach says. “We came back up to Pittsburgh to visit and one of the things we needed to do was come see banjo night.”

Img 0503

It’s also landed on national TV; it was featured in an episode of ABC’s sitcom “Downward Dog,” which aired in 2017.

Despite the banjo club’s popularity, its membership has dwindled from a high of 70. There are only two original members left since it was founded in 1988, Azinger says. New members are always welcome and banjo lessons are offered.

“If you think you don’t like banjo music, you’re wrong,” Sartoris says. “Because people think ‘Oh, it’s banjo, I don’t like that,’ but we have trumpets, singers and everything else — it’s so much more than just banjos.”

Categories: Things To Do