So you’re planning an evening out in Pittsburgh. Thankfully, we’ve found that the nightlife scene here is diverse enough to handle any scenario. Looking for romantic ambience? We uncovered a corner booth with good food and soft lighting where you can cozy up with a bottle of champagne. Just got "downsized?" We sought out a dark bar with stiff drinks and friendly patrons. Trying not to break the bank? We found a joint where you can get a pitcher for $8.50 and a 50-count bucket of wings for less than $20.
Can’t decide upon just one destination? Pick two or three from our guide, which includes everything under the stars. Whether you prefer dancing, live music, people-watching, fine wine, a club to mingle with other singles, karaoke or a quiet corner table, we have it all in our late-night recap.
Here’s to life after dark.
1. You’ve been set up on a blind date via the Internet (or your mother): Olive or Twist, downtown
If you’re the one choosing the venue, you’ve been anointed with much power and responsibility. Think like a lawyer: Mitigate potential liabilities while leaving room for upside. You can’t lose at Olive or Twist. A popular downtown happy-hour spot, the bar/restaurant is most easily described by what it is not. It’s no college dive bar, nor is it some stuffy cigar bar. It is not a chain restaurant. It’s neither big nor small, quiet nor loud. This is, quite simply, a classy yet fun place to meet. The décor is clean with an upscale pub feel, and as the name suggests, martinis are a popular drink, especially if you’re in need of liquid courage. Live music Wednesdays through Saturdays always helps to break the ice if the conversation lags. And, if things go well, move to the more spacious, urban loft-style lounge on the second floor, where you can relax on leather sofas and kick it to the DJ. 140 Sixth St., downtown. Mon.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-midnight; Fri.-Sat., 5 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sun., open for Steelers home games from four hours before kickoff until after the game. 412/255-0525, oliveortwist.com.
2. You take a look at your checking account, and overdraft fees are imminent: Gooski’s Bar, Polish Hill
It happens. Despite all your efforts to the contrary, the weekend descends upon you like a giant wallet vacuum suck. In those desperate times, seek refuge and hole up at Gooski’s Bar in Polish Hill. The place is long on character, short on refinement and draws an eclectic Pittsburgh crowd with its live indie music. Anyone can afford a good time here with well drinks that start at $2.50 and microbrew bottles in the $3 to $4 range. Looking for volume? A pitcher of Yuengling runs $8.50. Still too rich for you? Various beer specials on weeknights from 10 p.m. to midnight border on the ridiculous, and most menu items are less than $6, except for a 50-count bucket of wings ($17.50). Congratulations-you can now make it to payday. 3117 Brereton St., Polish Hill. Mon.-Sun., 3 p.m.-2 a.m. 412/681-1658.
3. You’re sick of the same old crowd: Firehouse Lounge, Strip District
Housed in the old No. 7 Engine Co. fire station, Firehouse Lounge has built its reputation on quality music, comfortable lounge seating, good drinks and a pervasive fun vibe-not to mention the diverse, sophisticated crowd made up of local hipsters, international students, artists and professionals. Simply put, people come here to unwind. You can get bottle service, groove to the music or mingle around the bar with relative ease and comfort both inside and out on the patio deck-without any of it being as over-the-top as most mega-clubs and ultra-lounges. This place is refreshing and unassuming. Table service is very popular for birthdays and other celebrations, and the menu is a pleasant surprise for a lounge, proving that it is possible to do a lot of things well at the same time. 2216 Penn Ave., Strip District. Tues.-Sat., 5 p.m.-2 a.m. 412/434-1230, firehouse-lounge.com.
4. You’ve been "asked" to entertain the out-of-town clients: The Capital Grille, downtown
The business dinner at a big, fancy steakhouse may be a cliché, but for good reason. Nothing screams "we want your business" more than a glass of robust cabernet and dry-aged beef. At downtown’s The Capital Grille, you can take your pin-stripes and power tie to the dining room, but if you need to make an evening out of it, better to snag a table or booth in the lounge area. Draped in dark wood and decorated with the mounted heads of big game and portraits of famous Pittsburghers such as August Wilson, Fred Rogers, Andrew Mellon and Mary Cassatt, the room feels part country club, part cigar bar and part hotel bar. The service is, as you would expect, top-notch, having attracted some of Pittsburgh’s best servers since opening in 2007. Plus, the well-dressed, well-coiffed post-work crowd that descends on the bar is a pleasant distraction from the business-speak. Order a wine from the extensive list and marvel at your sales genius as you close the deal. Of course, The Capital Grille isn’t cheap, but your expense account should cover it. 301 Fifth Ave., downtown. Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner: Sun.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5-11 p.m. 412/338-9100, thecapitalgrille.com.
5. It’s Earth Day, and you’re looking to do your part for the environment: brillobox, Bloomfield
Known for its charming, progressive atmosphere as well as live music and events, brillobox is trying to make sure you don’t kill the planet. The menu is entirely vegetarian, using only locally sourced and organic produce. Beers brewed locally are preferred for their lower transportation impact and to support the local economy. All glass, metal products and cooking oils are recycled. All to-go containers and cups are compostable. Plus, money is donated to various eco-related charities to offset any remaining carbon footprint. You get the idea. It’s eco-responsibility served by the glass, but it doesn’t take away from your fun. Brillobox is comfortable, congenial and smartly decored. Pub Quiz Wednesdays (9-11 p.m.) pack the place; then from 10 p.m.-2 a.m., also on Wednesdays, you can channel your inner karaoke devil; and Sundays feature the unique YouTube Happy Hour, during which a VJ takes video requests for the big screen. 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. Tues.-Sat., 5 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.-2 a.m. 412/621-4900, brillobox.net.
6. You’re pretty sure she’s "the one.": Red Room Café and 2Red Lounge, East Liberty
Take her for an evening out at Red Room-perhaps for a wonderful meal, maybe with some dessert or a little bubbly. Really, you should probably spring for all three. Sophisticated and classy, Red Room remains comfortable and casual. The continental-fusion menu is highly accessible to all palates, and the wine list gives you 30 choices by the glass and 60 by the bottle. Order a bottle of Veuve Clicquot (reasonably priced at $80) and you are now "the man." If the night goes as planned, stop over next door to Red Room’s new sibling, 2Red, where you can continue the evening in style. (See "Got the Munchies?" page 62 for more on 2Red.) 134 S. Highland Ave., East Liberty. Mon.-Wed., 5-10 p.m.; Thurs., 5-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5 p.m.-midnight. 412/362-5800, redroomcafe.net.
7. You’ve just heard, "It’s not you. It’s me.": Nakama Japanese Steak House and Sushi Bar, South Side
When you need to get back out there, a mandatory stop must be made at Nakama. Recommended by nine out of 10 serial daters, Nakama’s bar scene is unmatched when it comes to the shamelessly blatant pick-up factor. Veterans know that the weekend early birds start the hunt on Thursday, when the place gets shoulder-to-shoulder packed. Grab some sushi and edamame if you can find room to eat, or make a reservation to sit at one of the hibachi tables. The restaurant itself is Pittsburgh’s modern spin on the Japanese steak house and is wildly popular for girls’ and guys’ night out. But, make no mistake, the real action is at the bar. 17th and East Carson streets, South Side. Thurs.-Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Mon.-Wed., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 1-10 p.m.; cocktail lounge open daily until 2 a.m. 412/381-6000, eatatnakama.com.
8. The Pirates have just swept the World Series: Bar Room, Station Square
There is a handful of events in our lives that are so momentous and so miraculous in scope that a night of celebratory behavior is necessary. In such cases, you need to throw caution to the wind, light your hair on fire, howl at the moon, paint the town red-pick your favorite cliché. You require loud music, psychedelic lighting and other visual stimuli to get you to your target heart rate. Go to Bar Room. The latest in the mega-club lineage at Station Square, it incorporates all the components you might expect for this night of celebratory insanity, including all of the aforementioned. 7 E. Carson St., Station Square. Thurs. and Sun., 7 p.m.-2 a.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5 p.m.-2 a.m. 412/434-4850, barroompittsburgh.com.
9. You’ve just been "downsized": Le Mardi Gras, Shadyside
You need a venue to contemplate your lot in life. Since 1954, Mardi Gras has been that venue. It’s small, akin to walking steerage, where the bar extends the length on the port side while four roomy booths constitute starboard. It’s dark, like a David Lynch film. And they serve the stiffest drinks in town. Mardi Gras bartenders use mixers…sparingly, shall we say. Grab one of the 20 stools at the bar, and order a Hurricane, made with fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juices, pineapple juice, rum and grenadine, listen to blues on the jukebox and then decide what to do with the rest of your life. 731 Copeland St., Shadyside. Mon.-Thurs., 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; Fri.-Sun., 2 p.m.-2 a.m.; on Sundays during Steelers games, the bar opens at 12:30 p.m. Cash only. 412/683-0912, lemardigras.com.
10. Bette Midler, Madonna and Cher are all on your iPod: 5801, Shadyside
5801 has been widely recognized as one of the best gay bars in Pittsburgh. But, it’s also a bar that isn’t trying to fool you or itself. Instead, 5801 does what any good bar does: It offers a welcoming bar setting, predicated on a friendly and attentive staff. Its 1,200-square-foot outdoor deck is arguably the best and biggest in the area. And, the 11 high-definition flat-screen televisions that adorn the three bar areas provide a barrage of visual experiences-and incidentally one of the best places you might not think of to watch a Steelers game. Sure, the major draw of this neighborhood institution remains its clientele, both gay and straight, which is just one more reason to pay a visit. 5801 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside. Mon.-Sun., 4 p.m.-2 a.m. 412/661-5600, 5801.us.