The Steel City is known for its gritty vibe and hard-working ethos. So it makes perfect sense that Pittsburgh has a long association with punk. Low prices and a thriving local art scene have long made this possible. In the late 80s and early 90s, the subculture spawned bands like Anti-Flag.
More recently, with rising prices and stabilizing population, the nature of this crop has changed. Some punk centers have closed – Babyland and Glitterbox Theater announced last year that they would close following a non-extension of their lease. Yet punk still has one foot in the ‘Burgh. Although Polish Hill is the neighborhood best known for its punk sensibilities, Pittsburgh punk also has a home in places like Garfield. Let’s take a trip to some of the places where punk thrives in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh’s punkiest cafe is Kaibur Coffee on Dobson Street. Known for its classic caffeinated drinks, sumptuous sandwiches and homemade vegan donuts, Kaibur has been around since 2018 and sits comfortably in the middle of this pretty ethnic enclave. The cafe is characterized by original art; group flyers are taped to the front window. Breakfast sandwiches are loaded with fresh greens and your choice of dairy or vegan cheese and protein. Vegan donuts are a particular treat, coming in flavors ranging from original glaze to chocolate pastache, and the shop prepares much of its food, like its seitan, on-site.
Although COVID-19 has put a damper on some of the concerts that previously took place in the cafe, the food and drink is still as satisfying as ever. If you are visiting Polish Hill, Kaibur is a great place to re-energize for the rest of your day and is less than a block from the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church and many other neighborhood landmarks. . Try a breakfast sammy and a latte while you design your next gig flyer.
Discs of Pleasant Dreams
Just above Kaibur is Pleasant Dreams Records, a record store specializing in all things punk. The building is also home to Copacetic Comics – while the companies and their staff are literally and figuratively close, all three are independently run.
The Pleasant Dreams space has been a record store for over a decade, but Pleasant Dreams itself has been around for about two years and is the result of the merger of Cruel Noise Records in Polish Hill and Skull Records in Allentown. Cruel Noise’s name lives on as a punk podcast and label. Although the store specializes in punk, Pleasant Dreams also offers everything from jazz and indie to VHS tapes and experimental music hard to find elsewhere. You’re as likely to find Tracy Chapman as Anti-Flag navigating this cozy upstairs hideaway. Follow them on Instagram to see what’s new.
Gooski’s on Brereton Street is renowned as a dirty watering hole for punks, locals and visiting bands. Just up the street from Church and Pope’s Place, another venerable local pub, Gooski’s is the ultimate dive.
Heading to the bar in the battle-scarred front room, you’ll likely encounter everyone from longtime Polish Hill residents to local artists and everything in between. The food is a treat – try the garlic parmesan wings to pair with your beer of choice. At the back of the bar, customers will find spaces for games and relaxation sometimes set aside for frenzied concerts.
The rock room
The Rock Room on Herron Avenue also doubles as a local redoubt and hangout for touring punk, hardcore and metal bands. Like Gooski’s, Rock Room is smoky and cheap. Their happy hour and specialty food is a throwback to simpler times, with ridiculously low prices on delicious pub grub most weekdays after 8 p.m. Try pizza boats while you knock down a PBR.
The back room of Rock Room is a large open space with a stage that hosts punk, noise and metal artists ranging from local tinkerers to national punks. If the awards are a throwback, so is their advertising – keep an eye out around Polish Hill for old-school xerox show flyers announcing upcoming Rock Room events.
Hill’s only non-Polish venue on this list, Roboto Project is one of Pittsburgh’s most esteemed DIY spaces and has hosted a long list of local and national acts since it opened 23 years ago. Roboto is also not a bar, but rather a collectively run DIY place and art space. Besides standing five feet from your favorite heavy band, Roboto has a library of zines that serves as a DIY repository for punk history over the years. There is plenty to collect.
Even without beer or pizza, this inclusive space is right in the middle of Garfield — you can always cross the street for a few drafts of Two Frays between acts. Just make sure you have proof of vaccination and a mask if you go to Roboto for a show.