Pittsburgh Is for Punks!

Let's take a trip to some of the places punk thrives in Pittsburgh.

by Colin Williams
February 25, 2022

The Steel City is known for its gritty ambience and hardworking ethos. It makes perfect sense, then, that Pittsburgh has a long association with punk. Low prices and a booming local arts scene have long made this possible. In the late 80s and early 90s, the subculture gave birth to bands such as Anti-Flag.

More recently, with rising prices and a stabilizing population, the nature of this culture has changed. Some centers of punk have closed — Babyland and Glitterbox Theater announced last year that they would shutter following a non-extension of their lease. Yet punk still has a foothold in the ‘Burgh. Though Polish Hill is the neighborhood most 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 punk thrives in Pittsburgh.

Kaibur Coffee

Pittsburgh’s punkest coffee shop is Kaibur Coffee on Dobson Street. Known for classic caffeinated beverages, sumptuous sandwiches and vegan donuts made in house, Kaibur has been around since 2018 and sits snugly in the middle of this cute ethnic enclave. The coffee shop is characterized by quirky art; band flyers are taped to the front window. Breakfast sandwiches come loaded with fresh greens and your choice of dairy or vegan cheese and protein. The vegan donuts are a particular treat, coming in flavors ranging from original glazed to chocolate pastachio, and the shop makes much of its food, such as its seitan, in house.

Though COVID-19 put a damper on some of the concerts that previously took place in the coffee shop, the food and beverage is as satisfying as ever. If you’re visiting Polish Hill, Kaibur is a great place to get fueled up 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 latté while you design your next concert flyer.

Pleasant Dreams Records

Right above Kaibur is Pleasant Dreams Records, a boutique record shop specializing in all things punk. The building is also home to Copacetic Comics — while the businesses and their personnel 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 resulted from the merger of Cruel Noise Records in Polish Hill and Allentown’s Skull Records. The Cruel Noise name lives on as a podcast and punk label. While the store might specialize in punk, Pleasant Dreams also carries everything from jazz and indie to VHS tapes and experimental music that’s hard to find elsewhere. You’re as likely to find Tracy Chapman as Anti-Flag browsing in this cozy upstairs hideaway. Follow them on Instagram to see what’s new.

Gooski’s 

Gooski’s on Brereton  Street is renowned as a grungy watering hole for punks, locals and bands passing through. Just up the street from the church and Pope’s Place, another venerable local pub, Gooski’s is the ultimate dive.

Bellying up to the bar in the battle-scarred front room, you’re likely to 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 go with your beer of choice. In the back of the bar, patrons will find games and lounge areas that are sometimes moved aside for raucous concerts.

The Rock Room

The Rock Room on Herron Avenue also does double-duty as a local redoubt and a venue for punk, hardcore and metal acts coming through on tour. Like Gooski’s, Rock Room is smoky and cheap. Their happy hour and food specials are a throwback to simpler times, with ridiculously low prices on tasty pub grub most weekdays after 8 p.m. Try the pizza boats while you knock back a PBR.

Rock Room’s back room is a large open space with a stage area that hosts punk, noise and metal acts ranging from local DIYers to national punks. If the prices are a throwback, so is their advertising — keep an eye around Polish Hill for old-school xeroxed show flyers that herald upcoming Rock Room events.

Roboto Project

The only non-Polish Hill 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 opening 23 years ago. Roboto is also notably not a bar, but rather a collectively run DIY venue and art space. In addition to standing five feet from your favorite heavy band, Roboto has a zine library that serves as a DIY repository for punk history over the years. There’s plenty to take in.

Even without beer and pizza boats, this inclusive space is right in the middle of Garfield — you can always run across the street for some Two Frays drafts between acts. Just make sure you have proof of vaccination and a mask if you’re heading over to Roboto for a show.

Colin Williams (he/they) is a writer, artist, marketer, and educator. He writes on music and culture for Very Local PGH, Bandcamp, Invisible Oranges, and elsewhere, and his fiction has appeared in Hobart and The Northern Appalachia Review. He lives in Pittsburgh with his partner and two bad cats.

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