A little before midnight Saturday near the banks of the Allegheny River on the North Shore, a car dashboard thermometer read 2 degrees — a night fit for neither man nor beast.
The holidays are in the rear view. There’s no major draw at Stage AE. Nor is it the eve of a Steelers postseason collision. Ergo, the North Shore and its high-volume dining and drinking venues are largely listless, save one.
That would be Tequila Cowboy, which is positively throbbing.
That the DJ played Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” on the coldest night of the winter so far gives it both ironic and metaphorical meaning to the crowd of several hundred, who are dancing, drinking, singing, flirting and riding the mechanical bull.
“This is a slow night, actually,” bartender Stephen Pacacha of Bethel Park informs, noting that the 1-year-old club’s capacity is about 1,500 and that the venue routinely reaches it on game days and concert nights.
Opened in September 2016, the Marion, Ohio-based club (there are three other national locations) became the talk of the town last week — and on any number of national sports news programs and websites — after Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley and his wife were involved in a New Year’s Eve “situation” that left the assistant coach with an injured pelvis.
Details of exactly what happened are unclear, and no charges were filed in the incident. That, however, did not stop numerous local media and internet commentators from offering downright puritanical rhetoric on the situation, asking what a 50-year old man and his wife were doing in a nightclub on New Year’s Eve.
If they were anything like the rest of the revelers on hand Saturday, then they were likely looking for a good time. And if there was a problem, it appears it would be handled quickly by a phalanx of four uniformed city police officers near the door, working the private detail, and a small army of thick-necked security personnel in tight red T-shirts who roam the 17,000-square-foot facility.
Every 20 minutes or so, they were pressed into service, escorting a half-dozen men and women off the premises through the course of the evening, all without incident.
The average age of the crowd was early to mid-20s but there were some errant thirty- and forty-somethings. The attire at times hilariously juxtaposes the venue and the weather: North Face coats and miniskirts; snow boots and high heels, Carhartt tossle caps and bachelorette party tiaras.
The music was somewhere between a frat party and a Jock Jams CD: Def Leppard, Outkast, Kesha and Pit Bull shared rotations with stadium anthems like “Cotton Eyed Joe” and “Sweet Caroline.”
The big-box bar and nightclub phenomenon is hardly a new one: The Strip District and Station Square were a hub of them in the 1990s and 2000s. Over the past decade, they shifted to the South Side and North Shore.
Nor is the possibility of inviting unwelcome attention at them.
Last year, Steelers linebackers coach Joey Porter was arrested for an incident at The Flats on Carson on the South Side after a National Football League wild-card playoff game, although those charges were dropped and a security video largely absolved Mr. Porter of any wrongdoing.
In 2009 outside nearby McFadden’s, then-Steelers place-kicker Jeff Reed was arrested for fighting with police after they had cited then-tight end Matt Spaeth for public urination.
Even as far back as 1994, former Penguins Tom Barrasso and Peter Taglianetti and a coach were involved in a fracas with a patron at the old Froggy’s in Downtown Pittsburgh.
But this Saturday was an evening free of both drama and professional athletes.
“We’re just having a good time,” reported Mandie Raymond, a college student from Ohio.
She was clearly not alone in the sentiment, as a couple standing nearby licked salt off of each other’s necks before doing a tequila shot, and the exceedingly pleasant bar staff hustled to get drink orders out.
As the North Shore is the second most popular destination for Uber customers in the city, it stands to reason that it would also be the second most popular place to catch a ride from. To that end, a veritable fleet of ride-share vehicles waited outside at night’s end, creating temporary gridlock at the intersection out front while the Garth Brooks standard “Friends in Low Places” remixed with a dance beat signaled closing time.
On cue, a steady stream of glazed eyes and plastered smiles warmed by a night of drink and mirth, file out into the frigid air and into hired cars to ferry them home.
Dan Gigler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @gigs412