The Bayardstown Social Club: Backyard cookout comes to Strip District

Deeplocal has turned the backyard barbecue into an urban model that Portland and Brooklyn want to replicate


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That iconic summer evening at home -- the backyard cookout -- has been turned on its ear with the inauguration of the Bayardstown Social Club, an urban model that invites strangers to share the experience on an empty lot in the Strip District.

Surrounded by industrial businesses, the 5,000-square-foot yard at 3008 Penn Ave. is the place for a cookout for people who don't have backyards -- and for those who just want a unique experience.

Deeplocal, a product engineering and design studio, rents the private property and sponsors the social club, where the only agenda is to bring your own and do it yourself. If you're a paying member, at $5 a month, you can get in with your cooler and cookout supplies. A grill, horseshoe pit, picnic tables, security cameras, portable toilet and sometimes live music are provided.

The place is fenced with pallets donated by the Pittsburgh Marathon. During club hours, a Deeplocal associate mans the gate to make sure everyone who pops a beer tab is old enough.

The club's use has passed muster with the city because it is not a bricks-and-mortar club that sells alcohol, said attorney Kevin Acklin, who represents Deeplocal.

About 300 people turned out the first weekend -- when club fees were waived -- most learning about it through word of mouth and social media. Nathan Martin, Deeplocal's CEO, said callers from Portland and Brooklyn already have inquired about replicating the idea.

On the first night, May 31, people streamed in from 8 p.m. to midnight, most of them young. Franktuary sold hot dogs for the grill, and Oh My Grill and Dozen food trucks were parked outside. Patrons sat in the grass or around tables or stood, sipping beer, talking and listening to the acoustic music of the Beagle Brothers.

Ruth and Joe Barsotti, owners of Barsotti Wines, walked from Smallman Street, where they live and work.

"I figured we'd be the only seniors, but I don't care," she said. "I was hoping there would be neighborhood people so I can meet more of my neighbors. This is a great idea."

Justine Hand of Millvale and Andi Calcagno of Lawrenceville shared a picnic table and said the idea intrigued them.

"I live in an apartment building with no outdoor space, so it's nice to have a place like this, and to do it with people you might not know is interesting," Ms. Hand said.

"I work in a restaurant and thought this was a cool alternative to hanging out in a bar," Ms. Calcagno said. "There's room here for whatever you want it to be."

"This is a total experiment," said Mr. Martin, adding that everything is still fluid, from membership fee to hours. As of now, the hours are 6 p.m. to midnight Thursday and Friday and noon to midnight Saturday. Members can check for site events at bayardstown.com or on Twitter @Bayardstown.

"Bayardstown is a historic name for the Strip, where the Bayardstown Boys used to fight the Allegheny Boys when the river froze over," Mr. Martin said. "They were called 'the rats,' so that's our logo."

The club's name and logo are painted on the side of the neighboring building housing Kruman Equipment Co., whose owners, Brian and Eric Kruman, provide the electricity for strings of lights. "Why not?" Brian Kruman said. "That's the neighborly thing and this is a great concept."

Club founders had to use a backhoe to bust up foundations of old rowhouses in order to pour footers for posts. They used foundation material to build a fire pit.

Mr. Martin said the idea for the cookout came from a cocktail hour among his colleagues and that one motivator was to find an alternative to a bar.

"Starting a bar is harder than starting a yard," he said. "We're trying to keep this as cheap as possible.

"I grew up in the suburbs and loved the backyard barbecue, but in the city, you can't use a grill or drink beer in parks. Bars are designed for people to interact with people they already know. We think people are going to make new friends and network here."

Gaggan, a Greenfield resident who didn't want to give his last name, found the club on Twitter.

"I'm new to Pittsburgh and was looking to see what the scene's like and who's doing things," he said. He moved here from the District of Columbia and works for a software company.

"This is a departure from what America has been like for a very long time. D.C. used to be the murder capital and what changed it wasn't government but the arty crowd who moved where no one wanted to live and began to connect," he said. "That's what I see here. We're not talking about yuppies, we're talking affordable."

Amy Weis, who calls herself Deeplocal's "girl Friday," is the club's coordinator. "We figured if we keep it simple," she said, "people won't have high expectations and will have a great time."

neigh_city - lifestyle

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.


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