What to do tonight: Diesel marking anniversary with celebrity DJ Lil Jon

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When Michael DeSimone suggested buying the building that had been Nick's Fat City -- a South Side institution -- a lot of people had their doubts.

Including his brother, Adam.

"My brother was the one who wanted to open a night club there," Adam DeSimone said in a phone interview as he returned from a Jersey Shore beach this morning. "I was like, 'Nah, the South Side is all bars. No one goes clubbing there. They go to the Strip District.'

"But I walked into Nick's and my eyes just lit up. I saw the opportunity for it to be an ultra-cool nightclub."

Tonight, the DeSimones celebrate Diesel's sixth anniversary as Carson Street's upscale nightclub with celebrity DJ Lil John in the house. Admission levels start at $25.

"We have the best location in the city for entertainment and night life, hands down," Mr. DeSimone said. "That 16th and Carson, it's a staple. Nick's Fat City was there for 20 years. And we've been going gangbusters since we opened the doors."

The DeSimones, who bought the club with their father, Patrick, encountered a bit of resistance when they dared to revamp the fabled Nick's Fat City.

" It didn't bother us," Adam DeSimone said. "We got some backlash. Some guys that used to play there said they wouldn't play there. Now, all those guys who said that have played there.

"It's the same room. It's just much nicer. We've built a model, a format of the club business that's working in tough economic times."

Adam DeSimone started as a DJ himself, spinning records at weddings and parties when he was 12. That's how he put himself through Duquesne University, where he majored in finance and investment management. His first career steps were in commercial real estate and retail development.

In 2003, at the age of 23, he opened up an under-21 place called Club Fusion in Parkway Center Mall in Green Tree. It lasted only a year and he didn't make any money, but he acquired a lot of experience. He also acquired a taste for the business.

A couple years later, the DeSimones were on the South Side.

Perhaps you're familiar with Diesel, if not for the signature marquee and doors, then for the beautiful people who are lined up at the velvet ropes on the weekend waiting to get in.

"We've held our standards high," said Adam DeSimone, whose club has hosted parties for Bruce Springsteen and Derek Jeter when they've come to town. "We run a tight door, we're relatively selective of who we let in. But, I mean, obviously we're in Pittsburgh, we're not in Miami or Vegas.

"It helps us in so many ways, but it also hurts us in other ways. On Fridays and Saturdays, people like to get relatively dressed up and come to a club. But the other days of the week, they don't want to get dressed up. The weekends are our bread and butter.

"Listen, we could have taken some really easy money. But we own the building, and we're in for the long haul. We took the cookie-cutter nightclub concept, and we made it special.

"The challenge in Pittsburgh is that we have to entertain that same group of 5,000, maybe 6,000 people. The live music does a lot to bring them back. And every year someone else turns 21, and you have them for eight to 10 years."

That gives them a stream of customers, rather than a pool.

"It's a cycle," Mr. DeSimone said. "I'm 33 and my brother's 32 this year. And we've seen a lot of our friends who used to be at Diesel every week, you know, get married and have kids and settle down. They still come by, but not as much as they once did."

Mr. DeSimone said it was his brother who brought Lil John in for tonight's event. A music producer and performer, Lil John was a finalist on "Celebrity Apprentice" who donated $40,000 to the United Methodists Children's Home.

"We see the big clubs and we see who's the hot DJ, who is going to have that celebrity appeal," Adam DeSimone said. "People love being in a place where a celebrity is."

But in spite of the star appeal, Diesel is very much a family business. The DeSimones are active in the operation and reward the loyalty of employees, such as Big Steve, who started as a security guy and has worked up the ladder to general manager. And there's entertainment director Drew Meyer, who has been there since Day One.

"We've held to our standards," Adam DeSimone said. "It's a business and that's the way we run it. A lot of times, people open clubs for the wrong reasons, and that's why they go out of business after a year or two.

"Since we started, I've kept a list of all the clubs -- so-called competitors of ours -- that have opened and closed, some of them with five different names in the same venue."

Diesel is pumping strong, with plans for a rooftop addition that will open in September.

"I blinked and it's been six years," Mr. DeSimone said. "It's crazy."

Doors open tonight at 9.

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If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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