On the Penguins: The Ol' Blue Liner

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It was, as Phil Bourque recalls, a pretty easy decision. * Just not a permanent one. * Nonetheless, he had a pretty firm response when first asked if he had interest in getting involved with a bar/restaurant planned for the area near Consol Energy Center.

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And the second time he was approached about it, too.

"The ownership group, led by Kevin Nord, asked me a couple of times, and I gave the standard, 'Restaurant business? I don't think so,' " said Bourque, the former Penguins defenseman/winger and current analyst on their radio broadcasts.

He reconsidered -- no, more like he did an abrupt about-face -- upon touring the property, which is across Fifth Avenue from the arena, and seeing plans not only for the restaurant and bar but for residences and a rooftop club above them.

"Once I saw the design of the building and the actual visual idea, I said, 'This is something that can really work,' " Bourque said.

Whether it will remains to be seen, of course, but the Blue Line Grille is up and running, and Bourque has been joined by another Penguins alum, Bill Guerin, in the ownership group.

Bourque will be involved in some aspects of marketing the business, while Guerin describes himself as simply "an investor."

Both, though, profess to be excited about the potential.

"I did all of my homework," Guerin said. "I asked all the right questions, and [the other partners] had all the right answers."

The easy part will be selling the place to hockey fans on game nights. A full two hours before the Penguins' most recent home game, a 6-5 shootout victory Wednesday against Toronto, there appeared to be a standing-room crowd.

Luring patrons on nights when there isn't a hockey game -- or any other event -- at Consol Energy Center figures to be a challenge, at least early, because people traditionally don't flock to that part of the city in the evening unless there is a draw.

"That's where we're going to have to get creative," Bourque said. "Hopefully, we'll be packed on game nights and event nights.

"But the nights there is not something going on at Consol, that's where I come in. We all have to be creative about how we're going to put butts in the seats when there's nothing going on across the street."

One possibility, he said, would be to have some radio broadcasts originate from the site.

"We're hoping to have a lot of pre- and postgame shows in the future," he said. "Then, on those off-nights, have some kind of a hockey show broadcast out of there that would give people a reason to come down."

Guerin said that, as an athlete, "you get approached with different business opportunities all the time," but that this is the first proposal he has accepted.

"It's something I believe in," he said. "I think this whole street, this whole area, once it gets developed, it's going to be a fantastic place for people in Pittsburgh.

"Not just game nights, either. It will be a really vibrant part of the city, and I'm excited about that."

While the residences and rooftop club, which will be known as "Uptown," are on the way, the Blue Line Grille is the public face of the venture.

Bourque sees it as a variation on the standard sports-bar theme, particularly because of its more sophisticated food and beverage offerings.

"It's obviously a sports bar with a hockey theme, but we don't want it to be your run-of-the-mill sports bar where you get your run-of-the-mill bar food," Bourque said. "We're trying to make it a sports bar with flair."

The market, of course, will determine whether that concept was well-conceived. Regardless, the Blue Line Grille is a groundbreaker, in terms of development in the area around the arena.

"We wanted to be the first one in," Bourque said. "And hopefully, we've done it right."

The week ahead

Tuesday: at New York Islanders ... The Penguins make their first visit to Nassau Coliseum since eliminating the Islanders from Round 1 of the 2013 playoffs.

Thursday: vs. San Jose ... The Penguins' 4-2 record against Western Conference clubs makes them one of the few Eastern teams with a winning record against the West.

Saturday: at Boston ... The Penguins salvaged a point at TD Garden five days ago when Sidney Crosby scored with three-tenths of a second left in regulation to force overtime.


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