Groovy. That’s the word Pittsburghers used to describe the spirit of Shadyside in 1970s. In daytime, the neighborhood’s central location, Walnut Street, was a shopping mecca for fashionistas looking for high-end clothing, artists looking for inspiration and bookworms in search of a rare publication.
Students from Pitt, CMU and Chatham, musicians and painters considered it a great place to hang out and sample strong coffee and impromptu musical acts. Coffee houses were so numerous that the street had been nicknamed ‘Espresso Row.’ Occasionally singing and dancing would break out with an appearance of a guitar or a set of drums, and music filled the air around Walnut and Bellefonte.
At night, Shadyside turned into a different kind of groovy. More beer than espresso was consumed on Walnut Street, crowds moved along the street for entertainment. They disappeared behind the doors of places like The Casbah, The Encore, Fox’s Cafe, Lou’s Bar and the Gorilla Toast.
In 1963, The Pittsburgh Press dubbed Shadyside ‘our Greenwich Village.’ Especially on a Friday night, it was a happening place. According to one visitor’s account, “At the Encore there wasn’t even a standing room inside. The place was full of people, smoke and sound.” People, however, were mostly well-behaved, The Pittsburgh Press reported. “Most of the men were even wearing jackets and ties.” The Encore was the first live music venue to open in Shadyside.
Just by crossing Walnut Street from one bar to another you could see several acts in one night. “You could catch a set of DC Fitzgerald or Frank Capelli at the Rhino and stroll across to Lou’s hear the reggae rock band the Core and make it to the nightly Gorilla Toast, or saunter down to the Encore to watch trombonist Harold Betters.”
In the anti-war Hippie era of the 1960s, Shadyside was ‘peace, love and waterbeds.’
Until the 1990s, the neighborhood hosted a vibrant and diverse music community and was the place where young and old musicians found recognition and fun.