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Night life: Rosebud to close after this weekend

Friday, January 30, 2004

By John Hayes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

On Aug. 21, 1995, Pittsburgh rocker Joe Grushecky officially closed The Decade. On Jan. 31, 2004, he'll perform the same sad honors when Rosebud abruptly closes its doors.


Where the shows have gone


Calling the closing of the Strip District music showcase abrupt is an understatement. Staffers showing up for Wednesday's Fred Eaglesmith concert ominously found that the gas for the kitchen stoves had been shut off. At 4 p.m. the sound man was told that he'd be out of a job in three days, and at 6 p.m. the venue's exclusive promoter was told by phone that he'd have to immediately move two dozen announced concerts and more shows that hadn't been made public.

Since 1991, Rosebud has been an important showcase venue, hosting the likes of Warren Zevon, John Hiatt, the Jayhawks, Natalie Merchant, Beth Orton and two years of the Graffiti Rock Challenge, after Graffiti closed.

The closing of Rosebud marks another divestiture in what once was one of Pittsburgh's most successful restaurant-entertainment empires. At various times since the late 1980s, SportsRock Entertainment and its managing partner Robin Fernandez have owned the Metropol nightclub and Rosebud showcase in the Strip, Heaven, the Fox Chapel Yacht Club, Siena, Icon, Rosebud Deli and Bossa Nova. Metropol, next door to Rosebud, was sold in October. SportsRock continues to run the upscale deli and Bossa Nova.

Fernandez couldn't be reached for comment, and it remains unclear whether Rosebud has been sold or just closed. The 450-seat showcase, however, has been on the market for at least a couple of years. Employees report seeing several potential buyers, some on more than one occasion, during the past several months.

"This happened very fast," says promoter Mike Elko, who was brought in as exclusive booker only months ago after the closing of Metropol. "I just sat down to dinner [Wednesday night] and [Fernandez] calls me and says, 'I'm closing up.'"

Elko moved two dozen Rosebud shows to the recently remodeled Rex Theatre, at 1602 E. Carson St. on the South Side. Concert dates, times and ticket prices remain the same. A former movie theater, the Rex reopened three years ago as a 300-seat performance space with 180 of the original movie-theater seats still in place, cabaret tables, new sound and light systems, two baby grand pianos, full bar and limited restaurant menu. Owner Chris Theoret says a new balcony will open in March, increasing the capacity to a little over 400.

Elko, who has about 20 years of promoting experience, says the current rash of concert venue closings is simply a matter of supply and demand.

"I withstood the closing of City Limits, Graffiti, Metropol, Laga on March 31 and now Rosebud," he says. "Pittsburgh is a second- or third-tier [concert] market anymore, and there are many parts to the problem. Our population is mostly old, people have moved because of the loss of jobs, the clubs can't survive because they can't afford the rent, and people aren't supporting the local music scene. Even though you have national shows, you need eight or 10 local shows a month to survive."

Once the epicenter of an entertainment explosion ignited by the opening of Metropol, the Strip District has lost its luster. Elko pegs the beginning of the Strip's demise to the day the city closed part of Fort Duquesne Boulevard to make way for a bigger convention center.

"That was the ending of the Strip," he says. "That just made it harder to get there. You have to pay to park far from where you're going and then pay a cover when you get there. Before you walk in the door you've spent $15. I think the Strip is dead."

"Especially in the Strip, things are very difficult right now," says commercial real estate broker Terri Sokoloff, whose company, Specialty Bar and Restaurant Brokers, has handled several nightclub transactions in the Strip. "I don't see a lot of energy down there. The clubs are having trouble getting people. Every area has its cycle of ups and downs, and three years ago the Strip was on an upswing. Now it's leveled. Nightclub business levels are down. There are some great concepts, but there's no flow [of people]. There are so many places competing now. I call it the shrinking pie syndrome."

Rosebud's closing doesn't necessarily close the casket on Pittsburgh's concert scene. Theoret, for one, is excited about the rebirth of a national-level concert scene at his venue on the South Side, and Mr. Small's Theater in Millvale is beginning to pick up steam with increasingly interesting shows and growing crowds. And despite the closing of his two flagship nightspots, Fernandez may not be entirely out of the picture. Although Metropol was sold in October, the struggling nightclub in its space, now known as Empire, holds the same liquor license as Rosebud, and both are licensed under Metropol of Pittsburgh, which is controlled by SportsRock Entertainment.

John Hayes can be reached at or 412-263-1991.

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