The Altar Bar has made its home in Pittsburgh’s Strip District to the satisfaction of music fans for the past decade. But, as July comes to an end, the venue will be closing its doors. This announcement came from the venue’s management and promoter, Drusky Entertainment, as a shock to fans late last week, when it was stated on their Facebook page that the 1620 Penn Avenue location was being sold. The new buyer, Orchard Hill Church, plans on turning the venue back into a place of worship, bringing services from their current location at the August Wilson Center.
After The Altar Bar’s last concert on July 31, all further shows will be moved to other venues in the area. As of now, the majority of the bookings are scheduled to take place at South Side’s Rex Theater, while others may be moved to Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall, Spirit, Cattivo, and the Smiling Moose. In the meantime, The Altar Bar will be in search of their new home. This future location means more opportunities to improve upon any limitations the venue may have had in the past, making the bittersweet goodbye to the old locale worth the wait.
Originally built in 1908, the former St. Elizabeth Catholic Church that currently houses The Altar Bar has had a number of purposes. From a church to a nightclub to a music venue, the establishment has been used for many purposes but will return to what it was originally intended for in the fall.
After its time as a church and social hall, it was sold in 2001 to Clint Pohl who transformed the location into Sanctuary, a nightclub that opened its doors the following year. In 2006, Mike Pitterich bought the club and transformed the location into The Altar Bar. After ten years of service, Pitterich has decided to sell the property and use the profits to build a steel mill in Valparaiso, Indiana.
The Strip District was once known for its entertainment and nightlife establishments, Sanctuary being one of the many clubs to reside there. Clint Pohl bought the church from the Catholic Diocese for $350,000, with part of the bargain being that the new owner would not mock the church with elaborate décor. Sanctuary opened on April 4, 2002, with few religious aspects still intact. Although, the building still had its original exterior and ornamental stained glass windows, making it clear that this distinctive space had once been a house of worship.
With 10,000 square feet, Sanctuary used the space for two bars, lounges, a 1,750 square foot dance floor, and poolroom for club goers to enjoy. The music of Sanctuary consisted of a live DJ that spun 80’s, 90’s, and top 40 hits, as well as occasional live performances.
In 2006, the area was converted into The Altar Bar with live performances being its specialty. During its ten years of service to Pittsburgh’s Strip District, the venue has housed countless tours with both cover bands and national acts, hosted various themed nights with live band karaoke and, most recently, has been the main venue used for the Strip District Music Fest. Giving artists of multiple genres a space to show their talent, whether local or mainstream, the venue has welcomed artists including Walk The Moon, Reel Big Fish, and Yellowcard. Presenting over 20 events a month, The Altar Bar has ultimately ended on a high note in popularity for local concert enthusiasts.
Whether used as a place of worship or a venue, the building at 1620 Penn Avenue will always have a special place in the hearts of Pittsburghers who have made it a staple in the city’s Strip District. The Altar Bar’s last show will take place on Sunday, July 31, with I Prevail, The White Noise, My Enemies & I, and Bad Seed Rising.