Sunday, January 29, 2012

Club Laga

Club Laga - Image from The Allman Brothers

Club Laga was a 800 seat club in Oakland, located at 3609 Forbes Avenue, between Atwood Street and Meyran Avenue. It operated from 1996-2004, and brought hundreds of up-and-coming bands to Pittsburgh.

It was kind of a funny set up, with three clubs in one place in 1996. Ron Levick started the ball rolling in 1992, managing The Attic, a pretty successful lounge, sharing space with a DJ lounge, the Upstage, which had been around since the early eighties (he took control of it in 2000). Levick opened Club Laga as an all-age dance club and concert venue in the same building (it has four stories, with Laga on the top floor).

Club Laga sputtered along in the beginning, booking some bands along with DJs. That changed in the following year, when Levick and Joker Productions' Jon Rinaldo hooked up. Rinaldo was looking for a new hall after leaving the Graffiti Showcase (and to a lesser degree, the New Decade), and the spacious Laga filled the bill. The club became promoter Rinaldo's home base, and he booked a couple of hundred acts there every year.

Laga took off from that point. It soon became a destination spot for alternative bands touring the east, and was ranked among Pollstar magazine’s Top National Venues for sales from 2000 to 2004. Club Laga's playbills featured:

Vanilla Ice, P-Funk, The Dropkick Murphys, Public Enemy, Macy Gray, The Roots, Ja Rule, Ghostface Killah, Danzig, Wu Tang Clan, Insane Clown Posse, Flogging Molly, Everlast, Dashboard Confessional, Brian Setzer, John Mayer, They Might Be Giants, The Derek Trucks Band, Trik Turner, The Dead Kennedys, The Donnas, Erykah Badu, Taking Back Sunday, Bone Thugs N Harmony, Death Cab For Cutie, Maroon 5, Coheen and Cambria, Jimmy Eat World, Less Than Jake, The Dresden Dolls, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, George Clinton and Smashmouth among many others.

The locals weren't ignored, either. Anti-Flag, Brownie Mary, Don Caballero, Juliana Theory, The Clarks, The Buzz Poets, The Berlin Project, and Punchline all strutted their stuff on Laga's stage. All in all, over 1,000 bands came through Club Laga during its run.

The club was was a college hangout with a vaguely industrial look. The bar was fenced in, and you needed one of its infamous hand stamps to get a drink (and to remind you where you were when you woke up the next morning) because many of the shows were all-age. There was a stage and fair-sized dance floor, with an arcade filled with vending machines and video games for the gang without cards.

The Attic was a lounge and the classiest of the three clubs, with abstract artwork, neon lighting and a sofa/chair setup. It was connected to upper-level Laga by a spiral staircase. The Upstage, on the second floor, was a dark room generally described as a dive, but the dance crowd never seemed to have a problem with its decor, or lack thereof, and merrily boogied the night away to its DJs.

Making all three of the clubs a challenge was navigating the stairway, (the first floor was occupied by retail shops), and many an Oakland pub crawler had their sobriety (and balance) tested by the steps. To offset the lack of amenities, the cover charge was usually a pretty modest $5-10.

But it all worked for awhile, with a couple of casualties. The Upstage, which had WYEP's "Harry the Wire" Wagner spinning until the early nineties, shut down in 1999. It reopened in 2001 under Levick's ownership, only to go out of business forever in 2006, when the club had insurance problems after a customer fell to her death through a broken stairway window. The Attic closed shop in 2003. Club Laga was soon to follow.

In October of 2003, the building's owners decided to renovate the upstairs into student apartments, always a lucrative business in housing-starved Oakland. Laga was on its last legs. The curtain came down on April 2, 2004, preceded by local band The Berlin Project, which had been a regular act at the club.

Levick blamed a fall off in attendance at his nightclub venues and the difficulty of turning a buck for his all-age shows. Pong will never replace beer as a revenue generator for concert venues. And the local industry was hurting overall at the time. Even mighty Metropol ended its run in the fall of 2003, with Laga hosting many of the shows it had booked.

Rinaldo and Joker Productions moved to the Strip and bought the old Rosebud, calling the club World. It lasted a year, and then Rinaldo shifted operations to Club CafĂ© in South Side, and he eventually got out of the business in 2011. 

Now Club Laga is an apartment house, with the top two floors of the building rented out to students. The second story is being run by Levick again, except now it's a IGA supermarket. The street level, as always, is a roiling storefront of retail businesses. Plastic or paper has a whole different meaning now.

Godsmack at Club Laga performing "Now Or Never"


steve studly said...

Ah club laga. Here is where I caught my first punk show ever in 1999! I saw many shows here, from hip hop to punk to rave and it was all awesome. When Laga, attic, and the upstage were all running, Pittsburg and oakland had alot pf personality. It wasn't unusual to see punks, b-boys, backpackers, skaters, goths, and raver kida in the area. I remember those days when seeing tour buses on the left side of forbws wasnt unusual in the least. Ever since all of those places closed, along with metropol amd rosebud and the roboto project, and millvale industrial theatre, pittsburgh just hasnt been the same. Oakland's just another generic and boring college neighborhood that simply shuts down at 7. Pittsburgh nightlife right now is the worst it's ever been and the amount of good shows that come through are few and far between. Pittsburgh is over IMO. I cant wait to move out of here after i get my mba.

steve studly said...

I remember the last 80s night at the upstage too. So many people showed up to the point where the line went around the block! There will never be a place like that again. Gays, straights, blacks, whites, asians, hispanics, hipsters, punks, skaters, b-boys, goths, and whoever else all made that place the best place in the burgh for the time I went there. Really, that night to me seemes like more of a sendoff to the old oakland and pittsburgh than just the upstage. It would never be the same after that.

Ron Ieraci said...

No question that building rocked, Steve. And it was pretty much the only alternative to bar rock and DJs in Oakland. It is missed.

dave said...

Pretty accurate journalism, but inexplicably, NOT a photo of club Laga. Close.. but no cigar.

Ron Ieraci said...

Dave, you're absolutely right - it was a picture of Stage AE indoors, not Club Laga. They were beside one another in my photo files, and I copied the wrong one. I'm obviously not too hot at picking out thumb nails. Got it swapped it out for the one I originally meant to use. Thanks for the heads up. I appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

Don't get me wrong..I had to do a double-take myself. Definately the speediest retraction I've ever seen. Kudos.