Have you ever wanted to buy a beer and a record after midnight? (No? Just me?) North Side record store The Government Center believes there is a late-night crowd who wants to peruse its outstanding selection of vinyl (new and used from every possible genre and era) while enjoying beer and cocktails.
The record store also recently added a coffee shop, and has a stage in the back for live music.
The long-abandoned building — formerly the Key West bar and briefly a soul food shop — needed a lot of work to get to this point. There are several apartments above that were in dire shape. Junk from former tenants, including a giant cooler for a florist, filled the space.
“It was was so dirty and so filthy and foul-smelling,” says owner Josh Cozby. “And the other thing was the liquor license was gone. That didn’t go with the building.”
This being Pennsylvania, the process of getting a liquor license can be arcane and complex. So the coffee shop opened in May with the bar opening at the end of July.
“It feels more like I wanted it to feel, which is welcoming and social and open to people even if they are not interested in buying records,” says Cozby.
There are no doors between the record store, the coffee shop and the bar, which made its debut during the Deutschtown Music Festival. Bands performed on the stage at the back of the shop.
“People can go over to the bar in between sets,” says Cozby. “They can get something to drink. You’re able to take beers out of the bar and bring them into the record store.”
The neighborhood hangout is within walking distance of the East Ohio Street business district.
“It’s a fully functioning neighborhood bar,” Cozby notes. “So it’s open daily from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. And I feel like that is something we don’t have in this particular neck of the woods.”
The bar is run by Clare Farris, who spent 20 years as a bartender in New York City. There’s craft beer, wine and cocktails. Soon, they’ll have wine and cocktails on draft — mixed in-house and put in a “cocktail keg.” There will also be snacks, like a sweet-and-salty nut mix, salads and charcuterie plates from Millvale’s Sprezzatura.
“Claire also has a really nice selection of unusual box ramen,” says Cozby. “You can add water and stir, so that’s a handy bar treat.”
Though it’s clearly labeled as a record store, a place called The Government Center (it’s named after a great, but obscure Jonathan Richman song) is sure to create some confusion.
“We got a ton of calls in 2020 from people wanting to register to vote,” recalls Cozby. “So there was a point where, during the primaries, when I had the PA voter registration link on the ready, to tell anybody who asked. … But yeah, that’s not really my job.”