Black forge Coffee House
Black Forge Coffee House. Photo by Buzzy Torek.

By day, Black Forge Coffee House is Allentown’s go-to spot for cold brew and conversation. By night, bands take the stage at the city’s most intimate, most metal concert venue.

Across town in Garfield, Mixtape welcomes guests for an afternoon snack and smoothie. At night, a DJ spins ’90s and 2000s era club music for a late-night dance party.

Both less than six months old, Black Forge and Mixtape eschew traditional labels and combine the best of traditional music venues, community spaces and cafes.

“We don’t really fit into categories,” says Mixtape co-owner and East End resident Katie Molchan. “Google has been calling us a bunch lately, trying to fix our listing.”

The venue, located at 4907 Penn Ave., had a soft opening in October followed by a grand re-opening on January 6th, in part to celebrate the arrival of their liquor license.

“It’s more of a coffee shop vibe during the day,” says co-owner Elaina Holko, “or for people that want to come out and have a chill drink for happy hour.”

Mixtape. Photo courtesy the venue.
Mixtape. Photo courtesy of the venue.

In addition to a vegan-friendly snack menu, as well as an extensive cocktail list (draft beer to come), Mixtape boasts an array of evening activities. There’s a board game night, ’90s craft night, comedy night, late-night happy hours, even a foosball table.

“It’s for people that don’t want to go out to an ultra club, but they don’t want to go to a dive bar either. They want to go somewhere that’s nice but still comfortable,” says Holko.

Local indie pop and rock bands are featured on the lounge’s soundtrack and a nearby merch table offers swag like t-shirts and albums from featured local musicians such as Wreck Loose and Brightside. Local bands have been performing intimate sets on Friday nights (venue capacity: 99), and they hope to add more nights for live music in the future.

“We do really want to provide an outlet for local and new musicians,” says Molchan.

In Allentown, a large events calendar hangs on a jet-black wall near the entrance of Black Forge Coffee House. One quick glance at the cluttered text tells you this is a very active spot.

“We were talking about having an event space before we decided it would be a cafe,” says Nick Miller. He and co-owner Ashley Corts live in Allentown and knew firsthand how badly the neighborhood needed a gathering place.

“There was no place to have community meetings, or meet-ups or events,” says Corts.

True to their word, Black Forge, located at 1206 Arlington Ave., hosts a variety of events all year long. RE360, The Hilltop Alliance, Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project, Pittsburgh NORML, and a number of other nonprofits have used the venue to host public meetings, fueled by Black Forge’s house blend, Lightbearer, roasted by Zeke’s Coffee.

They’ve also hosted “Coffee with a Cop,” an opportunity for local residents to meet Pittsburgh police officers. (Black Forge is situated next door to Zone 3 police headquarters.)

In addition to community meetings, Black Forge has attracted attention as a concert venue for both local and national acts, despite a maximum capacity of just 44 people.

Canadian metal band Indian Handcrafts performs at Black Forge Coffee. Photo by Buzzy Torek.
Canadian metal band Indian Handcrafts performs at Black Forge Coffee. Photo by Buzzy Torek.

“It’s a great space,” says Josh Bakaitus, VP and partner at Drusky Entertainment. “It is the smallest venue we promote shows at, but there’s a need for that. Even sometimes the venues we book within the 200 capacity range are still too big for new bands. You can have 30 people in here and the room looks awesome!”

The venue costs $50 to rent for the evening, and for another $50 they’ll handle the soundboard for you too. And although Black Forge has made a name for itself as the “metal coffee shop,” Miller and Corts note that they’ve hosted performances of all kinds, from hip-hop to acoustic, experimental noise, to comedy and live podcasts.

“The whole perspective was to provide something for artists and entertainers in the city that’s not going to be exclusive,” says Miller. “You don’t have to be the biggest band in the city. You don’t have to have $400 to work with. You can take a risk and book a show here.”

Mixtape. 4907 Penn Ave., Garfield. Open Wed – Thurs, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Fri, 11 a.m. – midnight; Sat, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Happy hour Wed – Fri, 7 – 9 p.m.

Black Forge Coffee House. 1206 Arlington Ave., Allentown. Open Mon – Sat, 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. Concerts BYOB ($3).

Brian Conway

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.