The reopening of the Thunderbird Café & Music Hall tomorrow marks the end of a long overhaul that sees the venue maturing in terms of both design and function.

It was well worth the wait. 

John Pergal, who also owns the fabulously renovated and recently opened Roxian Theatre in McKees Rocks, and his wife Ami had bought the Lawrenceville building in 2000 and opened Thunderbird Café, giving musicians a place to showcase their talent. 

The Thunderbird carved a niche for itself as the place for new bands in Pittsburgh to cut their teeth and build their audiences. The 150-person capacity venue was an ideal spot for up-and-coming acts to gain a foothold in the market and introduce themselves to a city starved for a locally-grown music scene, as well as for presenting jazz nights and touring bands.

By 2013, that niche had filled, swelled and burst. It was apparent to Pergal that The Thunderbird needed to grow with the bands until they could draw audiences large enough for mid-sized local venues like the Rex Theater in the South Side, providing a path for local talent to develop their careers.

Owner John Pergal at the front bar with architectural details on the right by John Walter of Iron Eden. Photo by Tracy Certo.

After The Commonheart’s performance in August of 2016, the Thunderbird Café & Music Hall closed its doors to begin opening new ones.

As reported earlier in NEXTpittsburgh, properties on each side of the original structure, located at 4053 Butler St., were purchased by Pergal’s Lawrenceville Holdings and that’s when the merger of the three properties began.

The renovation was made with both the audience and the artists in mind, with massive overhauls of the backstage and front of house areas. This may be the only time a renovation can claim they created more floor space by completely destroying the original one, but that’s exactly how the architectural firm of Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff + Goettel expanded the dance floor.

With assistance from local development partners Blues Avenue, along with friend and consultant Chris Lasky, one of the minds behind the original Thunderbird design, the venue was redone from the floor — well, from below the floor– up.  

Now open in Lawrenceville.

The second and third floors of the music hall were once the first and second floors. To create extra space, the second floor was cut open and the stage moved down one level. 

The final design is a double-balconied behemoth, compared to its original size and stature.

The basement was remodeled to become the main dance floor, replete with a long bar and food service, one of five bars throughout. Above the stage and adorning the bars are ornamental details by John Walter of  Iron Eden.

A striking mural in primary colors by Dan Kitchener (he created the outdoor for the nearby New Amsterdam) covers the sweeping, two-level wall on the right. 

The new layout will accommodate every need of concert-goers. The renovated kitchen will serve small bites and street foods to hungry audiences as late as the bar is open on show nights. 

Tucked away between the ground-level bar and the dance floor is a private space that can be rented for parties and events — with a lounge room and billiards along with private bathrooms and a bar.

The front of house area was designed for versatility, allowing for everything from a fully seated 150-person show during an intimate evening of acoustic sets to a full capacity, standing crowd of 382.

View from the stage while the finishing touches were underway.

Equally as impressive, the backstage area is stacked with amenities for a venue of this size. Touring acts will love the ample space for a pair of tour buses behind the building and the expansive green room is complete with a laundry room, full bathroom and kitchenette.

Fletcher’s Grove headlines the club’s inaugural show this Thursday night with support from TrailHeads and Electric Orange Peel with Randy Baumann’s Thunderbird Ramble happening on Friday night. Get your tickets soon —  if the number of inquiries directed toward the venue management team Roxian Live is any indication, they’re going to go fast. Check out more shows here

Dan Certo

Dan Certo is a music enthusiast and frequent concert-goer who lives in Dormont with his wife, Jess, and their super dog, Junie.