In July, Black Forge Coffee in Allentown is returning as Grim Wizard Coffee, owned by Kelly Braden. Photo by Sebastian Foltz for Hilltop Alliance.

Black Forge Coffee, the heavy metal-themed coffee shop that became a community meeting place for artists, musicians and anyone who loved rich brews, has closed its McKees Rocks location, owner Ashley Corts announced on social media at the end of May.

And soon the Black Forge name will disappear altogether from its original home on Arlington Avenue in Allentown as well, when the newish owner rebrands as Grim Wizard Coffee next month.

“Black Forge is not Black Forge without Ashley,” owner Kelly Braden says. “That was her journey. And out of respect for the Black Forge name, it’s just kind of time to move forward, so we’re doing that in the best way that we can.”

Braden notes there are no major changes planned to the drink menu.

“It’s not broke, so why fix it? People really love these drinks,” Braden says. So you can still get that Hellhound because as Braden notes, it’s one of the drinks painted on the wall inside, which kind of mandates that she keeps it around.

Corts opened the Allentown location of Black Forge in 2015 with a lot of community support and an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. It gained a loyal clientele and became a community meeting space for artists and musicians, originally serving Zeke’s Coffee.

The drink menu at Black Forge will mostly remain the same when the coffeehouse changes names in July. Photo by Sebastian Foltz for Hilltop Alliance.

“My purpose was to help others. I myself was a sad, lost and hurt person that thought I would never find a true calling,” Corts wrote in an Instagram post announcing the McKees Rocks closure. “Through this business, I was given the opportunity to help others who also may be sad, lost or hurt by offering them a safe place to connect over coffee, music, art and community. This is what brought me happiness.”

The larger McKees Rocks location opened in 2019, allowing Black Forge to host live music and roast coffee there.

After the pandemic took a toll on business, Corts was on the verge of shutting down the Allentown shop until Braden, founder of the Allentown Night Market and owner of collectibles shop The Weeping Glass, stepped in to take over last summer. 

“We’re still very committed to the metal scene; we’re heavily involved in the metal community,” Braden says. Grim Wizard Coffee will continue making custom roasts for bands who want to sell them at their merch tables at shows.

“The reason why I stepped in to take over was A) to help, but also because I believed in the mission and I liked the fact that there was an alternative place up here for people to go and have coffee. Because I have a business there already, I did not want to see the neighborhood coffee shop go down. It brings people up there.”

Braden says part of her agreement with the landlord in Allentown is no live metal bands; there are apartments upstairs. “We can have events; we just can’t have, you know, five-piece doom bands shaking the entire building,” she says.

And, she adds, hosting metal bands at a coffee shop is a little bit of an odd fit, as her partner Chad Hammitt, formerly of Zeke’s, notes. “You’re selling a morning beverage to a nighttime crowd,” she says. “Nobody’s drinking coffee at 8, 9, 10 at night, and without a liquor license it makes it kinda difficult.”

Black Forge Coffee in McKees Rocks has closed its doors. Photo courtesy of Black Forge Coffee.

On its Facebook page, the Allentown Black Forge paid tribute to Corts, thanking her for “founding a space for the underground to connect over coffee, music, art and community.”

The post reads: “Her dedication to this business and her mission has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. The respect we have for her and her 8-year journey is immense. She is a powerful force and we are beyond grateful to have been just a small part of the community and legacy she built. As we lay Black Forge in name to rest, know that is merely the end of one cycle to allow a new one to start.”

As for the new name, Grim Wizard was a made-up doom metal band name that started out as an inside joke between Braden and Hammitt, who is a member of the real doom metal band Altar and the Bull. Hammitt was general manager at Black Forge, and will continue to be involved in its new incarnation, Braden adds.

“It was the doomiest name we could possibly think of,” Braden jokes. “It just felt appropriate that we start telling our own story with it.”

Kim Lyons is an award-winning writer and editor always on the lookout for a great story. Her experience includes writing about business, politics, and local news, and she has a huge crush on Pittsburgh.