Up at the Loft


Pittsburgh’s new kick-back spot where “something for everyone” works.

By Kevin M. Mitchel

   Located on the top floor of Sports Rock Café in Pittsburgh, Penn., The Loft is a daring example of what happens when you think differently. It’s a live rock club. It’s an intimate living room. It’s a place to throw darts and shoot pool. It’s a place to watch sports.
“It fills the need for people who don’t just want to sit and drink,” says Ray Jackson, owner of Eastern Continental Lighting & Sound. Jackson received the installation gig from longtime friend and club owner Tom Jayson, and it brings the number of the town’s clubs in his domain to 18.

A Room with a View
The 8,500-square-foot room was formerly a Dave & Buster’s-type arcade, which just wasn’t making the cash registers sing. There are still remnants of it: When you come up the stairs, an orderly row of dartboards stands guard, and then there are six pool tables. In another corner, there are 38 virtual reality and video games. Also scattered about are 22 televisions. But now the room is dominated by a stunning bar, with an oak finish and bar rail on top, in the center that seats 50 and takes six cocktail slingers to run it. Off to the left is (my favorite part) a cozy seating area.
“We raised an area up a foot and put in a fireplace and leather loveseats with cocktail tables, and it gives [the Loft] a different feel,” says Tom Barnes, vice president of operations. “It gives the whole room some nice atmosphere.”
But opposite of that is the main draw: a 35’x 25’ stage with a 35’x15’ dancefloor. One of the more interesting changes is the stage built in front of a big window that looks out over downtown. Those sitting at the bar or in one of the 200 seats placed in front of the stage can look out past the band onto Steel City.
“There are huge windows behind the band, and you see the river and the other nightclubs,” Jackson explains. “We didn’t want the stage to be hidden from everyone and it gives it a much more open feeling.”
The sound coming over the Mach speakers is powered by eight Yorkville amplifiers, and the space is lit by American DJ equipment; a unique combination demanded by a unique situation.

Caution: Low Ceiling
“The ceilings aren’t that high, 11 feet instead of the usual 14,” which Jackson says was his biggest challenge. The situation led to only one choice for speakers: Martin Professional’s Mach. “Mach speakers have a rotating horn in the center between the two woofers. It gives you better coverage; otherwise you’ll be cutting people off on the side,” explains Jackson. He usually opts for other speakers, but in this case he would have had to lay them on their sides, and coverage would have been sliced. “Directly in front of the speakers it would have been very shrill, and just three or four feet to the left or the right, the higher frequencies would drop out dramatically and the system would sound muddy,”
he said.
Jackson admits the Mach speaker system is “pricey,” but he’s been working with them for two years, and he’s pleased. “I get a tight, precise sound,”
he said.
Putting in intelligent lighting was discussed but shelved, again because of the low ceilings. “You don’t have the height that would do it justice,” Barnes says of the decision to go with 24 American DJ Par 56 Cans with 300-watt narrow spot bulbs. “Even the pars were tough [to position], so to spend the money for intelligent lights didn’t make sense.”
Jackson, who had first pushed for intelligent lighting, ultimately agreed, especially as the live music venue’s emphasis was on the great bands currently coming out of Pittsburgh. “We could have put in flashing lights on stage and made it look like a Kiss concert, but that’s not right for this scene. They are here for the band, not to see the twirly whirlies.”
Um, twirly whirlies? Jackson laughs. “It’s been a long day!”

Prowling Techs
For the board, Jackson went with the Mackie 32 Channel VLZ pro audio mixer. “I’ve been getting good deals on Mackies and am very pleased with how quiet and precise they are,” he said.
Six Elation DP-DMX20L dimmer packs were chosen for their load requirements, which gives him plenty of headroom and little worry that there’ll be circuits and fuses blowing.
An interesting choice was the American DJ Stage Desk 16 to drive the lights. The simple, nine-pound console is big on features for the inexpensive price. Yet that was precisely what the doctor ordered. “We have used them for years, and have no problem with them,” said Jackson. “These are not complicated controllers.”
Eastern Continental has been around since 1985, so for Jackson it’s all about service or more specifically, the lack thereof. The one-time paramedic explains that he and his crew cruise the steep hills of Pittsburgh on weekend nights armed with cell phones ready to put out any technical fire that should flare up.
“When I pick a supplier, the main thing is reliability. Tons of service calls can kill you. You’re wasting money when you have to go repair things. [But] if somebody pours a drink into a amplifier at 10 pm Friday, and something goes down and the club loses its sound system, they could lose up to $50,000 that weekend.”
He cautiously double-ups on amps, and the Loft is no exception. He uses two amps for the main four speakers, one speaker per side. If an amp does blow, he’ll tell the panicked club manager to simply piggyback all four speakers into the other amp, and the system will keep rocking until he or one of his coworkers can get there to take care of it.
Jackson does admit that he could have put in a sound system at half the price spent on the current one, and arguably the college kids that crowd the Loft wouldn’t have noticed the difference. But Jackson would have. “It would have been aggravating; not as crisp a sound. And I would have been back after a year fixing the cheap speakers. It’s better to put a little more money up front in the sound system,” he said.
The vibe of the Loft complements the total club nicely. Below it is the main sports bar. It features a full-service food menu, a DJ, and a small dancefloor that is mostly used by the 30-plus crowd. Also on that floor, accessible from the street and inside, is Spi Nightclub, a hipper Top 40 dance club with a second DJ. Barnes says there is good separation between the three sound-wise, and they benefit from having three areas with distinctively different feels.
More importantly, profits are up because of the Loft. “There’s a definite increase in business,” Barnes says. “It’s helped our overall sales.”

The Loft
1400 Smallman Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

24 - American DJ Par 56 Cans w/300-watt narrow spot bulbs
20 - Audix OM3 microphones
6 - Elation DP-DMX20L dimmer packs
5 - Yorkville AP 4040 power amplifiers
4 - Mach 129I speakers
4 - Mach 182T subwoofers
4 - Yorkville Y150M stage monitors
2 - dbx 166XL dual compressors
2 - dbx 2215 Dual 15-band equalizer/limiters
2 - Yorkville AP 6040 power amplifiers
1 - American DJ Stage Desk 16 lighting controller
1 - dbx 2231 dual 31-band equalizer/limiter
1 - dbx 1074 quad noise gate
1 - Mach 20.06 digital processor
1 - Mackie 32 Channel VLZ pro audio mixer

Copyright 2003 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2003 TESTA Communications