Gene’s Place: Local drafts and loyal drinkers


Nikki Moriello | Senior Staff Photographer

By Josh Ye / Staff Writer

These days, Eugene Ney knows about half of the customers at his bar.

To the regulars, Ney is the guy who teaches classes at Carlow University during the day and serves them beer at his Oakland bar — Gene’s Place — at night. Lately, everyone in the motley group can agree on one thing: They could use some new company.

With ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft, many potential customers who might have walked a few blocks to Gene’s for a night out can now just as easily catch a ride to Shadyside or South Side. Watching this trend, Ney said he’s noticed a gradual decline in both the number of bars in Oakland and the number of customers coming into Gene’s.

According to Ney, students also tend to stay at house parties longer these days before they go out to bars. And with dating apps like Tinder and Bumble, students have replaced meeting hookups at the bar with swiping right.

Ney said he started his bar career initially as a way to make ends meet as a Ph.D. candidate at Pitt, but his work morphed into a business venture — and later fixture — of South Oakland.

Ney has managed the bar for more than 20 years, and since he bought Gene’s Place in 2005, Ney watched bars like Zelda’s Green House, C. J. Barney, The Babylon, The Attic and Spice Cafe either close entirely or move out of Oakland.

“If [students] don’t want to stay in Oakland, there is nothing we can do,” Ney said.

Although Ney said his business has taken a hit, he doesn’t plan on closing his doors anytime soon. But in order to compete with the other bars in town, Ney said he might need to remodel his bar and promote some late night bar activities, such as a dart league and bingo to attract more business.

While the neighborhood evolves and his customers find new ways to interact, little has changed at Gene’s other than the sign out front and the location of the bar counter.

On the corner of Louisa Street and Atwood Street, Gene’s Place sits unassumingly in the center of Oakland. To find it, look for the gleeful white-bearded man smiling from a wooden sign.

Dress code: casual, jeans and Pirates T-shirts preferred. Expect an intermingling of lifelong yinzers, Pitt students and graduated stragglers coming together for drinks, smokes, darts and earnest conversation.

To bolster the fading bar scene in Oakland — now with Uncle Jimmy’s flickering on and off like a dying bulb all year — Ney said the neighborhood needs more well-run bars to help convince students to stay in the neighborhood on nights out.

Because his bar attracts a lot of regulars from throughout the city, Ney stays competitive in the industry by selling drinks close to at cost, but he said he can’t go any lower at this point.

Not that the regulars mind terribly much — after all, they’re getting their local drafts for under $2.

Nicole Naab, a blogger who lives in Oakland, said she appreciates the atmosphere at Gene’s because it looks the same way it did 14 years ago, when she started going to the bar in the evenings.

“The only thing that has changed is that the bar used to be [in] the right corner and now it’s [in] the left,” Naab said. “Oh, another thing — Gene takes credit cards now.”

At any price, Ney takes pride in filling his taps with 15 local beers, such as the Old German Beer and Straub from St. Marys, Pennsylvania.

“I am a little guy, so I like to support the little guys,” Ney said.

Nikki Moriello | Senior Staff Photographer

As a business professor, Ney knows that small businesses like Gene’s might eventually be run out of business by larger, corporate businesses — but he isn’t giving up. He takes pride in his dive.

“We are hanging in there,” Ney said.

Mike Laskin, a junior supply chain management major at Pitt, finished out his 21st birthday bar crawl Wednesday at Gene’s. He said although other Oakland bars, including Garage Door Saloon and Peter’s Pub, stir up more excitement, Gene’s is the kind of neighborhood bar that offers a sense of community.

“This is just an unpretentious place where you can just chill,” Laskin said. “You can really have a conversation with people here.”

Ian Ferguson — known as “Ferg” in the bar — is a doorman and occasional bartender at Gene’s. Ferguson, 26, said the bar crew’s bond reaches beyond just hanging out at the bar together.

“During Pittsburgh Beerfest, Gene will buy tickets for everyone and we will just go to Downtown and drink,” Ferguson said.

Ney said he’s considered the bar a place for friends to gather since he became a customer more than two decades ago.

He recalled his first visit to the bar — then Denny’s — was mainly to meet women. The plan didn’t work out quite as Ney had intended, but he still didn’t end up all alone.

“I got married to a bar,” Ney said with a laugh.

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