Student renters raise the bar off-campus

Garrett Heid and a few of his friends built a homemade bar for their apartment, inspired by other college apartment bars they've seen. (Photo by Issi Glatts | Staff Photographer)

In his spare time this summer, Garrett Heid got crafty with some IKEA furniture he had lying around, a few pieces of wood and a 22-gauge stainless steel door from a fridge he found during his part-time construction job.

“I don’t know if you know what 22-gauge steel is?” Heid said. “It’s basically bulletproof.”

Heid combined these materials to make an in-home bar to outfit his Oakland apartment.

The junior, who is studying in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation, began work on the bar with his dad — who works as a carpenter — in late July of this year. Heid would work 12-hour shifts at his Citizens Bank summer job and would come home to work on the bar until he fell asleep. They finished the bar in about three and a half weeks.

“For a couple weeks there I kind of just didn’t sleep a whole lot,” Heid said.

Amidst the numerous tasks of finding apartments — squaring away leases, dealing with landlords and making timely rental payments — some students are installing bars to make off-campus living a bit more lively. Whether assembled from furniture scraps or decked out in Pitt blue and gold, off-campus residents are making their own places to relax, talk and — of course — drink with friends.

Heid said he and his friends use the bar as a recreational area either to eat off of, or just watch TV. They have taken to naming the bar “The Penthouse Pub” as a kind of inside joke.

“It’s a jack of all trades. I usually just eat cereal off it,” Heid said. “It’s just a nice centerpiece of the room for people to just hang out.”

In another corner of Oakland, Jesse, who chose not to give his last name, also built a bar in his home — but not from scratch. When the film major arrived at his new home  in North Oakland this summer, he and his friends found a half-finished bar in the corner of their basement.

“There was a frat that owned the place before we did and we think they tried to build a bar, but it was pretty unfinished,” Jesse said.

Jesse and some carpentry-inclined friends decided to finish the bar. They used two tables and an air conditioner to create a makeshift bar which carved out a corner of the basement. To make it look presentable, Jesse added some Christmas lights across the finished product.

Jesse throws parties at the house where friends stop for drinks throughout the night at the bar. Jesse said he doesn’t enjoy bartending, so he hardly ever does it anymore.

“I hate bartending. The only redeeming thing about it was that I used to make people tell me jokes before I gave them drinks, which was funny sometimes,” Jesse said.

Senior computer engineering major Abby Wezelis didn’t construct her own bar in her three-bedroom rental on Brackenridge Street, but the one that previous tenants had built was part of what initially drew her to the apartment.

The royal blue bar — nestled in its own room on the right side of the first floor and adorned with a bright gold Pitt script logo — stood out as the center of the house and a good place to hang out with friends.

“I think just generally our house has kind of an open layout, the bar is a central place, so when you walk in it feels like a good place for hosting people,” she said.

Abby Wezelis and her flatmates have an extra addition in their apartment – a homemade bar left there from the apartment’s previous residents on Brackenridge Street. (Photo by Issi Glatts | Staff Photographer)

Wezelis, who moved into the house in August, described the bar as a “selling point” in her decision to reside there. She said the bar came with Steelers barstools with a helmet pattern on the cushions. The ensemble “had already seen its day” when she moved in, but she and her roommates were able to clean it up.

A poster portraying helmets of the Steelers, Pirates, Panthers and Penguins, plus a sign that reads, “If you ain’t a Stiller fan, you’re a real jag off,” also came with the house and decorate the walls above the bar.

Despite the sports memorabilia adorning the bar, she and her roommates are not big sports fans and view it as a nice place to relax and chat.

“[The bar area] probably shouldn’t be a dining room, it has seating,” she said, so that it works “almost like a second kitchen.”

Currently, Halloween decorations adorn the bar. Wezelis and her roommates have no plans to take them down since they’re “big on holidays.”

“Our Halloween decorations will stay up and we’ll add Christmas to it and by the end of the year it’ll be full of Easter decorations and Valentine decorations and the like,” she said.

Wezelis has made the bar her own by adding beer bottle lights that she bought in a town near Niagara Falls. Several Pittsburgh sports-themed drinking glasses are lined up on shelves behind the bar. Wezelis does not host parties often despite the work she’s put into the bar —  she said it mainly serves as a conversation piece.

“As soon as people walk in, they say, ‘Oh that’s really cool!’ and I think it’s just something that makes our house unique.”

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