South Side reverie reconsidered

By Amy Friedenberger

People packed the sidewalks in the South Side at midnight one evening last month. Judging by the… People packed the sidewalks in the South Side at midnight one evening last month. Judging by the shouts of people as they walked — or wobbled — by, the South Side bars Tiki Lounge and Town Tavern were popular at the moment.

Outside the Tiki Lounge, I found myself in the center of a bachelorette party. The bride-to-be, in her 20s, wore a pink sash and silver crown. Her name was Andrea Williams.

“This is my last night to get crazy,” Williams said.

Her group of bridesmaids chose the South Side to celebrate the bachelorette party because it’s “the best place to get drunk,” she said.

To the chagrin of Councilman Bruce Kraus, Williams’ sentiment seems to be a popular one these days, causing tension to brew between Pittsburgh City Council and some South Side residents and bar owners.

Kraus said problems with drinking and wild behavior have plagued the South Side for the past 17 or 18 years and “no one seems to want to address it.”

While waiting at a bus shelter, I’m joined by company. A man sat down next to me and put his arm around my shoulder. The smell of alcohol in his breath was overpowering.

“Hey baby, what’s your name?”

He seemed harmless, so I gave in.

“We are in love and are going to get married. You just don’t know it yet.”

He then proceeded to grab my shoulder and plant a kiss on my cheek.

About 30 minutes later, the members of the bachelorette party stumbled out of Tiki Lounge, holding on to each other as they made their way toward Town Tavern.

That’s how a lot of the people entered and left bars. Like an assembly line, sober-looking people entered the bar, then, as if they flicked a switch, they came stumbling out of the building some time later.


Crime in the South Side has garnered media attention recently.

Two of the many incidents reported involved high-profile Pitt students. In July, Pitt’s defensive end Jabaal Sheard threw a man through a glass door, according to a criminal complaint. Sheard pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct on Aug. 4.

Another Pitt football player, Jason Douglas, was arrested in the South Side and charged Sept. 12 with driving under the influence, causing an accident involving personal injury, underage drinking and aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI. His next hearing will be on Oct. 28. The court docket available online did not contain a plea for Douglas, who was suspended indefinitely from the team following the charges.

City crime statistics show that police have investigated 50 aggravated assaults in the South Side Flats since July this year. There were 49 reports of aggravated assault for the entire 2009 year.

According to the Bureau of Police 2009 Annual Report, there were 107 violent crime offenses reported to law enforcement in the South Side Flats. In addition, 719 reports were made concerning property crime.

Councilman Kraus, who represents much of the South Side, has grown more concerned with the property and violent crime in the past year.

Last August, Kraus collaborated with his intern Bryan Woll, a student at Georgetown University, to produce a 95-page report documenting the main concerns of the South Side.

The report, titled “Inviting, Safe and Cohesive: A Proposal for the Management of the South Side Using Responsible Hospitality Practices,” discusses numerous measures that at least 60 cities have adopted to improve the relations between the daytime and nighttime life.

Several of the proposals require legislation, like revising the city’s noise ordinance. Others are administrative, like determining where arrested drunken people got their last drink to help find troublesome bars.

Members of the state Senate Law and Justice Committee met Sept. 16 in the South Side to discuss issues along the East Carson Street stretch and how to stop — or at least lessen — them.

Kraus was among those who testified about the conditions, asking city and state officials for advice on how to restore a certain level of order.

Kraus’ suggestions included gaining assistance from the Pennsylvania State Police on the weekend and limiting the number of bars. Another option that Kraus discussed would grant City Council the power to oversee liquor license transfers within the city.

“So when do we arrive at last call? Where is the ‘little policeman’ on the shoulder of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board whispering responsibly in their ear, ‘The party’s over.’ When exactly is enough, enough?” Kraus said.

Jane Melchior, director of the Bureau of Licensing for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, also testified about the South Side’s issues.

Melchior said that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court does not allow the PLCB to revoke a liquor license because of an adverse effect on the neighborhood without direct proof.

“While at first glance, it may appear that the Board has significant authority to refuse an application, in reality it does not,” Melchior said.

According to a 2002 court ruling, the PLCB can refuse an application to a previously unlicensed location if granting the licence will have a negative impact on the welfare, health, peace and morals of the neighborhood. It may also refuse a license if a location is not currently licensed and within 200 feet of another license or within 300 feet of a church, hospital, charitable institution, school or playground.

Applicants who are refused a license may appeal to the Court of Common Pleas.

State Senator John Pippy, chairman of the State Senate Law and Justice Committee, suggested amending state law to impose a limit on the number of liquor licenses in a neighborhood, but such a process is difficult because of potential conflict with the state constitution.

There have been three attempts to control the number of liquor licenses in the South Side since 1994 when there were 77. According to city records, there are currently 147 liquor licenses from Station Square to SouthSide Works.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph James overturned a 2007 city ordinance that limited the number of liquor licenses in the South Side.

Problems down the road

People walked up and down East Carson Street and occasionally stumbled off the sidewalks into oncoming traffic.

“Hey, I have the right of way,” a girl shouted at a car that almost hit her when crossing the intersection. She happened to be crossing the intersection diagonally through the middle with vehicles going in all directions.

A few blocks away, Eric James pulled up in his black sports car. He looked irritated — it took him a couple minutes and several horn blows at pedestrians just to parallel park.

“There are just way too many people wandering in the streets,” James said. “But how do you fix a problem like that?”

Outside of popular bars like Diesel and Villa, people spill out into the streets in order to get past the sidewalk packed with those waiting in line.

Making my way back toward the bus stop, I stopped at the corner of S. 19th and E. Carson streets. There are two men playing instruments and a small group gathered around.

The bus arrived at 1:47 a.m. This was the last Port Authority bus that departs from the South Side. I could have stayed for the encore of people flooding out of the bars. But maybe it was best for my own well-being that I left the area and waited for the police department to release any reports about that night.

That is when the most property damage and physical violence occurs, according to statistics that Councilman Kraus assembled in his “Inviting, Safe and Cohesive” proposal.

Kraus summed up the night on hearing about the sights and sounds of Sept. 19, my night in the South Side.

“It’s just another Saturday night on the South Side,” he said.