When February rolls around, there’s only one thing on most bar and club owners' minds: Mardi Gras. Customers seek an excuse to go out on weeknights, and Fat Tuesday is as good an excuse as any. What’s more, those patrons usually don’t hold back.
At Pittsburgh establishments Diesel Club Lounge and Local Bar + Kitchen — both owned by brothers Mike and Adam DeSimone — Mardi Gras is a one-two punch of fun, excitement and beads for days and days.
“Anything goes on Tuesday (Feb. 21). It’s Mardi Gras,” jokes “Big” Steve Feltovich, GM of Diesel.
Located in the South Side of the Steel City, a neighborhood of hip bars and restaurants, both establishments are offering something different, yet just as rewarding, on Mardi Gras.
“It’s definitely something Big Steve said: ‘How do we cross-promote Diesel and Local?'” explains Donnie Frazier, general manager of Local. “We get the happy-hour crowd and push them to Diesel (by offering) free covers. We try to piggyback off each other. The promo teams for Local and Diesel are getting the word out.”
Local, which opened last year, is honing in on the happy-hour crowd for its Fat Tuesday “Where the bayou meets the Burgh” promotion. Guests can enjoy $5 Bacardi, $4 Abita Mardi Gras Bock or the famous $5 Yinzerita. The drink is a Local staple that pays homage to Pittsburgh natives often known as "yinzers." The Yinzerita is a 22-ounce glass that can be ordered as either a traditional lemon lime Margarita or a raspberry Margarita. Each Margarita is served with a bottle of beer in the glass; Abita Purple Haze is served with the raspberry Margarita and the traditional Margarita features a beer of the customer’s choice. Most people choose a local beer such as Duquesne Pilsener or Penn Brewery Pilsner, Frazier says.
Local also is offering a Mardi-Gras-inspired menu consisting of Smoked Chicken and Kielbasa Gumbo, Abita Beer-Battered Crawfish and a Fried Bologna Po’boy.
The plan is Local will draw crowds in during the early evening hours, in hopes of keeping them around to go down the street to Diesel. The nightclub’s party opens at 7 p.m. with DJ Mike Ley at the turntables; there is no cover charge for the Mardi Gras promotion.
“Mardi Gras crowds come in early; they’re not a later crowd,” explains Feltovich. Upon arrival, guests can enjoy $3 Bacardi Hurricanes (with a complementary glass), $2 domestic beers or $100 select bottles with table service. Bacardi is sponsoring Diesel's event.
Feltovich will start getting calls two weeks in advance to start booking tables for the night.
Feltovich says that Diesel’s experience — the club has been open for almost six years — makes planning a big event like this easy. It takes “one to two weeks” to get talent and staff scheduled, he says.
“It’s a special holiday for people,” Feltovich says. “It’s a great party night and a great vibe. Diesel and Local are in the heart of the South Side, which is the biggest bar district in Pittsburgh.”
The goal for both Feltvich and Frazier is to create an event that entices guests to come back time and time again.
“There’s so many bars and so much competition (in the South Side), we want to treat people like gold,” says Feltovich. Part of this plan is to “capture those people to come to Diesel or Local, and we get their business on the next event.”
And because Tuesday generally isn’t the busiest night, Frazier and Feltovich see an opportunity to attract a larger audience.
“It’s not a typical Tuesday night,” Frazier says, “so treat it like a weekend. We get so many regular customers, so it’s like an extended weekend… It gives us another reason to generate revenue on a slower day.”
“I think certainly this isn’t New Year’s Eve or St. Patrick’s Day,” adds Feltovich. “It is in the realm of those party nights; we’ll run a successful profit — a small profit is better than no profit.”
But when you’re operating a bar and a nightclub in a tight-knit community, the party means more than bottom-line goals; Pittsburgh patrons are looking for an experience outside of dive bars that adorn the Carson Street city block.
At Local and Diesel, “when (patrons) walk through the door, staff is on point and treats (the customers) like they’re a gift. They’re cared for head to toe. They leave here, and they can’t wait to come back,” Frazier says.
With customer satisfaction the No. 1 priority, Frazier and Feltovich know that the Mardi Gras party will not only be successful but also a memorable event that rivals parties in New Orleans.
“It’s an event. It’s a destination, regardless of what day it is. People are looking to celebrate and looking to party,” Feltovich says.
“Our hope is that (customers) use personal days on Wednesday,” he quips.