A quiet US city is supporting after-hours dance club nights like Hot Mass, which takes place under a bathhouse, to transform itself into a creative mecca.
Pittsburgh isn’t often a city we think of as a destination for party-goers, but Hot Mass, a weekly party started in 2012, is bringing some attention to the city, and bringing in music lovers from all around. Frequent attendees will vouch for the party’s liberal atmosphere and free spirited attitude, but at the core of Hot Mass’s success has been a steady lineup of acclaimed DJs, such as Prosumer, Daniel Bell, Mike Servito, and The Black Madonna (who happens to be playing this year’s Together Festival!). The party is held every Saturday night, downstairs from Club Pittsburgh, a private men’s club located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. The folks over at Electronic Beats talked to some Hot Mass regulars to get an idea of what they love about it, and how improving Pittsburgh’s nightlife can help to revitalize the city.
“It was like, I wish they would not book somebody good so I can stay home and sleep. Even when my wife and I would be there, we’d say, ‘I don’t want to stay until 7 o’clock,’ and we’d just say we’d stay until they played a bad record. Well, it’d be 7:30 and there hadn’t been a bad record played yet.”
In addition to the amazing lineups, regular attendees say that the atmosphere of the club and the crowd is what draws them back to Hot Mass week after week, insisting that there is a sense of “freedom” that pervades the scene. Some have attributed this freedom to their proximity to the bathhouse, and the large gay community at Hot Mass, who see it as a haven from disapproving scowls and rude comments. Other members simply insist that Hot Mass is a place where they can feel comfortable being themselves, free from judgement of any kind.
“Coming here has made me extremely body positive,” said Gage Colangelo, a young Pittsburgh local who regularly attends Hot Mass. “When I was growing up, I thought, ‘I’m fat and gross.’ The people I met here made me realize who I was as a person.”
By running the party out of Club Pittsburgh, Hot Mass is able to stay open much later than other bars and clubs in the area, which are required to close at 2am. They are legally classified as a private health club, so Hot Mass attendees sign a form stating that they are members for the night. Before Hot Mass, Club Pittsburgh had a reputation for throwing the best after parties around, which led bathhouse manager John McMarlin to suggest that promoter Aaron Clark throw a weekly party there. According to Harrison Apple, a historian of Pittsburgh’s queer nightlife, prior to the AIDS epidemic several of Pittsburgh’s private social clubs used their legal status to run dance clubs outside of the city’s regulated hours, such as House of Tilden or The Traveler’s Club.
“The House of Tilden, for example, was one of the biggest discos in Pittsburgh in the ‘70s, and in the Tri-State area really,” Apple said. “People came from Ohio, New York State, and West Virginia to go there.”
Whether they’re drawn to the free spirits or just love to party, Hot Mass has been drawing crowds and making waves since its inception in December of 2012. Their late hours and strange legal status have had some concerned that they might eventually be targeted for police raids, like those that targeted many queer establishments in the 60s, however current Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto has long been a proponent of nightlife, believing in its potential to attract new growth to an old city.
The theory is quite simple: New growth requires new businesses, new businesses need young and talented employees, and young and talented people like to go out. Make the city attractive to young people, and the young companies will find it attractive too, particularly Tech companies who enjoy the low rents and fresh interns from nearby universities.
For more on Hot Mass, head to Electronic Beats.
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