I'm back B*$ches!
You've been a little boring lately Pittsburgh...but then again so have I.
Called out of hiding for a special occasion I hit the streets of the South Side for a little fun and stepped into the newest incarnation of Diesel.
Diesel is the South Side's version of the club goers Mecca and, at least at first glance, it seems to be worth the title.
Continually and successfully reinventing itself in an industry where the life span is about as brief as an 80 year old's sex life pre-Viagra, Diesel has managed to hang on for dear life – 4 years and seemingly going strong.
Some of this success is due to its choice location midway down the main drag of East Carson in an area that has a wide variety of bars and restaurants providing everyone in your party the opportunity to be fully satisfied.
But a large part of Diesel's success is their continued commitment to offer their patrons big city nightclub technology in a city where industry competitors aren't particularly interested in raising the bar.
I suppose that makes it all the more difficult for me to deliver the bad news...Diesel's beauty seemingly only runs skin deep...at least for now.
There are two separate entrances to the venue, one on each side of the "box office" – the one on the left is for "VIP"
(I hate that term and therefore I will be referring to it as bottle service because that's precisely what it is) and the one on the right is general admission.
Once you walk through either set of double doors you find yourself in front of a black wall in a narrow "hallway" that partitions the entrance from the main portion of the venue.
There is a doorway to your left that will put you at the front of the house at the foot of the stage area and to your right the hallway gives way, revealing a bar against the far right wall.
The wall at the front of the house is covered in lighted LED panels separated with horizontal strips of black wall.
I have been there on evenings in which the DJ is located on the stage, but I'm not certain whether this is a constant or whether they still primarily use the skybox for both lighting and sound.
On the wall opposite the stage there is a long bar that services the entire downstairs area with lighted cubes serving as storage for top shelf liquors.
The bar is made of small six-sided metallic tile and topped with a black granite type of material.
In between these two areas is a dance floor with an impressive LED light display flying high overhead, a cryo machine (for some reason I want to say they now have 3 or 4 – but they don't use them too often) to cool you down, and a wood (or perhaps engineered wood) beneath your feet providing a smooth surface for you to heat things up.
The remaining flooring throughout the venue is either rectangular or square silver washed black tile but don't worry ladies, there aren't any seams your heels could get caught in or that could (heaven for bid) throw those cute platform heels off kilter.
Two support pillars encased in a bead chain curtain help define a walkway on the edge of the dance floor; these pillars have remained the same since the venue opened.
To the left of the downstairs bar is the first of three bottle service areas located on the main floor.
It is the only bottle service area on the main floor cordoned off from the general population and it is tucked in the corner at the far end of the downstairs bar.
The two remaining downstairs bottle service areas are located on either side of the dance floor on elevated platforms.
If your primary purpose is to dance these tables might be your best option but they will also put you right in the thick of the chaos.
The bathrooms are located in a hallway on the opposite side of the venue from the entrance on the main floor.
These are the only set of bathrooms for the entire venue and they definitely show it.
The women's room is located down the hallway and has 5 stalls with three bright pink sinks.
The evening I was there one of the toilets wasn't flushing, there was toilet paper and used paper towels everywhere and there was nowhere to dry your hands.
The line for the women's room also backs up in the hallway creating a problem for staff trying to get into the bowels of the venue for supplies.
The men's room is at the end of the hallway closest to the bar and the door is most often propped open so that patrons on the main floor standing between the bar and the dance floor have a direct view to the sinks. I realize the door creates a traffic problem but this screams tacky and you had better be prepared to have your business seen.
There are three separate stairways leading upstairs all of which are illuminated by white recessed lighting. There are two at the front of the house, one on either side of the stage, and one in the rear to the left of the bar.
If you proceed up the rear staircase you will see a long bar to your right which serves as the primary bar for patrons on the upper floor.
This bar is made of the same six-sided metallic tile as the one downstairs and topped with the same granite-like bar top.
The upstairs set up in a U shape with sunken bottle service areas overlooking the dance floor below with LED light boxes creating cubic archways and framing out these areas.
There is one small sunken bottle service area on either side of the skybox that both overlook the dance floor as well.
There is a small walkway behind these areas and the skybox with the sectioned off "White Room" hidden behind a frosted glass partition and a bevy of LED light box framework that both helps illuminate and block off the area from the general areas of the club.
This White Room consists of three separate bottle service areas with low square white gloss framed tables inset with glass flanked by white vinyl tufted benches.
Below each of these tables in a square section of floor is a box of lit rocks; for those of you who had been to Diesel before its latest reinvention, these boxes used to be windows to the bar below.
The least attractive piece of bottle service real estate is the benches located against the wall that runs along East Carson.
You can't see the dance floor and you aren't partitioned off in any way from the general crowd and, though at one point you couldn't gain access to this area without proof of being with a bottle service party, it doesn't seem there is anything to stop the general population from wandering back that way now.
Unless you happen to be located in the White Room, the bottle service furniture is black vinyl low back bench seating with black gloss framed square tables inset with glass.
There are a total of approximately 19 to 21 bottle service areas, 6 on the main floor and the remainder upstairs.
I have also noticed that for the most part bottle service areas are not well restricted from the general population.
I can recall occasions when I've had individuals not part of my group enter out bottle service area and attempt to drink from our purchased liquor as well as generally harass us.
There are a select few bottle service areas that are well cordoned off but those sections are removed from the dance floor and a bit isolated.
The crowd does seem to skew to the younger side, but given its location in the middle of the bar bastion that is Carson Street and in light of the demographic that flocks to that particular area its not surprising.
Few older people want to battle the poor parking and chaotic crowds of East Carson on a weekend – that's just a reality not a judgment on the quality of the establishment itself.
People didn't seem particularly confrontational however you could definitely tell that some of the patrons had been over-served.
There was a moderate amount of crowd control though as the evening progressed my ability to move about the club was significantly diminished.
The crowd's overall appearance was standard for Pittsburgh with most girls in short skirts and dresses, the occasional jean and heels thrown into the mix with the guys in everything from a t-shirt and jeans to the occasional suit. I'd love Pittsburgh to be a bit more polished - and some of Diesel's crowd is – but for the most part it's the basic Pittsburgh crowd.
They've started at bars and moved over to Diesel for some dancing or to hunt prey because we all know that at some point in a girl's evening out she's going to want to dance.
Unlike women, most men don't put a whole lot of effort into their outfits and they never plan ahead.
If they start at a bar they are going to dress for the bar regardless of where the night might take them.
The bar staff is relatively prompt and seems to notice when you are out of a drink but they don't necessarily remember that you started a tab with them or what name it would be under.
This isn't particularly unusual given the volume they deal with but most bartenders have a system for remembering their customers.
They also lack a certain level of personality; I like playfulness in my bar staff and I want my bar staff to give me a reason to keep coming back.
There are bartenders I've known for years and I'll gladly follow them to any establishment - even one that I detest - just so I can see them.
But bartenders with personality are difficult to find and I'd prefer a staff that's prompt than a bar staff that fancies itself "fun" but in reality are just about having fun themselves.
The bottle service hosts are a completely different subject.
They seem to stay on top of their tables, are quite friendly and personable, and attempt to anticipate the customers' needs.
They will notice when your mixers are running low and get guests of the table drinks from the bar if they'd like something other than what was purchased by the bottle.
The security staff on the other hand seems to take a hands off approach, observing what's going on but never really interfering.
I'd venture they would get involved and be able to quickly handle any physical altercations that might occur so long as they were able to reach the particular area where that dispute was taking place but they do not seem proactive.
Even if they do notice an issue developing they don't seem to step in unless it escalates to the point of a physical issue or involves an individual that is severely impaired. And I often see them standing in one place instead of circulating within what I assume to be their assigned areas.
All staff wears predominately black apparel, it really only proves a problem for the bottle hosts whose black v-neck dresses often make them appear such like some of the female patrons.
Overall the basic black, though trite, creates a nice uniformity and look of professionalism.
I found my drinks to be a bit on the weak side; their strength might have improved if I was tipping per drink (I ran a tab and therefore tipped at the end) but I'm familiar with the staff – there's been minimal turnover over the years – and I've not experienced a difference in the strength of the pour when heavy tips are thrown in.
The selection of liquor is good, with quite a few flavors of Three Olives as well as my beloved Ciroc and a seemingly decent array of other liquor varieties.
I'm not certain of the beer selection but I believe it is comparable to what you'd find in most other clubs in the area.
All drinks are served in acrylic glassware that, despite being plastic and infinitely lighter than you were expecting, still give the appearance of being real glassware.
We all know my pet peeve about plastic cups in a venue but I don't mind the acrylic glassware.
I get it.
Glass breaks and though it looks a whole lot nicer it's also a whole lot more overhead and hassle.
Ideally when I pay 7 or 8 bucks for a drink I want a real glass; I want to feel the ice chill the glass and enjoy the feel of that cold, hard glass against my lips.
None of that happens with acrylic.
Still, acrylic is substantial enough that if you tighten your grip you won't lose half your drink when the cup collapses...and it doesn't remind me of a Penn State frat party.
Key when the crowd around you is young enough that you nearly could BE in a Penn State frat.
Music and Lighting
One of my biggest pet peeves is a DJ that thinks he's a rock star.
Its one thing if you are a world famous DJ that people travel to see but if you are a normal club DJ no one will leave an establishment and rave about how they were lucky enough to see DJ So-and-so.
I don't mean to diminish any particular DJ in this city or fail to acknowledge that some DJs in the city really do have people that will follow them from venue to venue.
But for the most part, the patrons want to hear the music, not your name or how awesome you are.
If they really think you are awesome they are going to find out who you are.
I do not want to hear Barbara Streisand by Duck Sauce with "DJ CK" dubbed over it because sad as it is to say, I don't really want to be aware of the man in the sky controlling my good time – I just want to have a good time and get lost in the moment.
That being said, the music playing was a nice mix of current hits and past favorites both original and remix versions with smooth transitions all nicely paced. It was standard club fare with hip pop (not to be confused with its more hardcore cousin hip hop) and pop but it was handled well and seemed to keep the crowd moving.
The most striking elements of the lighting system at Diesel are the Phillips Color Kinetics ICove custom built light wall and the overhead LED light panels with moveable central dynamic light dome mounted on a circular ring that can be raised and lowered.
Like the system featured in Berlin's Watergate, these LEDs throw off a lot of light and can give a bit more fluidity than your standard lighting systems. The more standard lighting plays a supporting role and consists of a number of Martin pieces including atomic strobes.
Also helping to illuminate the dance floor and adding to the striking visual effects are the LED light boxes that section off the bottle service areas upstairs.
Diesel was smart in making all club lighting independent so that the house lights could be shut down entirely to add to the drama, elements being brought back up piece-by-piece or even strobed.
However, all that light means that, though striking on first impression, you lose the value of the independent elements particularly the overhead rigs.
I feel their investments could be showcased in a better way by using that flexibility more often, only bringing up all of the lighting elements sparingly.
I have been to Diesel on nights where they've never bothered to drop any of the lighting and with the quantity of LED lights in the building there's a lot of bleed over between elements.
The areas of the club away from the dance floor are lit by a number of faux silver and crystal chandeliers encased in smoked Lucite lampshades or shirred black sheer fabric lampshades.
These are complimented by shaded pendulum lights completely encased in circular shades with a silver metallic grid work print.
There are a number of other lit elements in the venue including the word "Diesel" backlit with LEDs mounted to the
glossy subway style tiled front of the skybox, and recessed squares of various sizes located on the wall between the upstairs bar and the staircase leading down to the stage which appear to be LED lit panels with a black grid work pattern over laid over top.
It seems that most of the lighting in the venue can and does change colors throughout the night though I got the impression that blue was the preferred color.
Perhaps its just a color I notice more than the others.
Overall I like the venue; I like their attention to detail and their continued commitment to re-invent and improve the overall aesthetics of the club.
What I have a problem with is that their attention to detail stops with the big picture.
Sure, when you first walk in and look at the venue its impressive but when you stop looking at the distracting lights and colors and get a drink at the bar, try to sit down and enjoy bottle service, or attempt to duck into the ladies room to freshen up, you start to notice the glaring details they've neglected. Though the staff is relatively prompt they aren't particularly personable or proactive, the ladies room was a disaster from its location to how its maintained, and the crowd is running rough shod over the bottle service and seating privileges you just paid so much for.
For all of these reasons I wavered on my rating but ultimately settled on an 7; I like the venue overall but ultimately there's a grave amount of neglect going on.
As if they believe their regular reinventions should make us all look past their negligence during the rest of the year – I am not going to comply.
It's obviously holding its own but that's largely because we live in a city where cabs are impossible to come by, it sits smack dab in the middle of THE nightlife neighborhood-of-the-moment, and the fact that the competition is content to dangle from the bar instead of raise it.