Memory Lane: Dee’s Cafe

Since we’re talking about Dee’s Cafe (and we were, weren’t we?), one of the questions/ideas posed to me via email from Kim Z was: memories of Dee’s.

If you don’t know Dee’s, you have never been a hipster living on the South Side (or close by). Dee’s was the place where the goth, pierced, band boys, the tattooed, hair-dyed, theater divas, the underground denizens and alternative news journalists of Pittsburgh gathered. And played pool.

Or so I recall it.

Although most of the blog-o-sphere knows me as a perfectly respectable married-mother-of-two type of girl, I had my wild years. (Dad, you may want to stop reading here.)

I first walked into Dee’s as an under-age undergraduate of Duquesne University. “Back in the day”, the South Side was not nearly as frequented as it is now, and carding was nearly unheard of at Dee’s Cafe. (This would change right around the time I turned 21, conveniently enough.)

I ordered a Greyhound.

Yeah, I was wild and crazy all right.

Once I got the hang of actually going to a bar, I drank Rolling Rock pony bottles (raise your hand if you remember those) and shots of tequila. I hooked up in the back booth. More than once, and with more than one boy (although not in the same night). I learned how to play darts — and wasn’t too shabby either.

My first last call was in Dee’s Cafe.

I remember sitting in the back booth when Dee’s got raided one night. I was there with my roommate Joe (and about 50 other people I knew); I did not have my ID on me. The cop who interrogated my booth was kind enough to let Joe go to our apartment, get my ID, and bring it back.

I lived three blocks away from Dee’s, and had a boyfriend who lived two blocks away from Dee’s. At one point, I lived across the street (House of Babes, baby — a whole ‘nother chapter). We were there a lot. Judy, Bill, and Nikki knew us by name and cigarette brand.

I remember Red Masquer banquets, an after-wedding-reception reception, birthdays, and New Year’s Eves. I remember the night my then-boyfriend almost got into a fight with some stranger who was messing with our pool game. I remember some things I would rather forget, although not very many.

When we were dating, Dan and I used to go to Dee’s when we needed to talk things over. It was safe and familiar to us, some place we knew we could go and not be bothered. Most of the time, though, we just went to hang out. At a certain point we didn’t need to talk things over quite as much.

Based on my experience Saturday night (Sunday morning?) it is still the place for hard-drinking, hard smoking, punk rock kiddos. Jen and I scoped out the back booth, and regaled the young couple sitting there with our stories. He had a full-beard and pompadour, a full sleeve of tattooes, and was about 6’2″; she was a pretty blonde with two facial piercings and glasses. I think we amused them. Bill came over, and Jen and I showed him pictures of our children. I was told that I shouldn’t smoke by a 21-year-old whippersnapper — also with a sleeve of tattooes — with the fabulous name Herb (pronounced with the ‘H’; this point was made repeatedly). (And, yes, I know, I shouldn’t smoke. In Dee’s, your own cigarette is redundant.)

And it’s still the bar I think of when I hear this song:

Got any memories of Dee’s Cafe? Or your own Dee’s Cafe in another town? Tell me stories in the comments!

13 thoughts on “Memory Lane: Dee’s Cafe

    • I don’t know how they got around the new law, but I think every single person in that bar (well, except for Herb) was smoking a cigarette the night we were there.

  1. Yay, Dee’s! It is a crime that it was not included in the Pittsburgh Sign project book. (Or at least I haven’t noticed it. So far, I’ve mostly flipped through.)

    You fail to describe the awesomeness was having Masquer Banquet there and having to parade through this trendy dive in semi-formal/formal attire. (Something I also did after a few opening night parties at the Public as well.)

    My favorite thing about Dee’s (besides the grilled cheese) was that there was always someone I knew there. This was useful once when my power went out. Rather than sit in the dark and pout I went and met up at Dee’s. This was also useful when a work-related wing night at Mario’s turned into just me and this skeevy guy who was hitting on me. At the time, I wasn’t quite assertive enough to get rid of him myself, so I suggested we go to Dee’s where I knew I would have back up. We went there; I found a friend playing pinball; and skeevy guy was quickly made unwelcome. (Thanks, Joe H.!)

    Ah, Dee’s. One thing that I’ve missed in DC and Chicago are true dive bars. Real dive bars. Where the grungy decor is by history not design. Where the drinks are cheap. Where, even if “everybody” doesn’t know you’re name, there is always at least someone who does.

    One final thought, I first met Bernie Ritter at Dee’s. He showed me his Emmy. This is not a euphemism.

    • Ah, yes, Masquer Banquets. I’m telling you, those are a whole, separate post.

      And I hear you about the “someone you knew” there. One evening, when I was living in the worst (or second worst) apartment I had ever lived in on the South Side, a cockroach ran through my bedroom. I immediately left my apartment (I think I may even have been wearing pajamas), walked to Dee’s, found my sorta boyfriend at the time, and made him accompany me home to kill the cockroach (and THAT is so not a euphemism). Instead, we found one of my roommate’s cats feasting on it.

      I hated that apartment. It was known as ‘the cat box’ for a reason.

      I loved Dee’s, though. And their grilled cheese and fries.

  2. I remember many wonderful nights at Dee’s. One of my favorite nights was the night that Corey had successfully defended his PhD Thesis and I had everyone come out to Dee’s to celebrate.

    I love that half of my friends are painted on the mural.

  3. I’ve only been to Dee’s a couple times (which I only vaguely remember!) but I remember having fun!!! I loved hanging out there with you when I visited the Burgh! we’ll have to go back sometime…

    • That, too, is a feature of visits to Dee’s Cafe: had fun, if only vaguely remembered fun. It is still the go-to place for “after the show” or party. Even though the responsible part of my brain knows better.

  4. Sigh. That’s a good sigh. I am feeling extremely nostalgic today and this post about Dee’s just hit the spot. I recall many good memories there with you and Kim Z both in the back room, upstairs at banquets and of course in the back booth. (Though I don’t think I’ve kissed either of you…but I could be wrong. Not in the back booth at least.) As you know I moved away in 1994, but almost every visit up until about 2000-ish involved a visit to Dee’s.

    I do have one excellent memory that I’d like to share. My first time back at Dee’s after a much needed absence was in July 2005. I came to visit some Duquesene friends and met my boyfriend/partner at Dee’s. I wasn’t out at the time but once I met him I knew he would be my partner. In all the years since I first went to Dee’s (20 years ago…I was an under-ager as well) if you had told me that I would meet the love of my life at Dee’s I would have told you that you were crazy!

    So Dee’s holds some wonderful memories for me…past and present.


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