Beehive celebrates 25 years of ‘whack jobs, nerds, artists’ |
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Beehive celebrates 25 years of ‘whack jobs, nerds, artists’

Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Beehive co-owner Scott Kramer, right, is joined by his wife Debbie Kramer, second from right, and regular customers Chuck Owston, of North Versailles, and Jenn Wertz, of Swissvale, at the South Side coffee shop on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015.

When Scott Kramer and Steve Zumoff opened the Beehive Coffeehouse and Dessertery, there was no grand plan. They only wanted a venue that was different, something that would stand out in the then-staid South Side.

“We had traveled across the country and made some decent money,” Kramer says. “We wanted to have fun.”

On Dec. 5, the Beehive will celebrate 25 years with an afternoon and evening of music, starting at the coffeehouse at 4 p.m. before moving to the Lava Lounge at 9 p.m.

Musician and artist Jenn Wertz was living nearby when the coffeehouse opened in a space formerly occupied by Lando’s Pharmacy. She says it soon became a haven for disenfranchised musicians, artists and bike messengers who didn’t have a place to call their own.

“All that was here were old man’s bars and Mario’s,” Wertz says.

Customers showed up almost as soon as the Beehive opened. Kramer recalls patrons lining up outside the door to get in despite — or maybe because of — a decor that was decidedly different.

“We had mismatched furniture, mismatched dishes and cups,” Kramer says. “All of that was unheard of, at that point.”

Artists were invited to decorate the space. Instead of cash, they were paid in wooden Beehive nickels that could be exchanged for coffee, which wasn’t much of an inducement for Rick Bach.

“I didn’t even drink coffee back then,” says Bach, who co-designed the Beehive’s iconic logo with fellow artist Michael Lotenero for their studio, 96 Eyes. “They gave us a big bank bag with 500 free coffee chips in it.”

The Beehive became a creative enclave, a haven for “whack jobs, nerds and artists,” Wertz says. “And so many of them are still whack jobs, nerds and artists who have done great things.

Wertz, who would become a member of Rusted Root, worked at the Beehive for a short time, as did Kyp Malone, the vocalist from TV on the Radio, and Bob Mustachio, a drummer who has played with The Warlocks. There have been famous visitors, including actors Sharon Stone, a Crawford County native, and Joe Manganiello of Mt. Lebanon. The late Ann B. Davis, who played Alice in “The Brady Bunch,” became a regular visitor, sitting at the same table every day when she was performing in a City Theatre production years ago.

The Beehive’s welcoming vibe allowed and even encouraged individuality. A couple of men temporarily took up residence in a crawlspace above the bathroom. Phat Man Dee, a noted local performer, would stand by the front door and sing opera and Jewish folk songs a capella after shows.

But one group that flocked to the Beehive only stayed for a short time.

“This was the first place police would come looking for runaways,” Kramer says, noting the staff cooperated with authorities in identifying runaways.

Kramer and Zumoff have established other businesses on the South Side, including the Lava Lounge, the Tiki Lounge and the Double Wide Grill. But nothing matches the loyalty and affection patrons have for the Beehive.

“It’s the neighborhood’s first love, for sure,” Wertz says.

“Scott and Dave are this strange duo, like Ben and Jerry,” Bach says, “completely different-but-compatible personalities who made everyone feel welcome: punk rockers, hippies, homeless people, old people. There’s always been a nonjudgmental, open atmosphere there.”

Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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