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Bars bulge at the seams night before Thanksgiving

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Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Dan Digirolamo, a bartender at Smokin Joe's, stands behind the bar on the South Side on Nov. 20, 2014.

It’s the perfect recipe for a fun night out.

No work, no classes the next day and buddies who haven’t been home in months means big business for bars the night before Thanksgiving. Owners say revenue spikes as ‘Burgh natives pack their local watering holes to reunite with old friends.

“Everybody’s busy,” says Mike Kempf, general manager of Smokin Joe’s Saloon on the South Side. “People go out to meet up with high-school friends they haven’t seen in a while who are in town for Thanksgiving. What drives it is big groups of people instead of just one or two people coming in.”

To get everyone in the festive spirit, bars typically run themed specials that night, as well. Smokin Joe’s is running a Wild Turkey promotion, as well as a few beer specials. They’ll prepare by stocking extra liquor, as well as beefing up staff with a few extra bartenders, bar backs and door guys.

While the night before Thanksgiving is much busier than a typical Wednesday, it’s nowhere near as packed as the No. 1 party night, St. Patrick’s Day, Kempf says. But the holiday spirit makes working that night a blast.

“People are just looking to hang out with friends,” Kempf says. “No one is going out to cause any problems. They’re just relaxed and in a good mood, hanging with friends and catching up. People tend to come and hang out for a long time.”

Down the street at Jack’s Bar, a full staff is ready for the crowd from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., owner John Dawso says. As part of a longstanding Jack’s tradition, the staff prepares a feast on Thanksgiving Day to thank loyal patrons, so preparation was planned the day prior.

By the evening, former regulars who have moved away begin to filter in, Dawso says.

“Jack’s is a place where you can go to always run into familiar faces,” he says. “The holidays can be like a Jack’s family reunion with new members joining all the time.”

Over at the Squirrel Hill Cafe — nicknamed the Squirrel Cage — a mix of longtime locals and students will convene for the evening’s festivities. Longtime employee Jan Cavrak says, while nights are always busy for the well-loved bar, the night before Thanksgiving is guaranteed to draw a crowd.

“It will be a variety,” she says. “It will be a mixture of people who are here all the time and people who have moved away coming back to visit. Everyone knows about it just from word-of-mouth. We’re Squirrel Hill’s watering hole.”

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-320-7948 or [email protected].

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