Back in 2004, two friends from Pittsburgh, Darin Smith and Ralph Morrow, were enjoying a few drinks at a bar in Tampa. Ralph was working for USAir at the time and layoffs were on the horizon. Darin was an engineer but, as he was nearing 40, he wanted something more fulfilling, more meaningful. Both were looking for a change and, in that Florida bar, the plan for a bar back in Pittsburgh with a more “neighborhood” feel to it began to take shape.
As Darin describes it, Pittsburgh’s gay bars at the time were not very public-facing, many of them in less-than-desirable locations. Darin and Ralph looked at bars in the West End and the North Side before learning that the owner of New York, New York, a bar in Shadyside, was looking to sell. One visit and the guys knew, this was the spot.
In December 2004, Darin and Ralph didn’t just purchase the bar license–they bought the whole building, including the bar itself and the ten apartments above it; they were going to be their own landlords. But what to call the new place?
“We just couldn’t come up with an exciting name,” Darin says. They wanted a name with a neighborhood/sports bar feel to it for a venue similar to George’s Alibi in Ft. Lauderdale or Sidetrack in Chicago. The bar was to be a video lounge (which was all the rage at the time), but they also needed people to know that it wasn’t just a bar, that it would also serve food. After tossing around a couple of ideas, they finally settled on 5801 Video Lounge & Cafe , named after the address of the establishment. A few months and a couple renovations later, the grand opening was held on May 27, 2005.
“We wanted this to be the Cheers of gay bars,” Darin says with a laugh. The goal was to be more than just another place to drink; Darin and Ralph wanted the bar to be integrated into the community. The guys were active in the gay volleyball and softball leagues at the time, so they hoped 5801 would extend that community support and build further goodwill with any and all LGBTQ+ organizations in Pittsburgh.
With other bars coming and going all the time, what has helped 5801 continue to thrive? Darin feels that the multi-functional facility they have created and the plethora of activities offered are the key to that success. With poker, trivia, drag bingo, brunch–there is so much more to do than just drink.
One of Darin’s proudest moments was a drag show held in 2019 to benefit Proud Haven, an organization dedicated to assisting LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness. “It was overwhelming,” Darin says. “I felt the energy in the room. We were raising money for a great cause, people were having a great time and connecting…and everything just clicked.” It was then that Darin felt the dream of creating something special had truly come to fruition. “That was my favorite night at the bar, when I felt it was all worthwhile.”
Darin describes himself as an owner-worker, not afraid to get his hands dirty; but after seventeen years, he decided it was time to retire. He isn’t quite sure what retirement will look like exactly. He expects he will still be involved with 5801 (especially Team Trivia on Tuesdays and Dart League on Thursdays), but he also wants to spend more time with his husband, Pat (whom he met at the bar), traveling, hiking, and golfing. Most of all, Darin wants to use his time for something positive that allows him to engage with the community.
As he looks back over the years he has spent at 5801, Darin recalls the goal he and Ralph set out to achieve: to create a safe space for everyone. That safe space extended to the close friends that came to work at the bar. “Having friends there, providing for them…there’s no words for that feeling.” Darin feels that personal touch is what makes the bar more than just a business and creates the feeling of positivity, of family at 5801.
“Thanks to everyone who made this possible. It’s been a wonderful ride.”
QBurgh wishes to congratulate Darin on a well-deserved retirement. As previously reported, Graham Miller will be joining the 5801 family as co-owner alongside Ralph Morrow.