Pittsburgh residents have always had a thirst for ale, good coffee and strong spirits.
James O’Hara, one of the city’s early settlers, was a successful businessman and real estate investor who, by 1803, was operating the Point Brewery on land now occupied by Point State Park.
In 1969, gay men and lesbians rioted outside the Stonewall inn in New York’s Greenwich Village. The women’s rights movement was in full flower and by the spring of 1975, local feminists wanted a place where women’s art could be seen and their voices heard.
So, they organized the Wild Sisters Coffeehouse to provide a performance venue that would showcase women artists, poets and musicians. Among the 15 founders were Dana Ventriglia, a trained carpenter, local lawyer Ann Begler and Felice Newman, then a University of Pittsburgh student and published poet. The coffeehouses were staged in various locations, including the Chatham College Chapel.
By July of 1982, the dedicated, determined women had raised nearly $55,000, enough to buy a liquor license and a South Side building located at 2700 Jane Street. The women invested lots of sweat equity by painting, sanding and plastering their new property. Interior designer Janice Lott did the floor plan for the new establishment. Wild Sisters, the first feminist bar, cabaret and restaurant in Pittsburgh, opened in 1982 .
Mary Pat Donegan, a psychotherapist, was president.
"When we first started, we put one ad in the newspapers — ‘Women Artists Wanted’ — and since that time we’ve been flooded by requests," Ms. Donegan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a 1982 interview.
Wild Sisters welcomed women and men. Patrons could get a drink, a bowl of soup, a piece of quiche or a sandwich and listen to music. The venue opened long before the letters LGBT entered the daily vernacular of American language.
John G. Craig Jr., the late editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, mentioned Wild Sisters in a column he wrote on July 27, 1985.
He called it “a South Side bistro with a sympathy for a liberated clientele.”
Wild Sisters closed in 1985 and became Bloomer’s, a bar, music venue and space for women’s art. Next, the building hosted two Italian restaurants and a Mexican taqueria. Today, it is home to the Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community.
— Marylynne Pitz