It blows my mind that there is consistently an good audience at Hambones. There is an intrinsic worth to working out material in front of people who don’t hate comedy. – Derek Minto
At first glance, Hambone’s Restaurant doesn’t seem like anything special. Lawrenceville is practically choked with unique dive bars and cool restaurants. But as we all know, it’s not the location, or the food, or the ironic interior decorating that makes a place great. It’s the people. The TV show Cheers could have been set in a Burger King dumpster for all I cared. As long as George Wendt, Ted Danson and Kirstie Alley all stopped by and interacted with one another, that would have been good enough for me.
The people at Hambone’s care about live performance, especially comedy. It all starts with Jeff Holt, the manager of this fine establishment. If a non-comic in this city could earn a Medal of Honor for Service to the Comedy Industry, Jeff Holt’s name would have a check on my ballot. He has been a key role-player in the Pittsburgh Open-Mic scene for a few years now. It started when he brought comedy to Papa J’s Italian Restaurant Dowtown. He had to put up with his share of crap while at the infamous former brothel: comics who didn’t buy anything, rambling open mic’ers who probably frightened normal customers, and Elliot Burns awkwardly stumbling through late-onset puberty on stage. However, like a foster parent, he opened the doors of that place to comedians so that we could come in from the cold on Thursday nights.
Soon Jeff mentioned that he’d be leaving Papa J’s and moving over to booming Lawrenceville to head up an operation named Hambones. He promised to take comedy with him. But comedians knew that trick. Another promise broken. Another crowd didn’t want them. But a few months later, the Thursday night open mic was up and running again at the new location. He kept his promise!
The staff is very supportive–they will literally take a punch for the comedians. – James J. Hamilton
Since moving to Hambone’s we’ve had our share of ups and downs. The low point was the “Great James J. Hamilton Fist-Melee” in which a emotionally unstable patron and her cadre of eco-terrorist friends (all of whom were 12 feet tall from what I understand)* decided to charge the host of the open mic. Of course, Jeff Holt was in the middle, protecting comedians from harm and eating a knuckle sandwich in the process.
But there have also been truly great moments as well. Most notable were when Lee Camp, a nationally touring comedian, held a packed weekend show there, and when Hannibal Burress, in town for a show at Mr. Smalls, sniffed out Hambone’s to get some stage time.
I’m not sure if we’ll ever be able to get Jeff Holt an Honorary Doctorate from Clown College. But judging from his brief body of work, we’ll try. By God, we’ll try.
It’s a great location for getting foot traffic in and since the mic is in a separate room from the bar the crowd is usually very attentive. I’ve had some of my favorite open mic sets there. – Zach Funk
When: Open Mic on Thursday night. Showcases once a month on the weekend.
Where: Butler Street, Lawrenceville (right by Arsenal Bowling)
Drinks: Nothing special, just everything.
Feature: Really good, authentic Pittsburgh food (I’m talking pierogies mo-fo!). Knuckle Sandwiches are no longer being served.
Attire: Weeknights: nothing special. Weekends: you better hipster it up. If you have some sort of ridiculous-looking heavy wool sweater, that’d be your best bet. The more you look like a New England Fishing Boat captain, the better.
Parking: There’s a lot right across the street, but you should just be able to park on Butler.
Cover Charge: Zip for open mic. Maybe a few buck for a show on the weekend.
* I obviously wasn’t there for this incident. Comedians tend to exaggerate their stories.