Carnegie Mellon purchases Holiday bar; plans to knock it down in June

After more than half a century of history, on April 29 the landmark bar Holiday is closing its doors for good. Carnegie Mellon purchased the building and will demolish it in June.

Once one of very few gay bars in Pittsburgh, Holiday has long been a nexus for the gay community, both as a night spot and as an active contributor to charities focused on gay welfare.

The bar is located just down Forbes Avenue from Hamburg Hall.

Aside from Holiday’s gay affiliation, the bar has become known to patrons both gay and straight as just a nice place to hang out. A number of the patrons are female Carnegie Mellon students who want a break from the dating-oriented bar scene.

“It’s the perfect place to go when you’ve just dumped somebody or been dumped,” said Genevieve Barbee, a senior art major. “You get to be surrounded by men, but there’s no pressure.”

Barbee, who is also a bartender at the Panther Hollow Inn (PHI), said she started going to Holiday because it was across the street and afforded a change in atmosphere.

“I still love PHI bar, but it’s more college-oriented. Holiday’s clientele are older and just want to relax,” she said.

In the 1950s, the bar was a beatnik coffee shop frequented by Andy Warhol. In fact, a mural on one of the walls inside was commonly attributed to Warhol for a number of years. Last year, the bar owners discovered that it was actually painted by David Byrd, another Carnegie Mellon alumnus and acquaintance of Warhol, as a tribute to the artist.

Holiday became a gay bar in the 1960s. Despite changing ownership several times since then, it has remained an important part of the gay community. The bar’s current owners, Chuck Honse and Chuck Tierney, bought the business in 1977.

“Back then there weren’t that many gay bars, and this was the best one,” Honse said. Many of the bar’s clientele are longtime patrons, old faces who know the owners.

Holiday was also a major recruiter for the Pitt Men’s Study, which has gathered information and blood from thousands of gay men since the 1980s that ultimately helped explain the AIDS virus.

Since becoming a gay bar, Holiday has taken its fair share of abuse and hate activity. The criss-cross brick facade was erected during the 1980s, when the bar was a frequent target of bricks and stones thrown through the windows.

“It was hell on earth back then,” Honse said. “Sometimes we had to fight in the streets.” The bar was “hidden in plain view,” keeping a low profile to avoid drawing too much attention, he said.

During that time, Carnegie Mellon was one of few institutions in the area that stepped up in Holiday’s defense by making sure students knew that they would face severe consequences for vandalizing or otherwise abusing the bar, the owners said.

Times have changed for the bar, and Holiday has since become frequented by both gay and straight clientele.

“When the [Pittsburgh gay rights] ordinance passed in 1990, everything changed,” said Honse.

However, despite its commercial success, Tierney and Honse decided to sell the bar.

“It’s just time in our lives to move on,” Honse said.

Carnegie Mellon, which has been acquiring property along that stretch of Forbes, bought the building before it went to market. It will be demolished by the end of June, and plans are in place for new construction on the current site.

As for Holiday, last call will happen on April 29. The owners plan to throw an open party starting at 6 p.m., during which they will sell all of the bar’s decorations and donate the money to charity.

The city of Pittsburgh has proclaimed April 24 Holiday Bar Day.