Mix Tapes: Behind the Soundtrack at Pittsburgh’s The Foundry

The allure of a bar is never based solely on its drinks. Here, in Mix Tapes, Kenny Herzog sheds light on some of the best bar playlists and the philosophies behind them. This round: the jagged indie rock and alterna-cuts heard at The Foundry.

There’s no shortage of bridges and rivers veining their way through the Steel City, but Pittsburgh locals and beer enthusiasts will also boast of the city’s robust bar and drinks scene. As it happens, Pittsburgh routinely tops national tallies of most watering holes per capita. And while legendary punk dives like Gooski’s in the Polish Hill neighborhood, or trendy cocktail clubs like Lawrenceville’s Spirit continue to garner attention, the North Shore neighborhood—known primarily as for the home of the Steelers’ and Pirates’ respective stadiums—has a budding, entrepreneurial nightlife scene of its own.

Leading the charge there is The Foundry Table & Tap, which co-owners Michelle and Rob Bugg (who are husband and wife) and Andrew Stackiewicz (Michelle’s brother and the general manager) opened last August to quick praise for its drink list and menu. But the restaurant and bar has also gotten attention for its soundtrack, oftentimes a compilation of jagged indie rock and vintage 1980s and ‘90s alterna-cuts. Here, Robb Bugg explains the decision to turn The Foundry into a secret oasis for college-radio nostalgists, and offers a streamable playlist to take home.

The Location: The Foundry Table & Tap

What You’re Likely to Hear: Everything from the past 30 years’ rock-radio classics to a spectrum of alterna- and indie hits spanning the past couple decades. Selections stream via their paid Pandora subscription and are pumped through four amps (one each for the main bar, private dining area, front bar and patio), Yamaha in-ceiling speakers for indoors and Bose 251 outdoor speakers on the patio. Playlists can vary depending on time of day or night, and from room to room.

How They Settled On Their Music of Choice: “The area is a lot of stereotypical sports bars, and a lot of thought doesn’t go into the run of the jukebox,” Bugg says of The Foundry’s surrounding terrain, even among places he and his partners frequent. So when it came to controlling their own neighborhood joint, they focused on an atmosphere that “was a little bit different, a little bit edgy,” and thoughtfully streaming “non-mainstream rock” was essential to that.

Who Controls the Music: All three owners have a hand, largely reflecting their personal tastes.

How They Choose What Gets Played: As Bugg explains, “Sometimes we’ll have the 20 artists we like [randomly] blended together over the course of the night.” Other times, like when there’s a private party, they’ll pay more meticulous attention to song-by-song sequence. As for customer feedback, Bugg assured they’re “absolutely” open to suggestions, adding that, “It’s shocking how many people have come to us and said, ‘The food’s great, but we love the music.’ We take requests into account and mix that in as well.” Although he does concede that they’ve been unable to fulfill late-night calls for, say, ‘80s hip-hop, which “just doesn’t really fit the vibe.”

Three Songs that Best Represent Their Sound: King of Leon’s “Closer,” which Bugg describes as possessing a “slightly more atmospheric quality that’s not as intrusive as other KOL songs, setting the perfect vibe”; The Killers’ “Bones,” for its  “background brass and energy”; and MGMT’s “Kids,” a song Bugg says hits a sweet spot across their clientele’s age range and typifies a hit that “some people know and love” while others remark, “Wow, this doesn’t sound like anything I know.”

The Key to Their Playlist Philosophy: “You can do it on the fly, but it’s not like a DJ. We have complete control and can fit the mood we’re going for and the pace of the night.”

Perfect Song to Start the Night: The Strokes, “Reptilia.”  (“It’s fun and uplifting and gets the blood flowing.”)

Perfect Song to End the Night: Guns N’ Roses, “Rocket Queen.” (“This is you going out on top. Everyone knows it’s closing time, and get it in now.”)

The Foundry’s Spirit Artist: Modest Mouse.

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Kenny Herzog is a former editor for brands including CMJ and HEEB, and a present-day pop-culture writer currently contributing to Rolling Stone, Esquire, Vulture, Made Man and many more.