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By MARTY LEVINE
Two spots inside the Pete are already hopping an hour before the Pitt-Florida State basketball game: the student seats surrounding the court and the renovated Campus View Club up near the roof.
Pitt’s men’s basketball team won two big games in the past two weeks — a 71-68 upset over No. 20 Miami on Jan. 28 and a 65-64 win over North Carolina on Feb. 1. The team’s next game is at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 against Louisville at the Petersen Events Center.
At one end of the club, the new railing overlooking the court is already full of fans who have wandered over to watch warmups, carrying plates of food from the all-you-can-eat buffet that opened two hours before the buzzer.
Adam Dulak, sitting in an upholstered lounge chair with friends next to the railing, thinks the redesigned club “looks fantastic. It really gives a sports bar vibe. It sort of makes you want to go here before and after the game.” It has the previous set up beat, say this seven-year season-ticket holder.
Some fans just stay at the railing throughout the game, although you have to have floor, club or box seat tickets to get in. Even when clubgoers are clued that gametime approaches — students begin booing the opposing team — fans at the railing don’t budge. One fan, 1984 alum Nora Penascino, is studying the Florida State players as they miss an awful lot of three-pointers — but don’t be fooled, it’s not yet game time, she says. “I’m a people-watching person, so you can see everything,” Penascino enthuses about the casual athleticism on view.
“The club has excelled,” she says of the renovation and its ability to attract a crowd — although it helps that the team has been playing well. “They have great TV options,” she points out, with dozens of screens now, thankfully at a quarter the volume of your average wing place. And the food is great, although she and her friend, Jason Miller, would love a few more of … what are those things called? Ah, yes, “healthy” options. But hey, check again next game — the menu changes every time. For Syracuse they may have Orange Crush and Buffalo wings. OK, maybe next game.
“This is a better spread than I thought, with the chicken here,” remarks another club patron at a table with a view (the one that gives the club its name): the entire campus descending to the Cathedral of Learning. The chicken today is roasted Mediterranean, with red peppers, olives, artichokes and white wine sauce. The view today is also of a giant construction hole, but eventually that will be filled with the new arena and sports performance center next to the Pete.
Also enjoying the new expanse of glass and the buffet spread are married School of Medicine faculty members Bob Goitz and Stephanie Richards who come here once or twice a year as a “nice place to meet up,” Goitz says. They are admiring the new furniture of blue and light wood, and the new club layout, with smaller tables along these outside windows and larger tables in the center, flanked by the buffet, a main bar and a brews station.
This game’s menu includes a gourmet grilled cheese station (how about caprese with pesto aoili, heirloom tomato on mozzarella, or bacon and carmelized onions) and, for dessert, mango gelato and chocolate brownies.
The University Times did not sample the food but can report that it never failed to smell enticing for several hours. We can also report that the club infrastructure works perfectly. If you are looking for railing access, and you fail to notice the wonderfully clear glass partitions pulled to one side, we can say firsthand that this glass will stop a person from toes to knees to every part of the human face, and only hurts as much as you’d expect. That is some very effective glazier-ing there.
At the railing during game time, one fan backs away but assures his companions that it is only to procure another drink: “I’m not going out. I’m staying here. Why should I leave?”
The bartenders say business is boffo. Finnegan O’Shea is at a barside table with a friend and a brother way too young to try the bar, but with seemingly every dessert, plus popcorn, on his plate. “It’s beautiful,” O’Shea says. “I think it’s a huge upgrade that drives in a lot of people.”
There’s an even more exclusive space above the club: the Valasek Family Club, being used for a private event today. It seats 30, and it has two small bars of its own, and access to arena chairs the size of first-class airline seats.
Back down in the Campus View Club, today’s crowd is extra-big, says Allison Rubin, a senior associate athletic director: “I just walked in and said: ‘Wow, it’s happened.’ I hope it’s like this every day.”
Dustin Gray, an executive associate athletic director, and Taylor Traversari, general manager of the Petersen Events Center, point out that the club’s bar is still open when the place hosts concerts and other events; that they are hoping to rent out the space to more outside groups in the future; and that athletics itself uses the space, since it is wired and mic’d for classroom-style meetings.
“Before, you couldn’t see the court from here,” Gray says. Now, “the environment on court permeates the place.” In fact the place is “full of energy,” Traversari says.
Indeed it is. At half-time, the fans who haven’t been hanging on the railing are trickling back in, as Florida State enjoys a half-time lead.
No matter. Half-time means the ice cream bar is open. One female fan in a white sweater looks at the bright Pitt clothing all around and laments, “I knew I was supposed to wear blue.” But she is happy to learn about the ice cream bar, and that it is fan appreciation day at the Pete. She heads ice-cream-ward. “I like to be appreciated,” she says.
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-758-4859.
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