Morgantown has changed some since our first issue, 10 years ago.
Written by Pam Kasey and Holly Leleux-Thubron
A decade ago, Tutto Gelato was still in that cute little building that used to sit all by itself on High Street. CVS and Panera hadn’t yet opened downtown. There were no Vietnamese restaurants, no Art Museum of WVU, no Monongalia County Ballpark or West Virginia Black Bears.
It’s been an eventful 10 years! Yet, this place is as Morgantown as it ever was. We circled back to some of the people, places, and things we were excited about in the fall of 2011 to find out what’s happening with them today.
And the Bands Play On
Ten years ago, we celebrated 123 Pleasant Street as the hub of the downtown music scene. And for good reason. The 1800s rowhouse it operates in had once housed a series of beloved nightclubs, starting in the early 1980s with the locally legendary Underground Railroad that hosted everyone from an up-and-coming Red Hot Chili Peppers to blues man Bo Diddley and jazz great Wynton Marsalis—an eclectic mix that drew an eclectic community. But by the late ’90s, several nightclubs had come and gone and the building was condemned and near demolition. Westover native L.J. Giuliani rescued it, and in 2011 his gritty, big-hearted 123 Pleasant Street was carrying the Underground’s legacy forward in style.
The club’s following only grows with time. “Serving the community and local bands—that’s the foundation,” Giuliani told Morgantown magazine in 2018. “We try to maintain a balance of genres: jam bands, punk rock, bluegrass, all kinds.” As for any college-town nightclub, the late-night crowd is the core of the business. At the same time, 123 regularly schedules events for a workingman’s crowd. And its deep commitment to local and aspiring bands and community causes generates a lively schedule of open mic nights, all-ages shows, PopShop performances of young musicians, and fundraisers.
During the pandemic, the 123 team and their wide network of musician friends went to creative lengths to make sure live music didn’t die in Morgantown. They put on stage performances, rooftop shows, and behind-the-bar cameos of crowd favorites and pushed it all to Facebook for an appreciative housebound audience.123 celebrated its 22nd birthday in December 2020 with a six-hour livestream of performances in spots all over the storied venue—including the couch, the piano in the front window, and even the walk-in refrigerator. And in 2021, the club won Best of Morgantown Best Music Venue for the fourth time in a row.
WHERE’S THE BEEF?
Ten years ago we celebrated Tailpipes. The beloved burger and shake establishment has fallen victim to COVID-19, but a few other local places have filled the void in its absence. Check ‘em out.
Hit Black Bear Burritos on Wednesday nights and sink your teeth into some of the most inventive burgers around—like the recent “Banh Mi? No, Banh YOU!” Burger, or the “Ate/teen Strings” Burger.
Iron Horse offers a delectable burger selection. Try the namesake burger topped with a smoked poblano pepper, the After Hours Burger complete with fried egg, or the Impossible burger—a crowd favorite.
The perfect amount of imagination goes into each recipe at Morgantown Brewing Company. Try the tasty variations like Nutty ’Nanners—honey peanut butter, sliced bananas, peppered bacon, and cheddar cheese piled high on a beef patty.
In our first issue 10 years ago, we sang the praises of downtown gift shop Elegant Alley Cat—which, unfortunately, is no longer with us. But it’s wise to keep a great shop where you can count on finding the perfect gift. Ten years later, here are our downtown favorites.
Jewelry on High
The past decade has seen Bead Monster evolve into the artisan jewelry design studio Silver Pennies.
In 2011, Bead Monster was an oasis of creativity on High Street, a shop filled wall to wall with irresistible hand-picked beads and a wealth of findings: the clasps, earwires, and such that turn great beads into favorite wearable art. The shop had been helping customers design and assemble their own pieces since 2004.
Bead Monster offered workshops in jewelry-making, too. “I mentored people, and we had a growing number of artisans who had great designs,” says shop owner Robin Dallas. To present their designs, she launched a catalog of finished jewelry she called Silver Pennies—and, in the first issue of this magazine, we welcomed that beautifully photographed and designed catalog.
Times were changing. Major craft supply chains were adding mass-produced beads and findings to their shelves. Dallas responded by evolving her store in the direction of the catalog, showcasing unique, handcrafted jewelry in a beautiful setting. She renovated the shop and re-opened it in time for the 2013 holiday season, changing to the name she’d borrowed for the catalog from a book of poetry.
Creative customers still find at Silver Pennies a selection of beautiful beads and gemstones and all the findings they need, plus assistance with design and assembly. At the same time, the shop is a lush display of finished pieces that celebrate natural materials: polished and unpolished stones and gems entwined in leather, set in lustrous metals, dangled from glistening chains, often asymmetrically but just as often in symmetries that are surprising in some way. Now the largest selection downtown of jewelry design and crafted by West Virginia designers and artisans, Silver Pennies promotes a simple aesthetic grounded in organic colors, shapes, and textures. Silversmithing is a recent expansion of the shop’s creative scope.
Dallas has been a downtown merchant for 17 years now. “We really like the proximity to the university, and then there’s the history behind downtown and the businesses,” she says. “It’s such a community—we all promote each other and enjoy each other.”
Rhythm and Boogie
Our first issue checked in with then-Mountaineer Marching Band drum captain Justin Kline. Now Alisha Pinti, a senior from Bridgeport, West Virginia, heads up the Pride of West Virginia’s 2021–22 corps of seven bass drums, five quads, 11 snares, and 11 cymbals.
Here’s your best way to identify Pinti on game day: During the pre-game show, after the drum line marches out to its tunnel cadence and as the announcer introduces the Pride, she’ll be the one out in front of the drum line marking time for the boogie cadence. And when you see that, know that they’ve already been on the field for six hours.
The drum captain is motivator, resource, and role model for the drum line, Pinti says. She aims for a balance during field shows.
“You have to stay focused, but you also have to take a second to look up at the crowd and hear everybody screaming for the drums and the band,” she says. “It’s a lot to take in, but it’s always very fun.” Alisha Pinti
WVU head coach Neal Brown thinks this could be the year.
In the first issue of Morgantown magazine, then–WVU football coach Dana Holgerson chatted about the upcoming season. The quirky coach moved on to Houston in 2019, and optimism permeated the air in Morgantown with Neal Brown’s arrival. It’s taken some time for Brown to find his groove, with a 5–7 record in 2019 and a 6–4 record in 2020. This year, Brown says the team’s leadership is better than at any point since he took the job.
“As a program, we continue to climb,” he says. “We’re making progress. And if you think about it, off the field, we just finished up $5 million worth of program enhancements. That’s really had a positive effect. We’ve got a lot of momentum in recruiting right now, and we’ve made tremendous progress over the last two years with the culture within our football program.”
The upcoming season’s schedule is challenging, with match-ups against 11 Power Five teams. Sportswriters and broadcasters picked WVU to finish sixth in a pre-season poll released July 8. Brown says his team is looking forward to the challenge and predicts success. “If you look at the improvement offensively and defensively, we were one of the most improved units on both sides of the ball. It’s like I tell our players: You either prove them right, or you prove them wrong. Our goal this season is to prove them wrong.”
The season’s first snap takes place September 4 at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium—home to the University of Maryland Terrapins.
10 Things: Shane Lyons
In our first issue of Morgantown magazine, 10 years ago, then–WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck shared what it’s like to be the parent of a college football player. Luck and his replacement, Shane Lyons, have this in common: Lyons’ son, Cameron, is a long snapper for UNC Charlotte, having recently transferred from the University of Akron. Here’s what Lyons has to say about his experience on the sidelines when he isn’t wearing his AD hat.
1 Firsthand respect for the time commitment it takes to be a student athlete.
2 I get more nervous at his games than his mother.
3 A personal understanding of the highs and lows a student athlete goes through.
4 His little sister is as proud of him as his mother and I.
5 It’s a year-round commitment.
6 Hugging him after games is priceless.
7 Nutrition is key to maintaining a healthy body and mind.
8 That you really do entrust your son to a coaching staff.
9 How to divide and conquer: his mother and I have become excellent travel planners having to make our kids’ games as well as Mountaineer events.
10 It’s pretty neat and gratifying to see your kid succeed academically and athletically.
Big 12, Big Thirst
WVU introduced beer sales at the stadium in the fall of 2011, in time for us to get early sales tallies into our first issue. It was a celebrated move, one that it seemed at the time fans had responded to with great enthusiasm.
And then WVU joined the Big 12. How thirst has grown!
Morgantown has its fair share of bars—dozens upon dozens. Ten years ago we explored how an old bank made for a beautiful bar on High Street named Lira. It’s long gone now, but there are still plenty of spots in town to grab a drink, and a few that deserve a visit almost as much for the bar’s beauty as for the cocktails.
Longtime Best Fest
The West Virginia Wine and Jazz Festival was already going strong when we attended in September 2011 to take photos for our inaugural issue. Since then, Wine & Jazz has only gotten more popular, winning Best of Morgantown Best Festival 9 out of 10 years.
And what’s not to love? The two-day late-September celebration at Camp Muffly routinely draws more than 5,000 attendees. Wine and Jazz showcases local and regional jazz artists in hourlong sets, and also welcomes performers from as far as New York and Kansas City. “Big bands to small combos, traditional to avant-garde, we have pretty much any style that’s been around in the past 50 years,” then-festival board President Jeff Miller told us a few years ago. Between sets, festivalgoers visit the regional wineries, local food vendors, and artisans that set up booths in the clearings around the camp grounds.
Best of all, Wine and Jazz is a volunteer, nonprofit organization that directs proceeds right back into the community—more than $500,000 since 1994 for music scholarships, for sending college groups to perform at middle and high schools across the state, and for music-related nonprofit groups.
If you’ve never experienced Wine and Jazz, mark your calendar: The 2021 festival will take place September 25 and 26.
Kids on Stage
In our inaugural issue, Morgantown-born stage, screen, and TV actor David Selby, best known for his roles in Dark Shadows and Falcon Crest, appeared alongside young actors for a fundraiser for Morgantown Theatre Company.
MTC is still creating memorable and instructive opportunities for kids today. Established in 1998, it offers after-school and summer theater programs for grades 2 through 12, culminating in two or three productions a year at the Metropolitan Theatre. It’s theater-plus, says Artistic Director Heath Kale. “Practicing for the show we just did, Little Shop of Horrors, we talked a lot about race and gentrification and greed,” he says. “So it’s theater, but the kids are also learning about the world around them.”
A typical MTC production involves about 50 children. Long-term participants get major creative opportunities like choreography. Quite a few alums continue on in theater, and some excel, Kale says, naming as example Trevor Dion Nicholas, known recently for his role in Aladdin: Live from the West End.
Look for MTC’s production of The Music Man this fall. And keep an eye out—it’s Kale’s dream to one day soon expand MTC to an all-ages community theater.