#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: The FTLOB Experience

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing I am not directly affiliated with For The Love Of Bachata other than Jessica Taylor being a personal friend of mine. As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

If you are a fan of traditional bachata straight from the Dominican Republic, the FTLOB Experience, formerly known as the FTLOB Festival, needs to be at the top of your list of events to attend. Promoter, blogger, and DJ Jessica “DJ Tay” Taylor has turned the city of Pittsburgh, PA into one of the #1 strongholds in the US for traditional bachata under the banner of her company, For The Love Of Bachata (FTLOB). The FTLOB Experience, named for the aforementioned company, is a bi-annual weekend festival with a fall and spring edition that delivers for fans of this style of bachata, with workshops featuring national and international traditional bachata artists in the afternoon and socials at night. This excellent event has a much smaller intimate family feel compared to a larger dance event, and is one of the few high-profile events in the US to be held at a dance studio rather than a hotel.

Each event follows a smaller “weekender” format, beginning with a Friday night kickoff party, workshops and guided social dance practice on Saturday afternoon and a party at night from 10pm-2am, and concluding with workshops on Sunday afternoon. The music format for the parties is mostly traditional bachata with a small amount of salsa, urban bachata, and kizomba.

Both the fall and spring editions of the FTLOB Experience take place in two locations in Pittsburgh for the immediate future. Friday night’s kickoff party happens at the Cabaret Theater, located at 655 Penn Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh. Saturday and Sunday’s workshops and party take place at Art & Style Dance Studio, a large and inviting dance studio with an excellent wood floor located at 318 Butler Street about 30 minutes north of the downtown area. This fall’s edition of the FTLOB Experience takes place September 28th-September 30th, 2018, and the next spring edition will take place sometime in May 2019.

PASS:

A full pass for this festival is very inexpensive. The full pass for this year’s Fall Edition is only $100-112 three weeks out from the event (depending on whether or not you get the lunch package – see food section for details), and ramps up from an early bird amount of $70, so get your pass for the spring festival as soon as it goes on sale. A student discount is available for $55-67 for full-time students with ID, and if you purchase three or more passes together, you get a $30 discount on the total cost of your passes.

TRAVEL:

CAR:

Driving or rideshare is a solid way to get to this festival. You will most likely be using the Pennsylvania Turnpike if you are coming from the east coast, so expect to pay about $15-20 in tolls. Fair warning: parking around the studio is limited (street parking), so parking at your place of lodging and using UBER or Lyft to get to the studio or arriving very early in the morning or evening is recommended.

FLYING:

Good news Spirit heads, Spirit goes to Pittsburgh International Airport! The bad news is the airport is about half an hour from the studio by car (no doubt a very expensive UBER ride) or about 1 hour and 38 minutes on public transportation at a cost of about $5.50.

Directions from Pittsburgh International Airport:

Take the 28X Inbound-AIRPORT FLYER TO DOWNTOWN & OAKLAND [Stop ID: 4405] to Liberty Ave at 7th St. (Clark Building)

Cabaret Theater is a one minute walk from this stop. Make a right on 7th Street and a left on Penn Avenue and the theater is on your left.

Take the 1 Outbound-FREEPORT ROAD TO TARENTUM [Stop ID: 180] to Butler St. at Center Street

Walk about a block northeast and the studio will be on your right

Directions back to the airport:

Walk about a block southeast to the Butler St. opp Center St. bus stop

Take the 1 Inbound-FREEPORT ROAD TO PITTSBURGH [stop ID: 3369] to Liberty Ave at Smithfield Street

Walk about 5 minutes east on Liberty Avenue toward Smithfield Street (two slight lefts to stay on Liberty Avenue) to the Pittsburgh Greyhound stop

Take the 29 north to the airport

BUS/TRAIN:

Greyhound and Megabus are both great ways to get to this festival, as they both stop downtown in the Cultural District about a 10 minute UBER ride or 24 minutes on public transportation (about $2.75) away from Art & Style and right down the street from the Cabaret Theater. The Capitol Limited and Pennsylvanian Amtrak trains also stop at the Amtrak station in the same area.

Directions to the Cabaret Theater from bus and train stops:

To get to the Cabaret Theater from the Megabus stop, walk up 10th Street, make a right on Penn Avenue, and the theater is on your right. Expect about a 7 minute walk.

To get to the Cabaret Theater from the Greyhound stop, walk up 11th Street, make a left on Penn Avenue, and the theater is on your right. Expect about a 9 minute walk.

Directions to Art & Style from bus and train stops:

Walk to the corner of 9th Street at Penn Avenue

Take the P13 Outbound-MOUNT ROYAL FLYER [Stop ID: 179] to Butler St. at Center St.

Walk about a block northeast and the studio will be on your right

Directions back to bus and train stops from Art & Style:

Walk about a block southeast to the Butler St. opp Center St. bus stop

Take the 2 Inbound-MOUNT ROYAL-FERGUSON DOWNTOWN VIA MILLVILLE [stop ID: 3369] to 9th Street at Penn Ave and walk to your respective bus stop or train station from there

PUBLIC TRANSIT INFO:

Port Authority of Allegheny County – http://www.portauthority.org/paac/

PAAC Ticket information – http://www.portauthority.org/paac/FareInfo/FareInformation.aspx

(412) 442-2000

Mountain Line Transit – WV – http://www.busride.org/

MLT Ticket information – http://www.busride.org/Fares-Programs

304-291-RIDE

LODGING:

Since this event is at a dance studio and no hotel room block exists, I will freely discuss a multitude of lodging options.

The closest hotel physically to the studio is the Morning Sun Inn, located about an 8 minute drive one way from the studio at 1156 Portland Street. The Morning Sun Inn is unique in that it provides the amenities and structure of a hotel, but with the homey down-to-earth feel and personal decor of a traditional bed and breakfast. They have also given each room a woman’s name (The Karen Room, The Sarah Room, The Anna Suite, etc.), which is an interesting if somewhat peculiar touch. At around $140-170 per night on average, this is not what I would call a frugal option, but it will be popular with attendees due to its proximity to the event, so you may be able to find a roommate or two to offset the costs. Maximum number of guests is 2 for the rooms and 4 for the suites (3rd and 4th guests are each $25 extra and the hotel provides deluxe air mattresses for extra guests).

Your closest budget hotel is the Comfort Inn, located at 180 Gamma Drive Building B about a 9 minute drive one way from the studio and averaging about $90-110 per night. Reviews online are a mixed bag, but I am told rooms here are generally clean.

Those are really your two best and most realistic hotel options for the immediate area. If you don’t mind going further out, the Days Inn by Wyndham Pittsburgh and the Super 8 Pittsburgh are both about an 18 minute drive one way from the studio at 6 Landings Drive and both go for about $65 and $78 per night, respectively. Be warned, guests complain in reviews about cleanliness issues at both hotels. They do have Sheetz nearby, so that’s a bonus.

Honestly, I got a bit of sticker shock looking at general hotel prices in the Pittsburgh area as they are easily on par with DC and even approaching New York in terms of cost. I was going to do a section on hotels near the Cabaret Theater to stay at Friday night, but there is literally not one hotel there under $200 a night… it makes more financial sense to use your transportation mode of choice to go back to your hotel near the studio.

Of course on that note, I gotta playfully mention the extreme baller options real quick – the Omni William Penn, located at William Penn Place and averaging about $449 per night (which gets you afternoon tea service, among other luxurious amenities), and Townplace By Bridge Street, a luxury apartment complex inexplicably doubling as a hotel located on Stanwix Street near Market Square at $507 per night… for this staggering cost you get a fully furnished apartment room with a full kitchen, dimmable mood lighting, a basketball court, electric car charging stations, a game room, a movie/cinema room, and the ability to cast Netflix to any TV. These places are close to the Cabaret Theater (making them a doable Friday night option for the big ballers I guess) but about a 30 minute drive one way from Art & Style and are anything but frugal, but hey if you want balling out in style to be part of your FTLOB Experience (you’re on the wrong blog if that’s the case) then these are the hotels to check out!

Back to frugal Earth…

Your very best frugal lodging option for this festival is AirBNB, and I must admit, this is the route I went when I attended the Spring 2017 FTLOB Festival. AirBNBs in the immediate area average around $50-70 per night. There are about 33 AirBNB listings left for this fall’s FTLOB Experience about 3 weeks out from the festival, but AirBNBs are available in abundance averaging between $40-80 per night further out from both the fall and spring festivals. Neighborhoods recommended by FTLOB to look for your AirBNB include Etna, Aspinwall, Lawrenceville, Morningside, Bloomfield, Shaler, Northside, and Millvale. I stayed in Shady Side, located about a 10 minute drive one way from Art & Style, in 2017 and can personally recommend this town as well.

FOOD:

First and foremost, lunch is provided at this festival! For a mere $10 extra with your pass, you can get a two day lunch bundle that typically includes some type of meat sandwich, chips, fruit, and a drink. I’m sure there are also vegetarian and vegan options as well. The lunch is very good and this is, in my opinion, a must-do add-on for frugal festival goers. Lunch is served during a designated break time denoted on the schedule in the middle of workshops.

Wal-Mart is located about a 9 minute drive from Art & Style, at 877 Freeport Road. Shop ’n SAVE is located at 450 56th Street and ALDI is located at 880 Butler Street, both about a 10 minute drive away on average.

There’s quite a few options nearby for your one meal out. E-Town Bar & Grill is located steps away from the studio and serves a solid menu of comfort bar food such as subs and wings. For those looking for Chinese, Hong Kong Taste is located a couple blocks away at 366 Butler Street, or if Polish food is your thing, Cop Out Pierogies is located nearby at 350 Butler Street. For Italian sandwiches and pizza, Amato’s Sandwich Shops is located a short walk away at 376 Butler Street.

That’s all I got. I enjoyed the Spring 2017 FTLOB Festival very much and highly recommend this event. I can not make it to the fall edition, but I do plan to go to at least one day of next spring’s FTLOB Experience!

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