In addition to the 5 billion other things I’m obsessed with, I’m extremely fond of Bavarian things. I definitely get this from my grandparents, man, and their house had some awesome Bavarian footprints in it.
(Like, not real footprints. But you know, Hummel figurines and cuckoo clocks and other fine Black Forest shit.)
This is why I keep going back to the Bayernhof Museum. It’s not like much changes, but I just can’t get enough of the early-80s tackiness.
I’ve written about this place before, so there won’t be much detail here, but here’s a bit of background: The owner of the house was a real quirky son of a bitch named Charles Brown, a super rich business owner with a sprawling imagination.
My kind of guy.
He built this big house right outside of Pittsburgh without even consulting legit contractors or architects and then filled it flea market finds and exorbitantly priced pieces. It’s like my pappap’s house on steroids. So many parts of this house have strong Gillcrest vibes and it’s bittersweet. Long story short, he knew that when he died, he wanted this place to be opened to the public, because one of his favorite things to do was host parties and give friends and their friends tours of his sprawling Bavarian bachelor pad. But he knew he needed something that would be more of a draw, some gimmick that would enable the house to be labeled a museum, so he started collecting these massive antique music machines, nickelodeons, calliopes, etc etc. Some of the pieces in his collection are the only ones left in the world, which is nuts considering he didn’t even know how to use them!
Charles died in 1999 and the house was eventually opened to the public in 2006, I believe. That was around the first time I saw a billboard for it, on my way to class at Pitt. I knew immediately that I needed to go and Kara was going to go with me, but then we realized right before leaving my house that we needed to make an actual appointment for a tour, like a real life grown-up thing, so instead we went to Phipp’s and made fun of people looking at flowers and I found out that Kara hates orchids.
I finally managed to get to the Bayernhof in 2011, when some broad was visiting me from California. She absolutely hated it there because she basically just hates everything in life, but it may have also been because the guy who gave us the tour was also the guy in charge of maintaining and servicing the music machines, so he was a bit stuffy.
I went again a year later, this time with my brother and my friend Kristy, and it was just as fantastic. Especially being there with Corey, who immediately picked up all the Gillcrest vibes that the Bayernhof was throwing down.
Now that Chooch is 12, he’s finally at the acceptable age listed on the Bayernhof website, so I gathered Janna and Kara (finally!) for a Sunday tour last weekend.
The Bayernhof is one of those places that you can tell people about until you’re blue in the face and your mouth is all gummy but there is no way better to paint the picture than by having them step into it themselves. So while Chooch was feigning excitement in that awesome, monotone pre-teen way, I knew that as soon as the tour started, his outlook would turn around and he would maybe stop pining for Fortnite for a few hours.
We got there as soon as it opened, fifteen minutes before the tour started, because I am a fucking eager beaver and I also know from past trips there that they don’t wait around – that tour starts at 2 and one of my greatest fears is walking into something that has already started and then everyone stops and looks at me and, NO THANKS.
So, of course we were the first group there, which meant we had to awkwardly stand in the foyer with our guide (a young woman whose name I forget but she is a SCIENTIST and also super cool) and an older woman assisting with the tour. The older woman started laughing at one point and said, “Oh, I just noticed that your purse is a rollerskate!” and Chooch started to grumble because as you know, he hates when my accessories take attention away from him. I laughed back and said that it was from the kids section at Target* and she said, “Hey, you might have to grow old, but you don’t have to grow up” and I was like, “MOM?!”
*(My friend Katrina sent me a picture of the purse a few months ago and I sent Henry out THAT DAY to get it. It was on sale too for like $6! Granted, I can only fit my car keys, one lipgloss, and one small vial of hemlock in it, but the cuteness is worth it.)
Meanwhile, Chooch was pocketing a discount card for some brewery affiliate, and the guide saw this happen and started jokingly calling him out for being too young to go to a brewery. So Chooch was happy to have the attention back in his court.
Eventually, two more groups arrived: two men and a yuppie couple. I had strong feelings against the woman part of the couple because almost immediately she made it perfectly clear that she was going to be That Person on the tour that had Something To Say about everything. There was also something about her that reminded me of my ex-friend Cinn so I was immediately turned off.
As I mentioned before, I’m not going to get into the details of the tour because I have numerous posts about it in the blog archives, and also because it’s something best experienced in person. I can tell you that it is not one of those boring tours full of needles dates and facts – Charles had a fucking fascinating personality and this new guide actually told some stories about him and the origins of the house that I definitely don’t remember hearing the other two times I was there. So it was almost like being there for the first time for me, too!
The cool thing about this is that many of his friends are still around and involved in the estate so the stories are almost always first hand accounts.
See that gas lantern thingie? These are the products that were manufactured at Charles’s company and I don’t know why I never made the connection before but my pappap’s house was FULL of these lights. He had them outside his front door and at the end of his driveway too so I wonder if they were from Charles’s company!? I asked my mom if the name sounded familiar and she said she wasn’t sure, and that my grandparents had a decorator named Herbie who did all that shit for them. But it’s still fun to imagine my pappap and Charles knowing each other!
They were in the process of decorating for Christmas!
The lady I disliked of course knew almost all of the old-timey songs that the machines played, and then her dumb yuppie husband would high-five her. After the tour, Kara was like, “I kept trying to make eye contact with you because that lady was so annoying” and I was like “FUCK YES I KNEW IT WASN’T JUST ME!” I think the guide was even getting a little miffed at the constant “witty” interruptions and would just respond with, “I know, right.”
They call this guest room The Red Room, not to be confused with Redrum. I want to sleep here.
This other guest room REALLY reminded me of my pappap’s house and I can tell you without a doubt that some of the furniture in there was either the same or extremely similar. I almost started to cry.
This was Chooch’s favorite room until he saw the billiards room. He’s obsessed with pool lately and the pool table at the Bayernhof has purple top!
The amount of times Chooch’s eyes widened like saucers was hilarious.
When you have to share your seat.
Janna was upset that my grandparents never thought to add a pool into their enclosed porch.
The infamous “horse-shoeing” picture! I actually made this into a pendant after the last time I was there. The other curator caught me giggling at it and he sighed, “They’re shoeing a horse.” Lol!
I already can’t wait to go back again. It’s honestly one of Pittsburgh’s hidden treasures and I would 100% recommend it to anyone visiting. I even included it in my Pittsburgh Tourism List that I wrote several years ago! So if you’re planning a trip to the ‘Burgh, or already live here and want to go to this place, PLEASE LET ME GO WITH YOU. I will even call and make the appointment and I hate calling and making appointments! IT’S ONLY $10 FOR A TWO HOUR TOUR!