You may have heard people talking about Pittsburgh’s decline after the evaporation of the city’s steel mills. But what you might not have heard was that the city has undergone a renaissance. Forbes.com ranked it as the most livable American city in 2011, and received the same honor the previous year by The Economist. In November, National Geographic named the Steel City as one of the 20 places to visit in its “Best Places of the World 2012” piece, calling the city “a natural setting that rivals Lisbon and San Francisco, a wealth of fine art and architecture and a quirky sense of humor.” With great restaurants, an arts and music scene all its own, and no shortage of great bars, you can easily keep yourself busy for a weekend or a longer visit.
1. Primanti Brothers. 46 18th St. This should be one of your first stops. It may not be the greatest sandwich you’ll ever eat, but it’s good and more importantly, Primanti Brothers is synonymous with the city. Primanti’s, of course, is home to the infamous french fry and coleslaw sandwich. Ignore the other locations and visit the original, located in the city’s Strip District, which was once a hub of activity for produce yards and warehouses. The sandwich was designed to cater to on-the-go truckers enabling them to drive with one hand and eat with the other in an effort to get them back on the road more quickly.
2. Fatheads Saloon. 1805 E Carson St. Located in the historic South Side, Fatheads is an unpretentious neighborhood bar and grill. They are best known for their massive sandwich, the headwich. The menu offers it made in a number of ways, all delicious. The wings and impressive beer selection add to the experience. Preferable to Primanti’s to many locals. Be warned, some say that Fridays and Saturdays this place is filled with DudeBros and Frat types, so unless that’s your scene, hit it up during the week if you can.
3. Pamela’s Diner (P&G). 60 21st St. Much like Primanti’s but not as prolific, Pamela’s has multiple locations in the city. Again, your best bet is to visit the one in the Strip. The pancakes here are without comparison. The Obamas have flown them down on several occasions to cater White House events after they visited on their 2008 campaign. An arrival post 7 a.m. will normally mandate waiting in line outside on the sidewalk but be patient, it’s worth it.
4. Salt of the Earth. 5523 Penn Ave. If you’re ready for more of a fine dining experience, Kevin Sousa’s restaurant is one the most highly regarded and reviewed in the city. They offer an ever changing menu featuring locally sourced and experimental American fare. Still relatively new to the scene, Salt of the Earth in the Garfield neighborhood of the city is a must for those who appreciate food and the restaurant experience. Seasonal menus in a casual environment.
5. Piccolo Forno. 3801 Butler St. Located in the Lawrenceville neighborhood, Piccolo Forno features simple Italian cuisine. Chef/owner Domenic Branduzzi opened the restaurant aiming to present the food from his hometown of Lucca, Italy. He seems to know what he’s doing . The menu mostly consists of different pizzas made in the woodfire pizza oven at the dining room’s center and outstanding pasta dishes. Both the dough and pasta are 100 percent homemade. Grab a bottle of wine or two at the liquor store down the street as it is a BYOB establishment.
6. Bloomfield Bridge Tavern. Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own personality. One of the most distinct neighborhoods is Bloomfield, home to old school ethnic clubs, churches, bars and restaurants. At the gateway is the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern (BBT). The BBT is both a great ethnic restaurant and great dive bar, serving amazing Polish food. You’ll find great pierogies, ducks blood soup, locally made kielbasa, and more. Try the Red or the White Platter.
7. Meat and Potatoes. A gastropub with its own spin on very traditional dishes. The brunch is exceptional (even with a hangover). They have infused vodkas made in house, and the make-your-own bloody Mary bar with an infused vodka is highly recommended, even for people who don’t like a Bloody Mary.
8. Dave and Andy’s Ice Cream. 207 Atwood Avenue. It’s located in Oakland and is an awesome Ice Cream shop. All of the ice cream is made on the premises, and you can watch (and smell! mmm) them making and pouring the batter for the waffle cones. And if that isn’t enough, you get great music– they once played the entire White Stripes Elephant Album. Everything here is done right. If you get there and the line is around the block, don’t worry, it line moves fast.
9. Church Brew Works. We’ve seen Catholic churches converted into bars before, but here, they turned this old church into a microbrewery. The brewing equipment is where the altar used to be and the bar shelves are in the confessionals. Appropriate. The food, especially the brick oven pizzas, is great. All of the stained glass windows are intact and a giant pipe organ is still in the balcony. It’s a cavernous place, but it’s really quite beautiful.
1. Brillobox. 4104 Penn Ave. Brillobox has effectively captured the likable aspects of the Brooklyn/Astoria scene, while maintaining a level of authenticity. It’s hip but Pittsburgh hip. The staff is friendly and overly generous with their pour. They play host to the city’s budding arts scene; bands, djs, comedians, poets and other performance arts. Touring national acts schedule intimate shows and even impromptu late night sets after playing a larger venue earlier in the night.
2. Arsenal Lanes. 212 44th St. The New York Times described Arsenal Lanes as, “where old-school bowling vibe meets night club atmosphere”. Think back to some of the early scenes in Kingpin (largely filmed in the greater Pittsburgh area) to get a loose idea of the environment. The set up is unique in that they have two different rooms full of lanes, placed on a 90 degree angle. A stellar audio system adds to the experience as bands and djs are able to garner a surprisingly good sound– even in a bowling alley.
3. Gooski’s. 3117 Brereton St. The jukebox in this Polish Hill bar is widely regarded as the best in the city. Cheap drinks and a ping pong table in the back only add to the dive environment. It’s the place to go for a hazy night of good times.
4. Round Corner Cantina. 3720 Butler St. The front bar area almost appears to be taken from a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. In warmer weather, there is a large “backyard” area. And if you’re hungry, the kitchen specializes in Mexican street food, (tacos, tj dogs, esquites, etc). Owners Jesse and Derek Burnell came from San Diego to open the Cantina in July of 2009.
5. Kelly’s. 6012 Penn Circle South. Kelly’s is an institution. A great bar in the up and coming East Libery/Eastside neighborhood, it has the makeup of an old diner. Two rows of booths run parallel to the bar with a back patio. A dj normally spins boogie down or funk nightly, but not so loud that you can’t talk. The scene unpretentious and made up of a lot of grad students, artists and pseudo Bohemians. Seemingly never a bad time, and the food is fantastic to boot!
6. East End Brewing. This East End microbrewery serves fresh beer by the growler only (not a bar, tasting and takeout only). Very limited hours but worth the effort. Great beers and really nice people. If you like it hoppy then a growler of East End Big Hop is a great souvenir to bring home after your Pittsburgh weekend.
7. Banjo night at the elks lodge #339. Every Wednesday at the lodge in the north side, the Pittsburgh banjo club holds a free all night show, no membership required. It’s like being in a time machine and heading back to the seventies. Yuenglings will cost you a buck, there are 50/50 raffles all night, and plenty of cheap amazing polish food…it’s the best party that no one knows about.
1. Warhol Museum. 117 Sandusky St. If you go to Pittsburgh without visiting the Warhol museum you’ve missed out on a great experience. If you love Warhol, hate Warhol, or are just confused by Warhol (or all of the above) there is so much to see here. Yes, the father of the pop art movement was born and raised in Pittsburgh. Before moving to New York and changing the world forever, and his talents were first recognized at what is now Carnegie Mellon University. Located just across the 7th Street Bridge in the North Shore neighborhood of the city, the museum is the largest in the United States dedicated to one artist. Go look at some of the nine hundred paintings, one hundred sculptures, one thousand published and unique prints, four thousand photographs, over 4,000 videos, movies and screen tests and so much more. The collection covers the entire range of Warhol’s work from all periods. There’s a ton more….
2. PNC Park. 115 Federal St. The on field product has yet to match the majesty of arguably the best home field in baseball. But, if you happen to find yourself in town during the season, a Pirates game is something to consider whether you’re a baseball fan or not. The backdrop of the bridges cascading the Allegheny River leading into the downtown district of the city is undeniably impressive. Tickets are relatively cheap and easy to acquire. For some reason, Pittsburgh LOVES fireworks. Check the schedule for “Sky Blast” games, usually two games a month, for an added pop to your evening.
3. Catch a Steelers Game at Heinz Field. No experience can match watching the Steel Curtain on their home turf. Get a terrible towel, and be a Steelers fan, even if only for one day. The stadium itself is worth a visit. Built with over 12,000 tons of steel, it’s a standing tribute to the city’s past. Tickets are tough to come by- every Steelers home game has been sold out since 1972, so you may have to opt for just a tour, or just drop by and look around.
4. Duquesne Incline/Mt. Washington. 1197 W Carson St. Traveling up to Mt. Washington on the incline is the tourist thing to do in Pittsburgh. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. The view of the city’s skyline is stunning. It was recently named the second most beautiful place in the U.S. by USA Weekend and one of the top ten places to view a cityscape in the world by USA Today. The best way to get there is a trip up the Duquesne Incline, a century-old cable car that slowly ascends a steep hill as you take in the city in front of you. You can also walk up. It’s a haul but great views and overlooks are everywhere. Once atop, there are several viewing stations. Most restaurants are overly formal and semi-private, but take a walk down to Grandview Ave. to Redbeard’s for a more relaxed environment with the same great view. Or grab a cocktail then walk down to Shiloh where you can stop and grab a sixer from an amazing selection of beer and a great sausage or dog at a little place called Packs and Dogs. Finish your dog and then grab your girl an ice cream cone at Dilfore’s and head back down the incline to the city when you’re ready to call it a day.
5. The Mattress Factory. 500 Sampsonia Way. If you are into art this is a great place to view some really interesting installation art, don’t skip the Mattress Factory. The main focus is full room exhibits, where the artist builds the entire room around their artwork. You’ll find plenty of optical illusions, sounds and lights, as well as a room of mirrors, a room that looks like it has a hole straight to the outside throughout the floor, and plenty of other weird/unique/awesome art. Drop by and wander around.
6. Jerry’s Records. 2136 Murray Ave.- For the vinyl nerds out there… Jerry’s is consistently named among the best record stores in the country by a number of publications. Massive selection, great prices, enough said.
7. Kennywood Amusement Park. 4800 Kennywood Blvd. West Mifflin. Kennywood is a bit removed from the city but an essential stop for fans of the amusement park experience. Steeped in history (one of only 2 amusement parks listed in the National Register of Historic places), some of the rides date back to early in the 20th century. The old-time aesthetic fades in other areas of the park as riders upon modern, high speed coasters scream through massive elevation changes, loops and gut tugging g-force. The park was also the setting for the movie, “Adventureland”.
7. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water. Considered by many to be one of the greatest works of American Architecture, Falling Water is located only a short ride outside of Pittsburgh, and it is absolutely worth your time. This beautiful home, built into the landscape is like nothing you’ve ever seen, and worth the drive and the tour (even if you hate tours). Make sure you check out the visitors information on the website. They offer a long list of different types of tours, some that include brunch on the premises. You must call ahead and get a reservation– no just showing up here. If you have a full day to spend, there are other Frank Lloyd Wright designed homes and buildings in the area– some of them that you can even spend the night in. All that information can be found on their official website.
Pittsburgh’s music scene is taking off in a big way. Here are some local acts to check out: Triggers; 1,2,3; Meeting of Important People; Donora; Satin Gum; The Whiskey Holler; The Harlan Twins; The Red Western; Boca Chica; Pet Clinic; New Shouts; Modey Lemon; Legs Like Treetrunks; Mac Miller; Pairdown; Big Hurry; Dazzletine; Don Caballero.
1. The Strip District. Smallman, Liberty and Penn between 11th and 33rd St. Initially, the Strip District was home to factories and mills for many of the country’s leading industrial entities, then in the 1900s, the area shifted to wholesalers of fresh produce, spices, meats and poultry. Today roughly a quarter of the original wholesalers remain. Filling the void are warehouses and churches that have been converted to clubs and bars, restaurants, galleries and ethnic food markets from all corners of the world. The Strip is best experienced on a nice day with an open agenda. There are daily farmer’s and other open air markets featuring fare from all over the world. If you’re into the club scene, there are row of massive spots along Smallman St.
2. Southside. This historic neighborhood is generally divided into two sections; the Southside Flats and Southside Slopes. East Carson St., the main artery, is essentially 20+ blocks of bars and restaurants, somewhat similar to South St. in Philly.
3. Lawrenceville. This neighborhood may have experienced the most significant rejuvenation. Once an area economically depressed and crime ridden, many now consider Lawrenceville to be the new home of Pittsburgh’s artistic community. Butler St. is lined with galleries, boutiques and restaurants, mostly independently owned.
4. Bloomfield. Liberty Ave has almost no chains and a strong Italian presence; even the parking meters are striped red, white and green. But, its residents are becoming more and more diverse, with a growing music scene. It’s a real neighborhood. Young, old, white and blue collar.
@quiet_owl: The Sharp Edge Beer Emporium is not to be missed.
@hollyinstpete: Carson Street on Southside has 80 bars
@BrianinVa: Get to Squirrel Hill and grab a pie at Mineo’s, this is some of the best pizza I have had in my life, avoid station square except for brunch at Grand Concourse. Pack and Dogs, Dilfores for Ice Cream.
@justgotrobbed: Robert WD: Rocky’s Lounge in Carnegie (king of the Fish Sandwich). Great atmosphere and you really get a feel for this city dining in one of it’s famed suburbs where Honus Wagner and Mike Ditka hail from. Also The Original Oyster House. The landmark restaurant/bar has been operating for 142 years and has a “unique” atmosphere. It’s completely archaic, and that’s what makes Oyster House great. There is not an inch of wall space not covered with Miss America contestants or Rocky Marciano. Try the crab balls.
Adam K: The O Hotdog Shop for deep fried hot dogs and the best fries in the world.
Nick F: Jack’s, Grand Concourse for fine dining in station square, Marios (south side sports bar)
Kyle: check out a concert at The Rex Theater and eat at Pipers Pub.
Andy B: To go The Park House. The owner is the falafelmaster….who makes the “falafelmaster” and if you like mashed up chick peas that are deep fried he does this shit right. Plus their spicy hummus is great.
Maurice: The Sonoma Grill for trendy foods made with locally produced ingredients. Mr. Smalls, a smallish music venue. The last show I saw there a guy with a handle bar mustache made me some “Honey Badger Barbecue Wings” while I was waiting in line.
Chris S: Spak brothers pizza and more http://www.spakbrothers.com/ for amazing Pittsburgh style pizza and subs that also offer the BEST veg and vegan versions of classic Pittsburgh sandwiches.
Christopher: Strip District. 15 blocks of food and retail shops, which include Italian specialty stores, bakeries, fresh seafood vendors, produce sellers, and coffee roasteries. You WILL NOT find any chain stores here. As to restaurants, for breakfast Pamela’s is outstanding (the pancakes are ridiculous) and DeLuca’s is a diner on steroids. The original Primanti Brothers is here (sandwiches on Italian bread with choice of meat, melted provolone, Cole slaw, fries, and tomato.) Douse them with Red Hot. Fantastic!
Extra thanks to everyone who contributed to this article! Did we miss anything? Leave your comments!