Public Market on Saturday mornings brings out the
best in food and people watching
— I’ve never been to a city that loves itself more
is not a criticism. After three days, I also loved
Pittsburgh, a quaint, pretty city with interesting people
doing interesting things, and a healthy dash of Old World,
— and this is where Pittsburgh won me over — it is not
a city impressed with itself.
York, San Francisco and Portland, Ore., are wonderful
cities that can’t resist preening when passing mirrors
to remind themselves just how wonderful they are.
Pittsburgh is a wonderful city that doesn’t even see the
mirror. It just turns to its buddies and says, "Hey,
yinz guys, let’s go have a beer."
guys" is Pittsburgh speak for "you people"
— a dialectical Northern equivalent to "y’all.")
in spirit and flavor, Pittsburgh can lay claim to being
one of our nation’s most underrated cities, with a
beauty as breathtaking as it is obvious. The drive from
Pittsburgh International Airport follows an unspectacular
20 miles of rolling-hills suburbia along Interstate
Highway 376 and then, after a brief trip through the Fort
Pitt Tunnel — bam! — there is Pittsburgh.
on a peninsula jutting into an intersection of rivers, the
city of 305,000 is gemlike, surrounded by bluffs and
bright yellow bridges streaming into its heart. As you
emerge from the tunnel, you feel you’ve never seen a
more majestic little city: old but familiar, with
swooping, curving lines, lushly green (in summer) and cut,
as all great cities should be, by a river or two (or in
this case, three).
is the only way to understand the sentiment famously
expressed in The New Yorker in 1989, when it ranked
Pittsburgh among the world’s most beautiful cities,
alongside Paris and St. Petersburg, Russia.
Pittsburgh were situated somewhere in the heart of Europe,
tourists would eagerly journey hundreds of miles out of
their way to visit it," the magazine said.
Pittsburgh is forever associated with steelmaking, its
heavy industry days are largely gone; the air is cleaner,
and the steel mills have become museums, bike trails and
green space. The city has embraced food, drink and art
while long-quiet neighborhoods have been infused with
fresh bustle. The fascinating downtown — a strange but
appealing mix of architecture built up through the decades
— sports fresh touches of its own, like the dim,
marble-barred gastropub Meat and Potatoes, which I checked
out on a Thursday evening with a couple of natives.
is pretty classy for Pittsburgh," said Lisa
Sredzienski with a touch of gratitude and amusement as we
sipped East Coast craft beer and munched mushroom-truffle
she wasn’t complaining.
social and culinary invigoration is afoot in her city. On
Butler Street, in the Lawrenceville neighborhood, there’s
Franktuary, a gourmet hot dog place whose offerings
include wild-caught salmon sausages and four kinds of
poutine. Continue heading up Butler and you’ll find a
guitar shop where a gentleman makes repairs in the window
for the passing world to see; La Gourmandine, a French
bakery where I scored a macaroon sandwich stuffed with
litchi mousse and raspberries; and 720 Music, a hip
hodgepodge smelling of fresh coffee grounds with records
and T-shirts for sale along the walls.
do you describe this?" I asked. "A record store
meets coffee shop meets clothes store meets alternative
that exists nowhere else," said the barista.
a day of walking through Lawrenceville, I felt the same
way about that neighborhood.
while embracing a 21st-century version of itself,
Pittsburgh has firmly retained a proud, blue-collar sense
of its history. It relishes the concept of the "yinzer"
— based on the term "yinz guys" — which
simply equates to someone from Pittsburgh. You’ll see
plenty of yinzer bumper stickers, buttons and even baby
onesies. Search for the Internet comedy "Pittsburgh
Dad," and, even if the humor might be debatable, the
idea of the yinzer will be clear.
distinct characteristic of yinzers is their love of
sports. As one local who had previously lived in New York
and Austin, Texas, observed, he had never resided anyplace
where even the hipsters were sports fans. Being a Steelers
fan in Pittsburgh goes without saying.
civic dedication to sports makes a visit to PNC Park a
must even for people with a fleeting (or nonexistent)
interest in baseball. The park was incorporated so
beautifully into the city — whose skyline looms over
center field — that it feels as if it were dropped into
is full of must-dos, including the Duquesne Incline, an
inclined-plane railroad that opened in 1877 and offers a
creaky $2.50 wood-and-steel ride overlooking the city, and
a Saturday stroll through the Strip District, a
seven-block stretch of Penn Avenue that dazzles with
ethnic food and local characters. Italian, Polish and
Korean food purveyors are clustered with shops that seem
to sell nothing but Steelers, Penguins and Pirates gear,
and as you walk you pass one woman offering a dozen salsas
and another with a dozen soaps. It’s the UN of shopping
boasts more neighborhoods (a whopping 90) and pockets
worth visiting than can be detailed here. Yet strangely,
the commonly held image of the city largely continues to
be "washed-out casualty of the Rust Belt."
Pittsburgh knows it. And, just as when it passes the
mirror, it doesn’t much care.
say, ‘You want to bad-mouth Pittsburgh? Go ahead,’"
said Jeff Gordon, owner of Who New? Retro Mod Decor, a
shop of ‘50s couches and ‘70s telephones in
Lawrenceville. "It’s a well-kept secret — we have
a good thing going on here."
Restaurants are opening at a dizzying clip in Pittsburgh.
Highlights include gastropub Meat and Potatoes (649 Penn
Ave., 412-325-7007, meatandpotatoespgh.com), Salt of the
Earth (5523 Penn Ave., 412-441-7258, saltpgh.com), Point
Brugge (401 Hastings St., 412-441-3334, pointbrugge.com)
and much of the Lawrenceville neighborhood along Butler
A smart first move in Pittsburgh is the Duquesne Incline
(1197 W. Carson St., 412-381-1665, duquesneincline.org),
which opened in 1877 and offers a $2.50 ride to a
magnificent view of a lovely city. Also check out the Andy
Warhol Museum (117 Sandusky St., 412-237-8300, warhol.org),
and the South Side neighborhood, a popular weekend spot
full of watering holes and restaurants; my favorite bar
there was the speak-easy Acacia (2108 E. Carson St.,
412-488-1800, acaciacocktails.com). Even non-baseball fans
can appreciate PNC Park, which is widely considered one of
the most beautiful stadiums in the game and offers an
exquisite view of the skyline. Those interested in the
city’s steel history can tour a retired steel mill via
Rivers of Steel, a historic preservation agency (riversofsteel.com).