By Natalie Lariccia
Still think of Pittsburgh as a hilly, blue-collar steel town filled with beer guzzling Steelers fans? It’s time to think again. This western Pennsylvania city still maintains its hardworking, ethnic, sports-town roots, but it also has evolved into a respected cultural center with an impressive culinary and entertainment scene.
“It’s almost as if some fire was lit in our neighborhood. It exploded with chefs coming to our area…There’s just been a pent up demand here for great restaurants,” says Jason Fulvi, executive vice president of VisitPITTSBURGH, Allegheny County’s tourism agency.
From upscale restaurants downtown and in Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods – like Shadyside and Squirrel Hill – to craft breweries, wineries, innovative eateries and Friday fish and pierogy church dinners in the city’s many ethnic communities, Fulvi says Pittsburgh offers something for every palate.
“Pittsburgh has really, really changed…It’s always had museums, but now it’s restaurants, too – chefs from New York and other larger cities are opening restaurants in Pittsburgh,” says Tim McGlothlin, director of guest services at The Priory Hotel, a 42-room European-style hotel (and onetime priory).
For example, there’s Engine House 25, a renovated firehouse in Lawrenceville, one of Pittsburgh’s larger artsy neighborhoods. The venue houses a winery and wine cellar and the Clemente Museum, commemorating legendary Pittsburgh Pirates baseball player Roberto Clemente.
Also in Lawrenceville is the Church Brew Works – a brewery and restaurant housed in the former St. John’s the Baptist Church – built in 1802. Church Brew Works is one of the stops on the Allegheny River Libation Trail, a 7.5-mile stretch along the river that spans 13 drinking destinations including breweries, wineries and a craft whiskey distillery.
“[The Libation Trail is] a great way to see the unique smaller towns of Pittsburgh and meet these people who are making these great local products,” says Patti Goyke, Church Brew Works marketing manger and event planner.
To experience more of Pittsburgh’s burgeoning beverage scene, be sure and check out Wigle Whiskey and Pittsburgh Winery – two spots on the Libation Trail. Wigle Whiskey, located in the Strip District and opened in March 2012, is a celebration of American whiskey and the key role Pittsburgh played in its history, says Jill Steiner, Wigle director of events and public relations.
Located a short distance away, also in the Strip District, is Pittsburgh Winery, started nearly four years as a labor of love, blending music and wine – the primary passions of owner Tim Gaber.
Gaber says he began making wine 16 years ago with a group of friends, and he immediately fell in love with the process. This love eventually inspired him to found his own urban winery in a former bank building. The winery specializes in creating big, bold red wines, and all wines are made and fermented in-house with grapes sourced from California and South America.
Beyond Lawrenceville, foodies will want to stroll The Strip, Pittsburgh’s historic market district. Bordering downtown, this neighborhood offers nearly a half-mile of ethnic grocers, meat and fish markets, bakeries and produce stands.
If museum-hopping is your thing, you won’t be disappointed. The city boasts a lively museum scene that rivals some of the world’s largest cities, McGlothlin says. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History was founded in 1895 by Andrew Carnegie and has been ranked among the top six natural history museums in the country.
Also worth a visit is the Andy Warhol Museum, a tribute to the Pittsburgh-born pop artist. For contemporary art, visit the Mattress Factory on the city’s Northside. Housed in a former Sterns and Foster mattress factory, this museum is an artists’ research and development lab and offers a residency program to established and emerging artists.
Pittsburgh’s cultural and theater district, meanwhile, boasts a wide array of Broadway shows and a cabaret theater. After a show, test your luck at one of the 2,900 slot machines and table games at Rivers Casino.
Pittsburgh’s new slogan is just two words: “Mighty. Beautiful.” The hills and Steelers are still there, but with all the new nightlife, restaurants and cultural choices, “mighty” and “beautiful” are the new normal in this town.
For information: www.visitpittsburgh.com.