So, what do you recommend we do in Pittsburgh?

Linette and I have been wanting to go to Pittsburgh ever since the Warhol Museum opened fifteen years ago, and I think we might actually do it this summer. Right now, we’re in the information gathering phase. We’re reading up on things like the Mattress Factory, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, and a little hipster bar called the Brillobox. Anyway, if you know of cool (non sports-related) things to see and do in Pittsburgh, let me know. I’d be especially interested to find out about good, interesting, or otherwise inspirational places to eat. (I thought for a moment that the White Dog Cafe might be in Pittsburgh, but, sadly, it’s in Philly.) So, if you have advice on a farmers market to check out, a bar to visit, or an interesting folk art environment in the area, please leave a comment…. And, speaking of the Brillobox Bar, it was just written up in the New York Times. I get the sense that the hipster quotient may be close to unbearable, but it still sounds interesting. Here’s a clip:

…Brillobox is a bar, cafe and arts space. On first blush, it looks like your average hipster oasis plunked down in the midst of urban blight. ”You had to bust through four drop ceilings to get to the tin ceiling,” the co-owner Eric Stern told us. ”There were so many holes in it, they had to build floating ceilings beneath it to patch it.” Now the place is filled with maraschino-red Naugahyde booths (”found on Craigslist”), bordello-red wallpaper (”I’m a sucker for deep, sensuous reds”) and tree branches that canopy out from behind the bar (”we took those from the cemetery”). A local artist has dotted these with pink blossoms.

My friend and I showed up on a Sunday night, to attend the weekly Starving Artists Sunday Supper. Five bucks gets you a sesame tofu wrap with fried rice, peanut curry sauce and house-made slaw. As we wolfed down what amounted to a perfect meal, Stern talked about the genesis of Brillobox. Stern, an artist in his early 40s, and his wife, Renee, are originally from Pittsburgh. Stern did a philosophy degree at Berkeley, an M.F.A., and then, with Renee, a stint in the New York art world. Burned out, they returned home to create . . . something. ”We had no idea what we’d start,” he said. ”We weren’t bar people. Our only guiding principle was: Make it a place we’d want to come to.”

Brillobox has drawn crowds of nonlocals –young people with Gmail accounts and unfinished degrees — into Lawrenceville. But for Stern, booze and lounging were just the beginning: ”When I saw the second floor, I said, ‘O.K., this is it.’ This could coalesce the energies of the community.” Upstairs is a space for plays, music, art events, fund-raisers, comedy, readings. ”We didn’t realize there were so many artists here, hungry for a place to call their own,” Stern said. The Box is now a neighborhood beachhead….

That last quote, I was thinking as I read it, could just as easily have come from Gina and Mitch at Detroit’s Design 99… Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing what folks in another town are doing to “coalesce the energies of the community.” Stay tuned for my report.

…Oh, and it looks like there’s a “what to do in Pittsburgh” thread on Ask MetaFilter, so maybe I don’t need your help after all.

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16 Comments

  1. Lance
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    As Detroit is about to humiliate Pittsburgh on it’s home ice for a second straight year, do whatever the hell you want.

    Pittsburgh is officially Detroit’s new little bitch.

  2. 'Ff'lo
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Get pierogies in a bar. I don’t have a specific suggestion for which bar, but maybe ask around.

  3. What's In a Name
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    I enthusiastically second the Warhol museum. And walk there from downtown Pitt over one of the lovely bridges over the river. It’s a great way to get there, see a bridge that’s an architectural statement (as well as a functional item) and see the downtown skyline and the river.

  4. kristin
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 5:32 am | Permalink

    No sports? There’s a market area that’s fun to walk through, it’s the Strip District.

  5. Brackinald Achery
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    We had a half-way decent camping experience right outside Pittsburgh. Raccoon Creek or Raccoon Lake or some such.

  6. Chelsea
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    I’m still wondering why “Brillobox has drawn crowds of non-locals–young people with Gmail accounts…” Does Gmail (or, for that matter, an out-of-town address) prove hipness? Anyway, bon voyage.

  7. Posted June 9, 2009 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    I can’t recommend the Church Brewery enough. Great food, great beer, and when I broke my pint glass moving, they mailed me another one out here in California. Absolutely top notch, and just down the road from Iron City Brewery, which is also pretty damn tasty.

    Yes, all of my recommendations for Pittsburgh are breweries, why do you ask?

  8. Posted June 9, 2009 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    There’s a good deli in Squirrel Hill.

  9. Posted June 9, 2009 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Copacetic Comics, 1505 Asbury. In the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, but on a back street, across from a police station, if I remember my last visit there.

    It’s tiny, but packed to the gills with *awesome*. A good selection of non-comics stuff. This is the store that introduced me to Joseph Mitchell, for which I owe it an eternal debt.

  10. Posted June 11, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Check http://www.neighborsinthestrip.com for more information on the Strip District. This is Pittsburgh’s historic market district, but it’s much more. Take some time to visit the Heinz History Center for a history of the Western PA region (you can skip the Western PA Sports Museum that’s attached to the History Center if you’re not into sports). The Strip is filled with a variety of ethnic markets, unique shops, street vendors, etc. Saturday morning is the best time to visit the Strip – most vendors, most visitors. Eating in the Strip – so much to choose, so little time! For upscale dining try Eleven or Lidia’s; for breakfast go to Pamela’s P&G Diner (Pam & Gail, the owners, were called to the White House on Memorial Day to make pancakes for the First Family and a group of veterans) – you don’t want to miss these pancakes or to DeLucas, a Pittsburgh tradition; try the Primanti’s sandwich, another Pittsburgh tradition; for lunch go to the Enrico Biscotti cafe (behind the bakery – you’ll feel like you’re in Europe) or Cafe Raymond; for pierogi’s go to S&D Polish Deli – they have the best pierogi’s I’ve ever tasted; try Kaya for a taste of the Caribbean; and if you’re a cigar smoker try the Cigar Bar at Cioppino’s or go to Leaf and Bean and feel like you’re in Key West; or if you’re looking for great coffee, try 21st Street Coffee and Tea, Le Prima Espresso, Fortune’s or Leaf and Bean. There’s lots of other options as well – just let your nose take the lead.

  11. Posted June 11, 2009 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    friends of mine recently moved to pittsburgh (returning home, in one case), and opened this coffee shop, in the morningside neighborhood: morning glory coffeehouse. music & art & coffee, totally non-pretentious atmosphere. it’s not a pittsburgh classic or retro landmark, but maybe someday will be… !

  12. Scott K
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Pittsburgh is like my second home. I went to grad school there and lived there another 5 or so years working afterwards.

    Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh Zoo is awesome, Carnegie Museum, both art and natural history, Kennywood amusement park (worlds fastest wood roller coaster I believe), for a view eat at a restaurant up on Mt. Washington, also ride the inclines while you’re at it….try a Primanti Bros. sandwich (fries and coleslaw on all sandwiches). Then have a bearclaw (sticky cinnamon gooey desert) at an Eat N Park….gee, think I miss it there?

  13. Steph
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    As a Pittsburgh resident, I am definitely feeling the pressure from this question! I’m poor, so I don’t get out much, and that makes things more difficult, but I’ll try my best to guide you. I would definitely second Kennywood if you’re into amusement parks (it has a decent little kid section too for Clementine) and the Church Brewery. I’m having my rehearsal dinner there so that should show you how much I like it! I would say it’s probably best to avoid the Brillobox, I try to. The food is good and there is often good music, but it is extremely crowded, painfully hipster-y, and overwhelmingly smoky inside. Certainly check out the Warhol Museum (the silver cloud room is amazing) and the Mattress Factory. The Phipps Conservatory is really nice and the gardens and park around it are great to walk around. There are tons of galleries around here that I don’t know much about, but there are gallery crawls lots of weekends in the summer so check out if there will be one whenever you are here. I would definitely recommend stopping by the Cathedral of Learning at Pitt. You can probably skip the guided tour but the floor level is beautiful and take the elevator to the top floor to check out the view. While in Oakland at Pitt you can stop by Khiva Han, a nice coffee shop that has brunch on Sundays. And speaking of views, it’s touristy but don’t pass on the incline. Go for the Duquesne Incline it’s less crowded and better. It’s a really fun experience with a great view and a cool museum at the top. Primanti’s is also not to be missed, there are a few locations around the city. The Gateway Clipper at Station Square has some nice boat tours up the rivers, all with different themes. Kaya in the Strip is delicious for Caribbean food, and the Strip in general is fun to walk around on Saturday morning. There are tons of farmers markets around here, several per day. You can probably Google it and find some. The Squirrel Cage (actually called the Squirrel Hill Cafe) is a fun bar with cheap drinks. The Bloomfield Bridge Tavern is said to have excellent pierogies, though I haven’t eaten there myself. D’s SixPax & Dogz has great hotdogs, both meat and veggie. The Quiet Storm has tasty vegetarian food. The Carnegie Science Center is fun, especially for kids, and if you go there you can walk along the river by the stadiums. If you want even more suggestions or have any other specific requests, let me know, this is my city!

  14. Posted June 11, 2009 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Thank you all for the recommendations. This is great.

  15. Posted June 11, 2009 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    And here’s another note that I just received by way of email:

    1. hundreds of bars and great restaurants along E. Carson Street in Southside (where i live).
    2. our breweries: Penn Brewery or Church Brew Works (inside an actual catholic church! and Al Hoff lives nearby).
    3. kennywood amusement park with the best coasters and kiddie land, a full day of fun!
    4. warhol museum, now with working vintage pinball machines! i’m a member and have coupons.
    5. open air markets along Penn Ave. in the Strip District (an old railroad warehouse section).
    6. a wonderful, best view of pittsburgh from Mt. Washington. no car needed, take the world’s oldest incline for only $2.00 from Station Square (a tourist center).
    this is just off the top of my head……

  16. TIM
    Posted June 15, 2009 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    Lance: how’d that work out for you?

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