Both Andy Warhol and Mr. Rogers are from Pittsburgh, two American icons with very distinct personalities, yet their combined characteristics seem to perfectly embody the City of Bridges today: creative, eclectic, pioneering — and super friendly.
Having long shed the ashes of its industrial past, Pittsburgh is a place in which industry meets art, a city currently exuding the kind of energy and utopian vibe that comes with being perfectly poised for growth, while still boasting the kind of affordability, social mobility and sophistication that’s attracting 20-somethings, young families and empty nesters from across the U.S. It’s not New York, but it isn’t trying to be.
Nor is this a town just for sports fans. What I found in Pittsburgh is a little slice of heaven for artists, foodies, craft beer and cocktail connoisseurs — everyone from bon vivants to eco-conscious hipsters. Come for the art, from giant outdoor murals adorning countless buildings to the must-see Andy Warhol Museum, the largest in the country dedicated to a single artist. Come for the head-spinning variety of excellent restaurants and bars, or come to admire the more than 400 bridges and the architecture, including famous works by Frank Lloyd Wright. And especially come if you like to enjoy all of this with a generous side of down-to-earth friendliness, born from the city’s blue-collar roots.
All this is perfectly captured in Lawrenceville, one of Pittsburgh’s largest neighbourhoods, bordering the Alleghany River just northeast of downtown. The locals are so welcoming and open, and shop owners so consistently supportive of each other that it may as well be called Pleasantville. But it’s trendy, vibrant and cool, too. Property values here have tripled in the last 10 years, and the signs of gentrification come in the form of art galleries and indie shops featuring goods that are organic, local, vintage and restored, alongside top-notch restaurants and bars that lack any of the often-associated pretentiousness. What seems to have been a secret among locals has become a hotbed of smart, creative and eco-conscious, youngish entrepreneurs who are looking for a better life — and are making it happen.
“Lawrenceville has a real creative energy swirling about,” says Liz Quesnelle, owner of The Gilded Girl Beauty Emporium, a boutique that carries luxury and indie skincare and cosmetic lines not found elsewhere in the state. “I moved here from Chicago, which is an amazing city, but one that rests on its laurels a bit too much. Pittsburgh is invested in becoming a great 21-century city. The community is a mix of young and old, rich and poor, but everyone has a real thirst for what’s new, what’s interesting. Consumers here are very sophisticated and rather savvy with their purchases.”
The best way to discover Lawrenceville is on foot. You can do it on your own, of course, but a personalized tour with culinary historian Mary Miller of The Fork and the Road takes the experience to another level, and will tailor the tour to your specific interests.
Here, an amuse bouche of some of Lawrenceville’s delights.
Owner and barista Sarah Walsh serves coffee carefully sourced from direct-trade micro roasters in Mason jars, which you can buy and then reuse on each visit for a discount. Walsh also stocks goods sourced almost exclusively from local farmers, from milk and honey to maple syrup and apple cider. “We are the most hyper-local coffee shop we know of,” she says. Stop in for exquisitely made drinks like the salted caramel latté and lavender lemonade or, if you’ve indulged a bit too much the night before, try some of her homemade shrub, an apple cider drink with a host of purported health benefits — including a digestive aid.
5400 Butler St.,412-330-1418
Von Walter and Funk
Walking into this beautifully designed boutique requires a Master’s in self-restraint. Purveyors of fine goods, Shawn Aversa and Jamie McAdams offer unique, hard to find objets for the home and garden, heavily inspired by their travels and family influences. The selection is tastefully eclectic, from vintage brass watering cans to an awesome scratch’n’sniff guidebook for whiskey lovers. This isn’t a shop of needs, but you’ll want nearly everything you lay your eyes on. Don’t miss the hand-wash station in the back apothecary, a reclaimed and meticulously restored sink where you can test luxury skincare brands like L:A Bruket and Barr Soap Co.
5210 Butler St., 412-784-0800
Toll Gate Revival
A manly man’s version of antique shopping, Toll Gate Revival is chock full of American vintage and reclaimed goods. If you need something specific, put in a request and owner Seth Hunter will be on the lookout as he scours old barns, abandoned steel mills and warehouses. Most of the stuff is rugged — think industrial or barnyard chic, good for a funky office space or brick-walled loft. Cool signage, metal milk jugs, desk lamps and vintage furniture are only some of the items you’ll find, which Hunter supplements with a small, locally made clothing line by Seneca Creek. The space smells delicious, too, thanks to natural wax candles by 1820 House, which come in manly scents like tanned leather and tobacco and red cedar smoulder.
3711 Butler St., 724-288-6618
Atlas Bottle Works
Connected to the Row House Cinema, Atlas Bottle Works is a one-stop shop for dining and entertainment. With a selection of over 700 bottles and cans, as well as 19 brews on tap, the space does triple duty as retail store and tap room that offers educational classes and food pairings — while also screening films next door. Come in for a six pack or one can, then take in cool events that include live bands, or “drink and draw” art classes — all cleverly themed to whatever is on the playbill for the week, from French cinema to Japanese anime.
4115 Butler St., 412-904-4248
The writer visited Pittsburgh with the assistance of Porter Airlines, which recently launched daily direct flights from Toronto.