Distilling Pittsburgh to its very essence
January 17, 2008 11:46 AM   Subscribe

Pittsburgh: Can anyone familiar with the city give me some basic info and pointers and help shape my loose itinerary to best use my short time in the city?

I'm going to Pittsburgh for a short weekend away this weekend and I was hoping some of you fine folks could give me some information on the following:

1. What is the parking situation like there? Related to this, is there public transit and is it efficient (relative to driving/parking situation)?

2. Are there any restaurants that are absolute can't miss destinations? We are into just about anything but Italian/boring American food. Bonus points if the beer selection is good.

3. What other art/museum type places are good besides the Warhol museum and the mattress factory? Are there places in this category that are arguably a more valuable use of my time than the aforementioned if I'm looking for modern/contemporary art?

4. Any specific areas of the city good for walking/window shopping/etc.? We would like weirdo stores.

5. I am planning on stopping at jerry's records. Is there a better record store in town that I should head to in place of this?

We are going Sunday/Monday if that affects the times anything is open.

Thanks in advance!
posted by zennoshinjou to Travel & Transportation around Pittsburgh, PA (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Where are you staying? That affects transportation questions.
posted by ALongDecember at 12:13 PM on January 17, 2008

Best answer: 1. Do you know where you will be staying? The parking answer will vary depending on what neighborhood you're in. Some areas tag for residents, some don't. Some places you can find a cheap lot, others you'd be safe on the street.

Personally, I think we have crap public transit. But I lived in NYC prior to moving here. Again, depending on where you are staying and where you want to go, between the T and the buses, it's doable.

2. Microbrewery made out of an old church - http://www.churchbrew.com/
Local German microbrewery - http://www.pennbrew.com/
Personal favorite for Sunday Brunch - http://www.piperspub.com/ (more for the scotch than the beer, but the beer's good too)

I love to eat out. Those are three quick suggestions, but I could come up with a million more.

3. The main Carnegie Art Museum has a surprisingly decent modern art collection. The standing galleries are roughly arranged chronologically, which makes for an interesting viewing experience. Admission includes the Natural History Museum as well. I believe they are closed on Mondays.

4. Weirdo stores - Strip District (best done on Saturdays) - quirky botiques and ethnic foods, but crazy crowded. Some people like Walnut in Shadyside - but it's a mix of chains and quirk. If you do the main museum in Oakland, roam around that area too, there's some quirky shopping hidden among the college kids.

If I think of anything else fun, I'll pop back in.
posted by librarianamy at 12:22 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm sure others will tell you all you need to know, but I wanted to mention that Pamela's in Shadyside (and Squirrel Hill, and a few other locations) is the best breakfast restaurant I've ever visited, bar none. You also might like the Church Brew Works in Bloomfield.

After you visit Jerry's, go up to Gullifty's for dessert. You'll thank me later.

The Chihuly exhibit at Phipps might be worth your time, if you're into Chihuly. The nearby Carnegie Museum of Art is not bad, but if you're into contemporary stuff you can probably skip it in favor of the Warhol and Mattress Factory. It's a shame you missed the Carnegie International by a few months.

Pittsburgh has virtually no public transportation, so plan to drive everywhere (and plan to get lost on the way, but it's not too bad).
posted by arco at 12:28 PM on January 17, 2008

Best answer: TRAFFIC WARNING: Massive delays going from Downtown to Oakland this weekend that may make you consider the bus. Both Forbes Avenue and Boulevard of the Allies will be closed this weekend going into Oakland. More information here or here.

Awaiting where you are staying to fully analyze the transit question, but here's other info.

2. Fuel and Fuddle in Oakland has about 80 or so types of beer, but Penn Brewery and Church Brew Works make their own stuff.

3. Some amazing events are happening at Pittsburgh Museums. Dinosaurs in Their Time just opened at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and is the new home of a word-class collection of complete fossils.

Next door, the Carnegie Museum of Art has more traditional art but has some modern exhibitions. Take a look at what's there and see if it's interesting. Both museums will be open this Monday due to the holiday.

The famous traveling exhibit Bodies is at the Carnegie Science Center.

If you like glass sculpture (and/or botanical gardens) check out the Chihuly glass exhibit intertwined with the collection at Phipps Conservatory in Oakland.

4. There's some neat stores in Squirrel Hill (Murray Avenue is where Jerry's is, and it's the main stretch of this neat neighborhood.) Also of note is Craig Street between Fifth and Forbes in Oakland, right near the Carnegie Art + History museums.

5. Haven't been to Jerry's in Squirrel Hill, but people also recommend Dave's Music Mine on the South Side.

Welcome to Pittsburgh! Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions.
posted by ALongDecember at 12:42 PM on January 17, 2008

The city of Pittsburgh has a twisty maze of public transportation, to match its twisty-maze-y nature. But it is certainly not "virtually no public transportation." I get by quite fine without a car. If you're going to be in Squirrel Hill, you can catch buses that go quite a few places. Sunday is a bad day for public transit in Pittsburgh, though, I admit. If you have a car, you'll generally be better off driving and finding parking.

Chaya is an excellent tiny Japanese restaurant in Squirrel Hill. Closed Sunday, though, and only open for dinner. Otherwise, if you go to Pamela's, don't try on a Sunday after 9am, because they'll probably be packed and with a line. If you want to venture downtown (which is pretty dead when it's not a workday), Christos (near 6th and Penn) is one of my favorites. People rave about Tessaro's burgers in Bloomfield, and the pierogi from St Stanislaus' in the strip are delicious (but frozen for home consumption).

If you want a beer selection, there's always Sharp Edge on S St Clair St in East Liberty. More beer than you can shake a stick at.

DINOSAURS! at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History! Everyone loves dinosaurs!

Ellsworth Ave in Shadyside also has a selection of shops and little art galleries and antique stores.
posted by that girl at 1:12 PM on January 17, 2008

1. Jerry's is totally awesome. Please go there. If you're looking for anything but vinyl, though, I'd second Dave's Music Mine, and of course, there's always Paul's.

2. There's an interesting-looking fabric/photo installation going on at the Garfield Artworks.

3. Public Transportation does, in fact, totally suck. Like Arco said, be prepared to drive and get lost. In fact, the best piece of public transportation in Pittsburgh is pretty much pointless. You should still ride it, though.

4. It has been completely renovated, but the Monroeville Mall is where Dawn of the Dead was filmed, if you're into that kind of thing.
posted by god hates math at 1:18 PM on January 17, 2008

Seconding that Jerry's is where you need to go for vinyl, and Dave's for anything else.

Brewery and Brew Works are excellent for their own brews. The Sharp Edge, however, is the best belgian beer selection around if you're into that. Pretty decent pub food too - great burgers, decent salads/pizzas. If you want to go more upscale, Eleven and Soba are both fantastic.

The Strip District is a great wander on a Saturday morning. The South Side is fun too during the day and has some neat little stores, although on weekend night it just turns into a creepy meat market bar fest.

I love the Mattress Factory and always take guests there. If you like animals, the Aviary is nearby. The Mattress Factory, aviary, and a Penn Brewery trip makes for a very nice afternoon in the North Side. But the Chihuly exhibit mentioned earlier is also really fantastic.

Transit's okay around here but you have to know your way around. Do come back and let us know where you're staying, and we can point you toward the routes you'll need to get around.
posted by Stacey at 1:56 PM on January 17, 2008

I don't know a ton about Pittsburgh, but last time I went there some friends took me to the Church Brew Works and it was pretty awesome. It's an old cathedral that was saved from demolition and turned into a brewery/restaurant. They really use the building to its full ironic advantage. (See the photos on the website.)

If you're looking for something a bit more formal (or less likely to offend any people of a religious persuasion) The Grand Concourse has excellent food and is located in a drop-dead amazing building. The crab cakes in particular are excellent. Plus you can walk from there to the Incline, which gives you a spectacular view on a clear day (which I've been told are few and far between, so take advantage if you get one).

There's parking at the Church Brew Works (it's sort of in an old industrial area anyway), but the Concourse might be harder or cost you significant money.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:06 PM on January 17, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers so far- those closures don't bode well. We are staying at:

3454 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
posted by zennoshinjou at 3:07 PM on January 17, 2008

Response by poster: Kadin- Drinking in a church is a fantastic idea by us.
posted by zennoshinjou at 3:10 PM on January 17, 2008

Response by poster: I cant resist- it will be Sacrilicious.
posted by zennoshinjou at 3:13 PM on January 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

As one from the North Hills, I'd like to put in 2 other plugs:

http://www.madmex.com/locations/oakland.shtml (The original was on McKnight Road)
posted by clarkstonian at 4:17 PM on January 17, 2008

2. Our favorite restaurant these days is Legume in Regent Square. It's BYOB. But if you're looking for great beers, try Point Brugge. (Order the mussels.)

Sorry, arco, but I'm going to recommend staying away from Gullifty's and Pamela's. I find them more popular than they deserve. Quantity over quality.

3. The Warhol and the Mattress Factory are the best and most unique art galleries we've got. I'd skip the Carnegie if you're pressed for time.

4. The Strip District. No question.

5. I second Paul's in Bloomfield.
posted by booth at 4:21 PM on January 17, 2008

I live about 1.2 hours east of pgh, so take what I'm saying lightly, but my favorite place to eat lately has been the eleven. I'm also not too fond of the bars down in the strip district, but the strip district is fairly interesting.

Also, as others have said, watch the roads carefully. There are a ton of bridges, hills, tunnels, and quick turns in pgh. My first few times there I always seemed to end up getting siphoned through that mountain somehow. Pgh is much different than the grid-style cities of the midwest.

Another thing - watch out for the bus lanes. It used to be (at least a decade ago), that the buses would drive in lanes opposite to traffic. A friend of a friend had crossed a one-way street, only looking one way for traffic, and blam.
posted by brandnew at 4:41 PM on January 17, 2008

2./4. Mallorca, on the South Side, has great Portuguese food - a tad expensive, but large portions . You can park there, and walk around the South Side, which has plenty of boutiques and quirky shopping (not to mention 300 or so bars).
posted by matkline at 4:55 PM on January 17, 2008

I've heard very good things about KaMa, a "Hong Kong Cuisine" restaurant just across the street from Jerry's. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure they don't serve beer.

I'm not sure about the parking situation near where you are staying, but its super-easy to get to Squirrel Hill from there via bus. Just hop on the 61C, 61D or 59U right on Forbes Ave at the bus stop nearest to the place you are staying. There's a bus stop (Phillips Ave) right in front of Jerry's.

Also Nth-ing the Chihuly at Phipps exhibit. Even if you don't like his wacky glass sculptures, the Conservatory has really neat vegetation, especially the orchid room, and the inside temperature will be a nice change from the annoyingly-raw-but-not-quite-winter-like weather we've been having lately in these parts. Phipps is a pretty easy walk from your part of Forbes Ave, just walk with traffic until you get to the Cathedral of Learning (giant building, you can't miss it), and then head over the bridge to the Conservatory. Alternatively, if you are a baseball fan, take a right at Pitt Law School (Bouqet Street), and then the first street on your left. You'll be walking through the former site of Forbes Field, the old home of the Pirates. There's a sign and plaque on the ground marking the spot where Bill Mazeroski's game-winning, walk-off home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series crossed the outfield wall.
posted by diggerroo at 5:22 PM on January 17, 2008

D's Six Pax and Dawgs in Regent Square has a great beer selection (decent pub food as well).

If you really want to get an inside look at this city, I recommend "Pittsburgh, the Opera" this weekend. Dance, song, video, interviews with characters- great stuff. http://www.squonkopera.com/home.php

Lawrenceville has a number of galleries and interesting shops and great restaurants.

It looks like you will be staying in Oakland so you will be on a main bus line and able to get between Sq. Hill an downtown rather easily. The 61A, 61B or 61C run that route pretty regulary (even on Sunday). Going east-west in the site is pretty easy via our transit system, going crosstown is a lot harder. Pittsburgh is also pretty walkable (top 10 in the nation), so consider that but its supposed to get cold this weekend.

Seconding Pauls CDs in Bloomfield.

Squirrel Hill is good for walking around (Little's Shoes, 10,000 villiages, Games Unlimited, S.W. Randall's Toys are few stores that may be interesting).

Strip is great for walking around in as mentioned above. Good for food shopping and some quirky stores (art, party supplies, candy).

Kaya in the strip is great food- kinda caribbean-south american inspired. East Liberty has two eithiopian restaurants- Abay and something else I cannot recall the name that opened last week.

There are usually good modern video and sound installations at the Wood Street Gallery downtown. I'm not sure whats there currently. Space Gallery, Future Tenent as well as severall others are found in the theatre district downtown (Penn/Liberty Aves).
posted by buttercup at 5:33 PM on January 17, 2008

Response by poster: thanks for all the pointers. Ill take all this info to my girlfriend. I think our schedule is looking a lot more robust now!

For anyone still reading- should we be concerned about the roads being closed? will that be a major impediment for out of towners with no knowledge of the roads or gps?
posted by zennoshinjou at 5:49 PM on January 17, 2008

Pittsburgh is quirky to drive in to begin with - just make sure you grab a good city-level street map. There are "wayfinding" signs that you can look for around town that should help: http://www.routemarkers.com/usa/Pennsylvania/Wayfinder/

and you might want to read up on the Pittsburgh Left - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pittsburgh_Left

Finally, I would not worry about the road closures too much - they are basically rerouting some things in Oakland, where you are staying, so they have good detour signs marking the other routes. It mostly affects some (but not all) of the routes between downtown and oakland.
posted by buttercup at 6:36 PM on January 17, 2008

Best answer: On the note of Pittsburgh transit, remember that Port Authority of Allegheny County is on Google Transit. Put in where you are and where you want to go and when, and Google does the rest. Port Authority is also testing an automated phone system called Let's Go! developed by Carnegie Mellon University. More info on that at my blog about transit in Pittsburgh.

Transit to Squirrel Hill is definitely doable. Note that bus service will be more scarce on Sunday, however Monday (even though its a holiday) has full weekday bus service. On Forbes Avenue, 61C, 61D*, 61F* and 59U will take you directly to Jerry's Records (Murray and Phillips). 61A, 61B, and 69A* will take you to Forbes and Murray, which is .4 miles away from Jerry's Records on a safe business street. Do not take 67 buses, they do not enter Squirrel Hill. Note that I added a * when that route does not run on Sundays. I'd recommend looking at Google Transit (and the weather!) and evaluating whether taking the bus is worth it to you, street parking and paid lot parking is available in Squirrel Hill also.

All of these buses also go to the Carnegie Museums "Forbes and Craig" stop, which are a (I think walkable) 0.7 miles away. The fare is $2 (exact cash/change only), and unfortunately Pittsburgh does not have multi-use passes shorter than a week. Remember that your returning bus will drop you off on Fifth Avenue. "Fifth and Atwood (Childrens Hospital)" would probably be the best stop near your hotel.

Transit to South Side, the Strip, and Bloomfield (Church Brew Works) is a bit trickier, since the only route (54C) has a pretty sparse Sunday schedule, with headways of 40+ minutes. If you'll have a car anyway, I'd recommend using it for those trips.

I understand if this is very intimidating. But pretty much my suggestion is to take a look at the schedules for Squirrel Hill and see whether you'd like to try it out. Again, let me know if you have any questions. Hope you enjoy your stay in Oakland!
posted by ALongDecember at 7:08 PM on January 17, 2008

Best answer: I don't have much to add to these good suggestions. One guidebook that I've found useful, as a guide to the quirkier side of town, is published by Moon (article here; Amazon here).

If you want to do a couple of things here, though, that you truly cannot do anywhere else, and you have a high tolerance for weirdness, then let me recommend:

1. The so-called "Bayernhof Museum." Hard to get to by public transportation. Built in the 1980s, this pseudo-Bavarian-style hunting lodge contains a large collection of automatic-playing musical instruments (organs, even violins, etc.), but is mostly notable for being a monument to its builder's surpassing weirdness. Is there an indoor waterfall? Yes. Is there an artificial cave, accessible via hidden doorway? Oh, hell yes. Um, really words fail me when I try to capture this place.

2. St. Anthony's chapel. Supposedly the location of the greatest number of holy relics outside the Vatican. I have no religious interest in this place, but it's an interesting nonetheless. Washington Post article here.

And no, Jerry's is the best for vinyl.

Enjoy your visit! I adore this city so much that I settled here even though I was born and raised in Washington, D.C. (sadly, the movement is usually in the opposite direction).
posted by chinston at 8:00 PM on January 17, 2008

Chaya is an excellent tiny Japanese restaurant in Squirrel Hill.

Chaya is fantastic. If you like sushi, make a point to go there. It's BYOB, and there's a wine store and a number of places to get six packs on Murray Ave. -- Kazansky's deli has a good selection.

I say skip Pamela's. There's going to be a line and it's not worth it.

People rave about Tessaro's burgers in Bloomfield

They're good, but my recommendation for pub food is the Murray Avenue Grill in Squirrel Hill. Really good burgers, good atmosphere, and always something good on tap.

Phipps conservatory is great.

As mentioned, Craig St. near Forbes has some cool stuff -- Kiva Han is a nice coffee shop, Caliban Bookstore and Desolation Row CDs, LuLu's Noodles, and Eat Unique is a good sandwich shop.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:05 PM on January 17, 2008

I'd agree that Pamela's is overrated. Where you can actually get a really fantastic breakfast/brunch around here, if you don't mind waiting a bit for a table on weekends, is Coco Cafe in Lawrenceville, at 3811 Butler St. Not really an easy bus ride from Oakland unless there's a route I don't know about, but if you're willing to drive a bit for a good brunch the food's more interesting and varied and better than Pamela's, in a nice little restaurant where as a bonus you can buy some neat local artwork.
posted by Stacey at 9:22 AM on January 18, 2008

Ah, Lawrenceville, my new favorite neighborhood.

To get to Coca Cafe from Oakland, catch a 54C bus (there are two types - get the "Penn & Main" version) in front of the Carnegie Museum at Forbes and Craig Street. You'll get off at Penn and 40th and walk a couple blocks down the hill to Butler Street.

Piccolo Forno is a very nice Italian restaurant just a couple doors down from there, and there are some interesting little shops along the next couple blocks. Check out Divertido. Your lady friends are likely to enjoy Pavement and Sugar.

(I know the people who own each of these places, so I'm not unbiased in my opinion of them.)
posted by booth at 7:50 PM on January 18, 2008

Just wanted to correct the poster above, the 54C does not stop at Forbes and Craig due to the fact it makes a left turn on to Craig St. The closest northbound stops near the museum for the 54C are Forbes Ave opposite Bellefield or Craig and Winthrop.

Sorry, didn't mean to snark.
posted by ALongDecember at 7:46 PM on January 19, 2008

ALongDecember is right. The few times I've caught that bus I've caught it on Craig Street. Check the bus stop signs for your bus number.
posted by booth at 7:27 AM on January 23, 2008

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