The Escape Artist
It’s a Steel
From art to food, Pittsburgh proves its mettle.
A trip to the rust belt may not be first on your wish list for weekend getaways, but there are plenty of reasons to pay a visit. Over the years, Pittsburgh, the city formed by Carnegie Steel, has seen massive growth in education, health care, technology and financial services that have boosted the economy since the industry collapsed in the 1980s. The place has more bridges than Venice (think biking, running and river walks), a surfeit of art (more than 250 museums, galleries and theaters) and amazing food (beyond French-fry stuffed sandwiches). Indeed, the “City of Steel” sports a tantalizing shine.
Base yourself at the Fairmont Pittsburgh, located in the hubbub of downtown known as the “golden triangle.” The hotel’s plush rooms sport flat-screen TVs, media panels for all your gadgets and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking either Downtown or the Allegheny River. There’s also a top-notch restaurant, Habitat, which is focused, naturally, on local produce. And, like its Boston counterpart, the hotel even has a dog in the lobby who can join you on a run (her name is Edie).
Pittsburgh is a city with highly unusual topography, possessing three rivers and an in-city mountain. To get your bearings, take a morning ride up the Duquesne Incline in a funicular dating back to 1877. The tram follows the tracks of what used to be a coal hoist up Mount Washington and leads to an observation deck 400 feet above the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers. Notice the butter-yellow bridges and the riverfront buildings along Fort Pitt Boulevard, built after the Great Fire of 1845. A triangle of skyscrapers includes the “Glass Palace,” a spired complex of glass towers designed by architect Philip Johnson.
Next, check out Pittsburgh’s art scene, arguably one of the finest in the country thanks, in part, to steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, whose largess spawned the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center and the Andy Warhol Museum, an impressive shrine to the Pittsburgh native’s life and art. The Carnegie Museum of Art, considered the first museum of modern art in the country, is now exhibiting a show of contemporary crafts, but will debut Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs, 1851–1939 on Oct. 13.
Ketchup aficionados won’t want to miss the Senator John Heinz History Center, a standout museum that devotes a whole section to the condiment. Other options for kids and adults include an exhibit on robots, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (set in Pittsburgh) and the city’s glassmaking traditions. For more offbeat art, head to the Mattress Factory. Sept. 7 marks the opening of Feminism and… which showcases women artists’ take on the subject.
As a food town, Pittsburgh shows off its immigrant history (drawing from Italian, Polish and German influence, to name a few), and from food trucks to fancy restaurants, you won’t go hungry. For sheer fun, head to the Strip District, once the center of Pittsburgh’s 19th-century iron industry and now home to myriad wholesale and retail produce stalls, ethnic markets, restaurants and coffee shops. The famous Primanti Bros. serves their Italian bread sandwich stuffed with tomatoes, coleslaw, your deli meat of choice and, yes, French fries. The Church Brew Works offers divine suds and grub in a historic church, with the steel and copper beer tanks set on the altar. Some of the city’s best pierogi come from Pierogies Plus. They make their dumplings from scratch and fill them with everything from spuds to apricots.
For dinner, don’t miss Meat & Potatoes in the Theater District. It’s a carnivore’s paradise—mac ’n’ cheese with chorizo and a “Salty Pig” flatbread with sopressata, pancetta and coppa secca—but the menu also offers soft shell crab tacos and Korean BBQ salmon. Later, savor a nightcap and live entertainment at Backstage Bar, which serves creative cocktails, wines by the glass and casual nibbles. More daring, perhaps, is Papa J’s Centro, a supposedly haunted ex-brothel, where you can nurse a “Naughty School Girl” (raspberry and blueberry vodkas, pomegranate liqueur, cranberry juice and ginger ale) in one of the many cozy little rooms.
Given all this, it’s obvious that the city of steel shows spark.
•JetBlue offers daily, direct flights to
•The Duquesne Incline opens at 5:30 am,
so you can catch the sunrise from on high.
Fairmont Pittsburgh | 510 Market St., Pittsburgh | (412-773-8800) | fairmont.com
The Duquesne Incline | 1197 West Carson St., Pittsburgh | (412-381-1665) | duquesneincline.org
Andy Warhol Museum | 117 Sandusky St., Pittsburgh | (412-237-8300) | warhol.org
Senator John Heinz History Center | 1212 Smallman St., Pittsburgh | (412-454-6000) | heinzhistorycenter.org
The Mattress Factory | 500 Sampsonia Way, Pittsburgh | mattress.org
Primanti Bros. | multiple locations | primantibros.com
The Church Brew Works | 3525 Liberty Ave. Pittsburgh | (412-688-8200) | churchbrew.com
Pierogies Plus | 342 Island Ave., Pittsburgh | (412-331-2224) | pierogiesplus.com
Meat & Potatoes | 649 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh | (412-325-7007) | meatandpotatoespgh.com
Backstage Bar at Theater Square | 655 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh | (412-325-6769) | trustarts.org
Papa J’s Centro | 212 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh | (412-391-7272) | papajs.com