19 Ways Pittsburgh Earned the “Quirky” Label
Stand proud, Pittsburgh: Our brand of quirky is a good thing — positive, uplifting, fun, colorful, imaginative.
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Well, of course, I first took this list to 20, a nice round number, but that would have been normal and not at all quirky. And Pittsburgh ... is quirky.
Now, relax. Yes, Travel+Leisure Magazine named us one of the 20 most quirky cities in America, and we’d probably like to reserve the word quirky for cities such as Portland, San Francisco and, well, all of Florida. But as a city that has in recent years grown to feel confident in its identity, we’ve forged our own brand of quirky. It’s positive, uplifting, fun, colorful, imaginative. Pittsburgh quirky. It’s a good thing.
PHOTO BY DEBORAH HOSKING
1. We yarn-bombed a bridge.
It’s old news, but, you guys, we YARN-BOMBED AN ENTIRE BRIDGE. They may be yarn-bombing bikes, street lights and mailboxes in other cities, but in Pittsburgh, we say, “Knit big or go home,” and we cover a huge bridge in beautiful, colorful yarn. That’s quirky.
2. Give me a home, where the dinosaurs roam.
While other cities confine their prehistoric friends to their natural history museums, in Pittsburgh, we let them roam wild and free. From that rascal Creation Rex holding court at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh to Dippy the diplodocus in Oakland, to Ketchupasaurus and friends at PPG Place and Dollar Bank’s pink triceratops Dolly in East Liberty, you don’t have to go very far in Pittsburgh to come face to face with prehistory. Just don’t anger them. They’re very teethy. And quirky.
Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait, 1986, © AWF
3. We’re watching Andy, 24/7.
Andy Warhol was the epitome of quirky, and the museum dedicated to his life and work prides itself with continuing that quirky legacy. But perhaps quirkiest of all, the 24/7 webcam that is trained on Warhol’s grave, allowing any voyeur to peek in at any time to see what quirky tchotchkes have been left behind in his memory. I don’t recommend peeking in at night. It’s positively spooky.
4. Topping our healthy salads with fries.
At this point, putting fries on our sandwiches isn’t news. The rest of the nation knows we do it, and with Primanti Bros.’ planned national expansion, the country is going to get a taste of it as well. But fries on SALAD, a health food?! And not even a special salad called “fried salad” or “heart-attack salad.” In many local establishments, ordering a regular chicken salad or steak salad means it will arrive at your table topped high with hot French fries, onto which you will pour cold dressing. Because why not? Life’s short; stay quirky.
PHOTO BY DAVE DICELLO
5. The Gulf Tower has something to say.
The Gulf Tower’s lights aren’t just there to decorate the iconic historical landmark. Lately, Pittsburgh has latched onto them as a means of visually communicating information. Since it was revamped, the LED display has been informing gazers of the weather forecast, wind speed, precipitation, humidity, a Penguins goal, a Pirates home run and even our Instagram mood. We’ve learned to decipher this new language of light. Like hieroglyphics, only quirkier.
PHOTO VIA RICK SEBAK'S FACEBOOK PAGE
6. The quirkiest documentarian of them all.
A Google search of “quirky Pittsburgh” will provide several results pointing to the one and only … Rick Sebak. In fact, his devotion to showcasing Pittsburgh’s oddities had the Associated Press labeling him as a “quirky documentarian.” While other public broadcasting documentarians are covering heavier topics, he keeps his programs upbeat yet informative. He’s covered everything from our hot dogs to our ice cream shops, to things that just aren’t there anymore. There’s even one program called, “Flying Off the Bridge to Nowhere!” Quirky. Or you can use Sebak’s own word … funky.
7. A poet of the people.
Pittsburgh is chock-full of quirky people, such as musician and poet Billie Nardozzi, who pays $50 a pop to have his poetry printed in the classified section of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has a quirky habit of using quotation marks to indicate emphasis, and his black rocker hair and funky feathered earrings sure give him a quirky look. Though his poetry might not run as deep as Frost’s or Dickinson’s waters, its simple language and commitment to the rhyme easily roll off the tongue. From his poem “Pierogies”: On a "one to ten scale"/They get an "eleven"!/And you'll be eating them/24/7!
"Danaë" WORK BY JAMES TURRELL
8. A Mattress Factory that makes zero mattresses.
How about a whole museum dedicated to quirk? At least that’s the vibe the Mattress Factory museum gives off, with its trippy, colorful and eclectic selection of exhibits. You won’t find mattresses here, as the spot’s quirky name might lead you to believe. Guests attend the museum’s annual fundraiser in quirky (normally themed) attire, and Sampsonia Way, the North Side street on which it sits, is one of the quirkiest streets in the city. That’s a whole lotta quirk.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY WAYNO
9. Zombie Culture. I mean … BRAINZZZZZ.
We’re a city that proudly can boast that we liked zombies before zombies were cool, thank you very much, “Walking Dead.” We’ve been riding the slow zombie train to ZombieTown for decades, ever since George Romero filmed his cult classic “Dawn of the Dead” in Monroeville Mall. We’re a city with zombie walks, a Zombie Fest, a haunted interactive zombie paintball ride, a zombie corn maze and a zombie mud run all part of our zombie culture. If the zombie uprising starts here, we will tailgate the heck out of it. Because we’re quirky like that.
10. We’ve somehow managed to make banjos cool.
If you’d asked me a decade ago to list the uncoolest instruments one might learn to play, the banjo easily would have made my list, along with the accordion, tuba, triangle and didgeridoo. I mean, come on. BANJOS. Plucky, little, round guitars. They haven’t been cool since square dancing was cool, and honestly, was square dancing ever cool? Well, forget everything you’ve ever thought about banjos because Pittsburgh Banjo Club’s Banjo Night at the Elk’s Lodge is one of the coolest weekly events in the city. Oldsters, local celebs, hipsters, professionals, college students and more, all enjoying a raucous good time listening to ... banjos. Banjos. Cool? That’s just quirky.