City Guide: Bloomfield
When people talk about Bloomfield, they call it “Pittsburgh’s Little Italy.” And why shouldn’t they? There’s a sign that says as much at the foot of the Bloomfield Bridge.
Italian restaurants line Liberty Avenue. Italian flags are everywhere. A new mural sprawls across a Cedarville Street wall, depicting a smiling man and woman in traditional Italian dress. You want cannoli? Gelato? Prosciutto? Bloomfield’s got it covered.
Could there be any doubt, despite its Anglo name, that Bloomfield is the epicenter of Italian culture in Pittsburgh? Even the parking meters are striped with red, white and green.
But when people talk about Bloomfield, they also call it something else: a real neighborhood. This is a place with old brick walls, wide sidewalks, an old-fashioned barbershop and a bocce league. In winter, you can rendezvous at any number of warm pubs, and in summer, you can spend entire afternoons sipping cappuccino on the sidewalk. Bloomfield straddles Liberty Avenue, but it is also a maze of back-alleys and bikeways, strange corners and unexpected church steeples. If you want a haircut, Dan Cercone’s is a real barbershop. A real hamburger? Come to Tessaro’s.
Bloomfield has its share of Starbucks and Subways, but most of the shops are independently owned. Some are quirky, like the dollar stores, while others are respected institutions, like Boxheart Gallery.
The more time you spend in Bloomfield, the more it feels like a thriving, old-fashioned neighborhood, the kind of brick-and-slate community that has long been endangered. Life in Bloomfield is lived largely outdoors, on porches and walkways, and as afternoon wanes, clumps of friends gather outside Lot 17 and Crazy Mocha, talking and laughing and planning their evenings. They swarm into the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern to listen to amateur bands and feast on the Polish Platter.
And if you really spend time in Bloomfield, you’re gradually sewn into its patchy quilt. You find yourself renting an obscure movie from Dreaming Ant or attending a fish fry at a local church. You might dip in the public pool or see your friend’s band at Howlers Coyote Café. You spot new pals on the street, because there they are, just walking to Donatelli’s Italian Food Center for some fresh mozzarella balls.
The neighborhood also pulses with a youthful, subversive spirit. The Big Idea Bookstore is a one-stop shop for underground literature, and everywhere you look there’s a bike punk pumping her fixed-gear Schwinn through the potholes. You’ll find the gamut of urban-tribal fashion statements, from creative piercings to mythic tattoos. Every resident under 40 seems to play in a rock band, and if you listen carefully, you can usually hear one practicing in a side-street garage.
The best part of a real neighborhood is its cast of characters, the eccentric drifters that everybody seems to know. Who are they? Just stick around. You’ll find them.
BY HEATHER WALSH, LivingPittsburgh.com
Delight in culinary classics
On the stretch of Liberty Avenue running through Bloomfield, you’ll find coffee shops, Polish food, a handful of Asian restaurants (including a favorite Vietnamese place) and one of Pittsburgh’s most popular destinations for a tasty burger. Hmm…now what are we forgetting? Oh yeah, the Italian food! Yes, Italian is definitely the specialty cuisine here in Pittsburgh’s Little Italy, and there’s a plentiful selection to satisfy your cravings. If you’re looking for a friendly guide and a bit of structure in your quest for the best Italian edibles, we suggest you sign up for a Bloomfield ’Burgh Bits and Bites Tour. You’ll spend a Saturday afternoon on a two-hour guided tour of some of the neighborhood’s top picks, along with a copious sampling of classics like pizza, pasta, bruschetta, gelato and more—all while learning a bit about the local history. When registering online, use discount code “LivingPgh” at checkout, and you’ll get $10 off your tour!
Attend a big event in Little Italy
Nothing boosts Bloomfield’s Italian culture like Little Italy Days, a lively, three-day event held the last weekend of September. This lively proclamation of a neighborhood’s love of all things Italian includes a massive Bocci tournament, strolling Italian musicians, live rock and jazz bands, dancing in the streets, an Italian Mass, and Italian food—spreading up, down and around Liberty Avenue. Since there’s free parking and admission, this event won’t break the bank. Families can enjoy children’s activities, shoppers can browse the offerings of the many local vendors that line up on Liberty under red-and-white striped tents, and foodies can eat ‘til they burst. The event concludes on Sunday with the procession of a life-size statue of Madonna della Civita and Jesus, and a “Buona sera” to all.
Taste Liberty on a shoestring
We also have some recommendations for those who want to delight in Bloomfield’s ethnic flavors on their own. Both Del’s and Lombardozzi’s have all-you-can-eat lunch buffets (in the $6.95-$7.95 range), including dessert. You can also shop for some great deals at Bloomfield’s Italian grocers: Donatelli’s and Groceria Italiana. The Bloomfield Bridge Tavern specializes in Polish food, and on Fridays and Saturdays from 5-7 p.m., there’s a half-price pierogie “happy hour.” Wai Wai is a little Chinese restaurant on Liberty that serves lunch boxes ($5.95) and dinner boxes ($7.95 including egg roll) that include two different main dishes along with your choice of white or chicken-fried rice. Pair this meal-for-two with some BYOB wine, and you have a sweet, affordable date. Lastly, you simply must try the Spaghetti Ice Cream at Sugar Cane Café, and trust us: It sounds stranger than it is. It’s made of strands of homemade vanilla gelato that look like spaghetti and is topped with a pureed strawberry “sauce,” grated white chocolate that resembles Parmesan cheese and “meatballs” made of little brownies.
Clean up with a cut at a retro-cool classic barber shop
Dan Cercone’s barbershop in Bloomfield has been around for over 80 years. And although you won't be able to score a 5 cent hair cut like you could back in 1931, you can get one for 10 bucks. You can be in-and-out, but you might just want to sit and talk sports with the guys for awhile. Now if only they'd start offering 10 dollar cuts for us ladies. Learn more at LivingPittsburgh.com.
Bloomfield Bridge Tavern
4412 Liberty Ave.
Paddy Cake Bakery
4763 Liberty Ave.
Pleasure Bar and Italian
4729 Liberty Ave.
4601 Liberty Ave.
Thai Cuisine Restaurant
4627 Liberty Ave.
4730 Liberty Ave.
237 Cedarville St.
Joan’s Hallmark Shop
4748-50 Liberty Ave.
4718 Liberty Ave.
Paul’s Compact Discs
4526 Liberty Ave.