What Our Neighborhoods Do Best
The perfect neighborhood for every Pittsburgher.
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Photo by Dave DiCello
Honestly, calling Pittsburgh a “City of Neighborhoods” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Picking a corner of the city to hang your hat can lead to some different lifestyles, from the constant beat of East Carson Street to the cultural wonders of Oakland to the tranquil calm of Brookline. Fortunately, we found a guide. The folks at PittsburghCityLiving.com, in conjunction with the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, polled experts and residents on the unique strengths and characteristics of every local neighborhood. We combed through their data and picked out an ideal home base for 20 lifestyles — so you should be able to find your perfect neighborhood match. We also asked Rick Sebak about each ’hood’s hidden wonders. Whether you’re looking for a new home or are simply curious about what the city and its suburbs have to offer, it’s time to explore.
The Perfect Neighborhood for the New and Modern
On a warm summer evening, downtown is chock-a-block with people. Streams of baseball fans flow toward PNC Park, creeks of hipsters soak into galleries, and rivers of ticketholders drift in to catch Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Pittsburgh Public Theater performances. All around them, steel skyscrapers and antique brick office buildings punctuate the skyline. The asphalt vibrates with foot-traffic, Port Authority buses and even the T whooshing below.
The Cultural District has transformed downtown — from a mash of office buildings and forgotten shops to something of a mecca for arts and culture. Instead of “adult bookshops,” visitors find Awesome Books, Go Pretzel and Pittsburgh Popcorn Co. When students and office workers converge each morning, they pass sculptures, murals and billboards for upcoming shows.
Meanwhile, a refurbished Market Square and Point Park University’s brand-new Academic Village offer denizens more open space and fresh air than they could’ve ever imagined. With the completion of the North Shore Connector, partitions and orange tape were stripped away, revealing a sparkling, new Golden Triangle. Our city has come a long way in the past few decades, and nowhere is that progress more evident than right in the middle of it all.
Horne’s Department Store is no longer the tenant of the seven-story building at the corner of Penn and Stanwix. Highmark occupies much of it today, but stately old brass plaques drop clues that this was once a classy retail emporium. Founded by Joseph Horne in 1849, Pittsburgh’s first downtown department store stuck around until 1994, when Lazarus replaced Horne’s. And the store’s logo (two intertwined horns) is still embedded in the sidewalk near several entrances.
The Perfect Neighborhood for Constant Variety
In what other neighborhood could you find the nation’s most scenic baseball stadium and the Mattress Factory, with its maze of installation art? Where else do you stumble into an underground jazz club and paddle a rented kayak around a manmade pond? You could walk the back streets for hours, take in the pastel-colored row houses and think, I’ve seen the North Side. I know what it’s all about — and then you turn a corner and spot the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. Plus The National Aviary. And The Andy Warhol Museum.
Somewhere near East Ohio Street, you just throw up your hands and say, “I give up. What is the North Side?”
Well, it’s variety. Every block and alleyway yields something different and new. In a way, the North Side is Pittsburgh at its most open — residents make of it what they will. Avant-garde café? Urban garden? The still-new Rivers Casino, instantly a magnet nightlife destination for the region? An enormous hospital complex (with helipad)? The North Side has everything. Whether it’s honoring past wars (Mexican War Streets) or paying homage to its earliest immigrants (Deutschtown), the area is a wild amalgam of people and expressions. And beyond the noise of the neighborhood, beneath the cacophony of the stadiums, the riverfront is to die for.
Steve’s New York Hot Dogs on Federal Street is always busy. “There’s never really a lull most days,” says Fanny Kostos, who has run this place with her sister, Irene Karavolos, since 2000 (they named the shop after their late father, Steve). The original recipe for the chili (circa 1963) came with the building – it’s finely ground beef with lots of spices. Order the chili atop an “Everything” dog (only $1!).
The Perfect Neighborhood for Living Close to Everything
When you walk into the Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. (aka Penn Mac), be sure to ask the deli clerk for a cheese sample. Pick something good. She’ll cut you a slice, call you “dearheart,” and deliver a short dissertation on the cheese’s merits.
That’s life in the Strip District — walkable, personable and brimming with expertise. Park your car once, and you can find a butcher, a baker, a coffee brewer and a cigar aficionado without breaking a sweat. Continue your stroll, and in no time, you’ll encounter the sea-scented world of Wholey’s Fish Market. A little farther, you can get fresh tofu at Lotus Food Market. Wait a while to catch a concert at Altar Bar, all without having to move your car.
Between Bloomfield and downtown, the Strip sprawls like the seaport of a bygone age, when groceries were purchased in markets and biscotti was baked fresh. When the Strip District’s population exploded throughout the last decade, new residents found themselves close to the river and the Cultural District, and a stone’s throw from the “new” Lawrenceville. But the wisest newcomers know that they’re not just close to the action; they’re right in the middle of it.
If you find Lucy Sheets on Penn Avenue outside the old No. 7 Engine Co., you may fall in love with her and her sandwiches. Called “banh mi,” these Vietnamese-style hoagies — cooked fresh daily from 8 a.m. ’til 2:30 p.m. — include cilantro, jalapeños, pickled cauliflower, carrots, onions, grilled chicken and some secret ingredients. One of the best lunches in town!
The Perfect Neighborhood for the Avid Cyclist
The Eliza Furnace Trail is a plucky little bike path. Flat, straight and smoothly paved, the trail begins at the foot of Oakland and continues, uninterrupted, all the way to downtown. Not only is the route safe and fast, but it also ducks under the Birmingham Bridge and runs parallel to several important roads, including I-376. And every day, in every kind of weather, cyclists ride the full length and back.
While Uptown has struggled for several years, the trail continues to draw thousands of commuters every season. And because Uptown is the link between Oakland and downtown — plus Pitt and Duquesne — this long, narrow neighborhood is often filled with bicycle commuters. Forbes and Fifth avenues draw all kinds of traffic, and although there’s no ascribed bike lane, cyclists routinely travel this corridor, from home to work to school and back.
Since most people drive or bus through Uptown, only cyclists get a real sense of the neighborhood’s charms. Lounges and pizzerias abound on Forbes Avenue, and little shops cluster around UPMC Mercy and Duquesne’s campus. And when big events occur downtown, traffic is atrocious. Taking their shortcut through Uptown, it’s the cyclists who reach their doorsteps first.
Gist Street, only five blocks long, connects the Boulevard of the Allies to Fifth Avenue. It’s named after Christopher Gist, an explorer, surveyor and guide from North Carolina who passed through this area several times in the 1750s. Gist returned to western Pennsylvania with General Braddock in 1755 during the General’s disastrous attempt to oust the French from the area. Sadly, Braddock earned himself a big long avenue while Gist just gets a short cross-street.