The Near East
There’s a reason all of the out-of-town trend pieces praising Pittsburgh’s 21st-century rebirth seem to focus on these neighborhoods. This thriving part of the city is where design, the arts, restaurant culture and high-end shopping are integrated into Pittsburgh’s working-class bones. The character of these communities has remained fundamentally unchanged even as commerce and culture have experienced a time of unprecedented growth.
photos by kristi jan Hoover
Named for the immigrants who once filled the row houses of this hillside community, the close-knit neighborhood surrounding the Immaculate Heart of Mary church has re-emerged as a home to young professionals and families seeking proximity to Downtown and the blossoming neighborhoods of the East End.
The closest piece of booming Lawrenceville to Downtown has steadily added dining and cultural destinations for more than a decade. The neighborhood’s industrial past still is evident in the riverfront warehouses separating the residential and commercial portion of the neighborhood from the Allegheny River.
Most often identified with the thriving heart of Butler Street, Central Lawrenceville’s large footprint extends away from the river to encompass sprawling, historic Allegheny Cemetery as well as Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Row houses and apartments here are some of the most coveted in town.
The smallest neighborhood with Lawrenceville in its name illustrates the area’s ability to balance its new identity with its longtime status as a working-class neighborhood. Want proof? If you’re looking for dinner, you can choose between nationally lauded dining destination Cure (5336 Butler St., curepittsburgh.com) on one corner and hometown mainstay Nied’s Hotel (5348 Butler St., niedshotel.myfastsite.com) on the next.
Want to be surrounded by the amenities and destinations of the Near East but still be able to sit on your front porch and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet? Consider getting a place in Stanton Heights, an almost wholly residential neighborhood right in the heart of the Near East.
The long, thin neighborhood separating Stanton Heights from Highland Park hosts a number of small businesses along still-growing Morningside Avenue. Like its neighbors, it offers plenty of residential areas and in homes that date to the early 1900s.
Booming Highland Park is home to an ever-popular collection of restaurants on Bryant Street, the ample green space surrounding the Highland Park Reservoir and the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.
The site of concentrated and continuous redevelopment throughout the past few decades, East Liberty has been alternately praised as a model of community reinvention and criticized as an example of gentrification. Either way, there’s plenty to see, do and eat in this iconic Pittsburgh neighborhood.
The area flanking Allegheny Cemetery contains a sizable stretch of the Penn Avenue Arts District (pennavenue.org), an area rife with creative and design-focused businesses. Its sought-after location and wealth of parks also make Garfield a popular place to live.
Pittsburgh’s “Little Italy” didn’t need much reinvention — the neighborhood has been a destination for dining and shopping, as well as a thriving community — for many years. The flow of traffic (cars, bikes and pedestrians) meeting and moving along Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield continues nearly 24 hours a day.
Small and mostly residential, Friendship filled a significant vacancy with the transformation of the vacant, former Day Baum Chevrolet dealership into an ALDI supermarket. The neighborhood also is home to Pittsburgh Montessori PreK-5.
photos via pints on penn Facebook Page
Looking for an ideal summer evening in Lower Lawrenceville? Grab a table on the second-floor deck at Pints on Penn. Pair the sweet and spicy bacon skewers appetizer with a beer cocktail as the sun sets. 3523 Penn Ave, pintsonpenn.com
Spak Brothers in Garfield is best known as a pizza joint, but don’t overlook the indulgent, satisfying hoagies. Vegetarians and vegans have a great option here: the Seitan Cheese “Steak,” available with real or vegan cheese. 5107 Penn Ave., spakbrothers.com
photo by adam milliron
There’s Italian food like grandma used to make, and then there are the refined takes on the classics available at e2 in Highland Park. Start with the beans and greens; wherever you go from there will be delicious. 5904 Bryant St., e2pgh.com
Gooski’s in Polish Hill retains its status as one of Pittsburgh’s most celebrated dive bars. Dress the part and catch up with friends over cheap beer and great wings. 3117 Brereton St., 412/681-1658
The protoypical neighborhood bar, Bulldog Pub in Morningside benefits from an attentive and helpful staff for those unsure of how they’d like to wet their whistle. Beer snobs should note the higher-end European bottles in the cooler. 1818 Morningside Ave., bulldog-pub.com
Make sure you order a refreshing beer from the varied choices at Caliente Pizza & Draft House in Bloomfield; after you sample some of the spicy grub, you’ll need something crisp to wash it down. 4624 Liberty Ave., pizzadrafthouse.com
Admit it: You want your children to have cooler toys than the neighbor’s children. This goal can be achieved by browsing the thoughtful and often educational wares at Dragonfly Castle Toys in Central Lawrenceville. 4747 Butler St., facebook.com/dragonflycastle
Find the perfect gift for that cigar-loving friend at The Cigar Den in Upper Lawrenceville. Even if you’re a novice, staff will gladly point you in the right direction; if you’re looking to relax, you can puff a purchase in style right in the store. 5268 Butler St., thecigardenpgh.com
Walking around Lower Lawrenceville can make you want to upgrade your style. Your first stop: Pavement, specializing in shoes, accessories and much more. 3629 Butler St., pavementpittsburgh.com
Sure, you’ll see the lions, tigers and (polar) bears at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium in Highland Park. Make time to acquaint yourself with a less-popular creature, too — the Visayan warty pigs are particularly charming. 7340 Butler St., pittsburghzoo.org
Adventure Bingo (adventurebingo.net) at Union Pig & Chicken in East Liberty is unlike the fire-hall version of the game. Yes, there are cards and daubers, but when certain numbers are called, players are asked pointed and hilarious trivia questions for a chance at prizes. 218 N. Highland Ave., unionpgh.com
It’s not rare to catch one of your all-time favorite flicks playing at Row House Cinema in Central Lawrenceville. The single-screen cinema shows repertory favorites along weekly themes, ranging from specific directors to thematic ties. 4115 Butler St., rowhousecinema.com
Food Critic's Pick
If you’re looking for a vegan eatery, point your GPS to Apteka in Bloomfield. Owners Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski dig into their eastern European heritage while spinning the menu to a 100 percent plant-based cuisine. Nothing is lost in translation, though: Kartofle & jogurtem, for example, is a comforting dish of boiled potatoes, sauerkraut, lingonberry jam and yogurt, which is cultured in-house from nut milks. The innovative and affordable cocktail menu also is worth exploring. (4606 Penn Ave., aptekapgh.com)
— Hal B. Klein
It’s a neighborhood holiday tradition built on one of the best holiday traditions: cookies. The Joy of Cookies Cookie Tour in Lawrenceville takes place every December and has expanded from one day to four. Businesses hand out cookies (often homemade) and recipe cards so visitors can duplicate what they taste. On the Saturday of the event, a trolley traverses the neighborhood to help people get from place to place, and a Cookie Mall with a bake sale and eggnog samples from Turner Dairy is held at the Boys & Girls Club. (lvpgh.com/cookietour) — Lauren Davidson