Best of the 'Burgh 2012
Our editors pick the best of the best in Pittsburgh.
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Best Bar for Indoor Mayhem:
Some people don’t want to grow up — and thanks to Belvedere’s, they don’t have to. This bar and venue feels like a gigantic rec room, where visitors can rollerskate, play table tennis and occasionally “pudding wrestle” (although not on the same nights). Plus, there’s the recurring ’80s Night, a fixture of Lawrenceville nightlife and one of the most infectious local dance parties. Like a punk-rock fantasyland, Belvedere’s is exactly the right combination of zany and cool, and somehow nobody gets seriously injured. There are lots of nifty spots along the Butler Street corridor, but, for sheer moxie, Belvedere’s beats ’em all.
4016 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/687-2555, belvederesultradive.com
Best Rentable Performance Space:
Grey Box Theatre
Space can be a real bugbear for performers — particularly those looking for well-equipped venues on a budget. Lawrenceville’s Grey Box Theatre offers a solution: a versatile, 150-seat performance space that is a stone’s throw from downtown. Greybox has played host to theater, dance, music — even banquets. All the requisite support facilities are available, including dressing rooms, reception area and back-of-house kitchenette. Another plus: The light and sound systems are state-of-the-art. Grey Box also features broad storefront windows, affording passersby a glimpse of local artists’ masterworks. — N.L.
3595 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/586-7744, greyboxtheatre.com
Best Upscale Jazz Club:
James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy
Every brick-and-mortar city needs a basement jazz club. And when the old James Street Tavern reopened as a “gastropub” and “speakeasy,” the North Side haunt turned into a jazz club for the 21st century. In the underground music hall, you’ll find hordes of jazz fans sipping cocktails and applauding after every solo. There are a growing number of places to hear jazz in Pittsburgh, but an updated kitchen, renovated interior, local musicians and elegant crowd make James Street the top refined club in the city. Welcome back, fellas. — R.I.
422 Foreland St., North Side; 412/904-3335, jamesstreetgastropub.com
Best Way to Experience the Red Carpet Without All the Drama:
Pittsburgh Film Office's "Highmark Presents Lights! Glamour! Action!" Event
The envelope, please: This award goes to the annual gala to support the Pittsburgh Film Office. On Oscar Night, you can sashay down a red carpet right here in the ’Burgh to make a grand entrance to this event, which just celebrated its 12th anniversary. Enjoy a champagne reception with local VIPs and watch the Academy Awards in Hollywood via a live telecast. Gourmet food stations, fashion presentations, a silent auction and more add pizzazz to the evening. The PFO is a nonprofit economic-development agency that markets Southwestern Pennsylvania to the film industry. Next year’s event will be Sun., Feb. 24. — M.M.
Best Chinese Take-In:
Butler, Pa., has just been ranked seventh on Smithsonian Magazine’s “20 Best Small Towns in America” survey. On the heels of that accolade, we’re pleased to bestow another “Best”: Butler’s Maridon Museum earns “Best Chinese Take-in.” This cool little museum, which opened in 2004, is the only Asian-focused museum coupled with Meissen porcelain. The collection — featuring jade, ivory, textiles, paintings and other treasures—was formed by the late Mary Hulton Phillips, a local philanthropist who went on to build the museum as a legacy for her hometown. — M.M.
322 N. McKean St., Butler; 724/282-0123, maridon.org
Best Place to Roll the Dice:
It goes without saying that there’s plenty to do at Rivers Casino. Dining, nightlife, music, events, slots, table games — you’ll never lack for great ways to spend the night at the North Shore’s go-to entertainment destination. But if you really want a true casino experience, step up to the craps tables. Holding the dice in your hand and hurling them down the table, past a line of cheering people eagerly tossing chips — now that’s a good time. Ask somebody how to play beforehand — but don’t worry about the finer points; even rookie rollers can have a great time. The serious gamblers will point out that craps is the game with the smallest house edge of them all, which means you’ve got the best chance of going home ahead here. But win or lose, it’s worth it just to watch the dice tumble away and hold your breath while they roll to a stop. — S.C.
777 Casino Drive, North Shore; 412/231-7777, theriverscasino.com
Best (and Coolest) Local Strings Players:
Yo-Yo Ma, you have met your match. Whether plucking or sawing, the Cello Fury quartet can seriously rock out. The band showcases the talents of three classically trained cellists (Simon Cummings, Ben Muñoz and Nicole Myers) and a single percussionist (Dave Throckmorton). Trim and longhaired, they play with head-bobbing gusto — and their harmonies form the soundtrack to your most feverish dreams. What’s most remarkable is that they have no “normal” concerts; each public performance is completely different. They collaborate with dance groups or appear in unlikely locations like Fallingwater — they’ve even played during halftime at a Steelers-Ravens game. Cello Fury appeals to everyone. — R.I.
Best Radical Addition to the Local Lit Scene:
Big Idea! Bookstore
In an age where most local bookstores are struggling to make ends meet, at least one has forsaken profit altogether. The Big Idea! Bookstore is a cooperative venture billing itself as a “friendly neighborhood radical bookstore,” grounded in a “directly democratic, anarchist model.” It stocks hard-to-find titles promoting a kinder, gentler, more class- and gender-conscious world. Needless to say, this has led to some interesting business decisions. Memberships are priced on a sliding scale based on customers’ incomes, for example, and Big Idea! makes space available for performances and other events free of charge. — N.L.
4812 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield; 412/687-4323, thebigideapgh.org
Best Way to See a Snapshot of Pittsburgh’s Past During the Past Year:
“Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story” Exhibit
Legendary photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris (1908-1998) captured Pittsburgh and African-American life here one shot at a time. During his career with The Pittsburgh Courier, as well as other publications, Harris left an amazing legacy of some 80,000 negatives. Through the efforts of Carnegie Museum of Art during the past decade, a substantial portion of his legacy was brought into focus. That culminated in a multimedia show, “Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story,” which celebrated his vision, life and times. It also put Pittsburgh in the international spotlight, with coverage in such media as Time magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, National Public Radio and London’s Daily Mail newspaper. Although the show closed in April, you can still see Harris’ work by visiting teenie.cmoa.org. — M.M.
Carnegie Museum of Art, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland; 412/622-3131, cmoa.org
Best ’Burgh-Born Viral Sensation:
We’ve been blindsided by the whole thing,” says Chris Preksta, co-creator of “Pittsburgh Dad,” about the online sitcom’s meteoric popularity. Preksta and Curt Wootton, who stars as the Dad himself, write the script for each show and post new episodes on their YouTube channel Tuesday mornings. Each short episode truly is classic Pittsburgh; the Stillers, Klondikes — and even Sally Wiggin — receive mentions. Fans from all over the world, including those in Japan, Brazil, England and “every corner of the globe” (as Preksta says), are watching in droves — causing the duo to rack up more than five million views since October 2011. Preksta says their favorite comments come from troops stationed all over the world, who love getting a weekly taste of their beloved hometown. — J.W.
Best Addition to Pittsburgh’s Comedy Universe:
Steel City Improv Theater
Baltimore, Philly, Washington, Boston, New York, Chicago, even Buffalo — plenty of neighboring cities have well-established homes for improv comedy. And until early 2011, Pittsburgh could not join them on that list; while we had talented performers, there wasn’t a go-to space hosting off-the-cuff hilarity. Fortunately, Steel City Improv Theater (SCIT) showed up to expand our horizons. In an intimate, tucked-away North Side space, SCIT presents between one and three shows every Friday and Saturday night, along with budget funny in the form of its weekly Totally Free Mondays showcase. SCIT also offers classes for improvisers-to-be. If you’ve only ever seen improv at Chicago’s Second City — or if you’ve never seen live improv before ... period — head to the North Side, where the group is ready to introduce you to some homegrown talent. — S.C.
808 Tripoli St., North Side; 412/322-1000, steelcityimprov.com
Best Place for a Horror-able Weekend:
It will be a Theater of Blood (in more ways than one) come September at Riverside Drive-in. Theater of Blood, with Vincent Price, is one of eight creepy and campy flicks — Horror House, Countess Dracula, The Death Wheelers and more — that will be screening at this year’s Monster-Rama on Fri., Sept. 7, and Sat., Sept. 8. Grab a ghoul-friend, or pack a car with your most fiendish family members, and sign on for the graveyard shift in front of the big screen at this cool old drive-in. Want to stay overnight? Camping options are available, too. — M.M.
Route 66, North Vandergrift, Armstrong County; 724/568-1250, riversidedrivein.com