Best of the ’Burgh 2013

From vegan shakes to popup block parties to foodie classes, here are 40 of our favorite Pittsburgh things.

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Best Thinking Outside the Bot
Toby Atticus Fraley

The Jetsons loved Rosie; Will Robinson had a bot buddy on “Lost in Space.” Here in the ’Burgh, robotophile Toby Atticus Fraley has turned our attention to his own charming mechanical creations. Fraley’s Robot Repair Shop, across from Heinz Hall, engaged passersby with a public-art installation that some mistook for a real business up until its closing in May. You also may have seen robots by Fraley in other spaces and places around town, including Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and Wood Street Gallery. Speaking of space, as in downtown’s SPACE gallery, look for new work by Fraley in a show that debuts in February. — M.M.

Best Way to Get the Little Ones Dancing
“The Josh & Gab Show”

Gab Bonesso and Josh Verbanets are well-established local voices. He’s the front man for Pittsburgh-based indie band Meeting of Important People, and she’s an acclaimed performer and stand-up comic. “The Josh & Gab Show” isn’t aimed at the crowds that might turn up for a concert or comedy show at brillobox; the target audience is actually quite a bit shorter. The duo performs original songs with an anti-bullying message for youngsters at school assemblies, community events and family outings. They have a debut CD on iTunes and the duo’s website, plus a single popping up on radio nationwide — not just on children’s radio either. Tracks including “Everybody Clap Hands” and the rockin’ “Nine O’Clock Behind the Jack Rabbit” send a positive, timely message. More importantly, the tunes will get both parents and tots moving. Just try to get these songs out of your head. — S.C.

Best Alternative to Paint By Numbers
Paint Monkey

Offering a merry mix of painting, drinking and music, Paint Monkey makes for a festive night out. During a two- or three-hour session, an artist guides you through the process of creating your own masterpiece — anything from a Kandinsky to a Picasso, depending on the schedule. With as many as 35 people gathered in the vibrant studio, what begins as a painting class quickly takes on the relaxed ambience of a social mixer, complete with glasses of your favorite wine (it’s BYOB). Even Warhol would approve. — M.S.

100 43rd St., Studio 212, Lawrenceville; 412/770-4923,

Best Example of Musically Thinking Big
Microscopic Opera Co.

Andres Cladera and Erica Olden have this wild notion that opera can be cool. And not just cool, but fun and up-close — as in, ordinary folks will look forward to attending their next opera. Instead of endless Wagnerian epics, Microscopic Opera Co. specializes in “chamber operas.” Shows are inventive, intimate and only as long as a regular play. Later this year, Caldera and Olden promise their most exciting project yet: an operatic adaptation of Night of the Living Dead. No Italian libretto, no opera glasses and no $200 tickets — just a zombie apocalypse set to music. Opera devotees or not, Pittsburghers will surely demand an encore. — R.I.

Best Way to End a Weekend
Sunday Night Series at Regent Square Theater

In June, the theme was “Meant to Be Together: Legendary Screen Couples,” with such flicks as The Quiet Man. And May’s “Let’s Have Fun!” motif showcased feel-good reels including Bye Bye Birdie. It could be science fiction or silent classics and, more than likely, it’ll be surprising. After all, the Sunday Night Series at the Regent Square Theater is always a mystery until a few weeks in advance. The beloved cinema screens independent and foreign films throughout the week, but it reserves Sunday evenings for older favorites, forgotten gems, and curiosities for film buffs and casual audiences alike. Check the Pittsburgh Filmmakers website regularly and start circling Sundays on your calendar — or better yet, head for Regent Square without checking first. It’ll always be worth the trip. — S.C.

1035 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square; 412/682-4111,

Best Place for an Out-of-This-World Experience
Kecksburg VFD Old Fashion and UFO Festival

On Dec. 9, 1965, a mysterious object reportedly came from out of the sky and landed in the woods near the village of Kecksburg. Folks still debate what that object was, but the event has sparked a fun annual celebration, where you can see some “aliens.” The Kecksburg VFD Old Fashion and UFO Festival, sponsored by the local fire department, returns July 26-28. It features a Saturday-afternoon parade, with prizes awarded for best UFO entry, best alien costume and best alien pet costume. Other contests are planned, along with a car show, games, crafts and entertainment for the kids. A UFO conference is set for Sunday. — M.M.

Kecksburg, Westmoreland County; 724/423-9540,

Best Answer to Weeknight Doldrums
Concert at Stage AE

While Andrew McCutchen dazzles us during the summer and Big Ben does his thing when the weather gets cold, plenty of other talented people play year-round on the North Shore. Stage AE, situated between PNC Park and Heinz Field, has attracted beatmakers such as Bassnectar and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. For indoor shows, Stage AE is an expansive two-story nightclub. During the summer, when bands play the outdoor stage, you’re able to soak in our lovely city as music fills the warm evening air. Tuesday- and Wednesday-night concert lineups will force you to consider changing regular weeknight plans of adding to your Pinterest boards while watching “America’s Got Talent.” — M.S.

400 North Shore Drive, North Shore; 412/229-5483,

Best Performance with a Soft Touch
The Pillow Project

It’s quite the trifecta: installation art, jazz concerts and modern dance. The Pillow Project takes these disparate forms and mixes them together with mesmerizing outcomes. In the spirit of Andy Warhol’s Factory, Pillow incubates creative activity, culminating in regular performances. The company’s loft, known as The Space Upstairs, hosts all kinds of performances and events under the auspices of artistic director Pearlann Porter. — R.I.

214 N. Lexington St., Point Breeze; 412/225-9269,

Best Canine Transplant
Bulletproof Sam

Bulletproof Sam left Jacksonville, Fla., as a victim of horrific abuse. He arrived in Pittsburgh as a pooch celebrity. Sam was a former dog-fighting victim rescued by the Humane Society of the United States. His former life took a terrible and visible toll on the affectionate pit bull, but he transformed instantly into a loving, grateful pup. Sam was taken in by local pit-bull rescue and advocacy organization Hello Bully. Hello Bully turned him into a social-media darling who, at press time, boasts 8,000-plus Facebook Likes, allowing him to further spread his message. Sam appeared with Pittsburgh City Council as it declared Feb. 16 “Hello Bully Day” and popped up on the radar of dog lovers everywhere. In April, he moved from the Hello Bully halfway house into a permanent home. Fans shouldn’t worry, though, because the popular pup has been as active as ever on Facebook and Twitter. — S.C.

Most Beloved Drag Queen
Sharon Needles

RuPaul loves Sharon Needles. Lady Gaga loves Sharon Needles. Even Pittsburgh City Council loves Sharon Needles. Our city isn’t famous for its drag queens, so who would have guessed Needles would become such a star after winning “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and earning her own holiday? Fans love her unwavering confidence and bizarre sense of humor. Needles has cultivated a radical style — pallid makeup, wild wigs and ghostly expressions. Needles has stirred the fashion world with her gritty image. She may have grown up in a small Iowa town, but Pittsburghers have claimed her as their own. — R.I.

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