Our 50 Years: Rules for Dating in Pittsburgh in 1984

We took a serious look at romance. But with advice ranging from making sure restaurants have seductive lighting to the benefits of owning your own mansion, was it really meant to be serious?

The opening salvo in a story called “Romance in Pittsburgh” is somewhat discouraging. In evaluating the potential for love and enchantment near the three rivers, writer Sally Dewald Siegel quickly establishes that, “Pittsburgh is not a romantic place — ‘Flashdance’ notwithstanding.” (We were really proud of “Flashdance” back then.)

The piece, a cover feature from February 1984, is meant as an aide to the poor lovers of the Steel City, who pine for magical evenings but find them difficult to locate. “If you live in Pittsburgh and cannot fly off frequently for romantic weekends, you will have to make the most of what you have,” Siegel writes. But there’s hope! “You may be surprised to find that Pittsburgh has more to offer the romantic than you realize.”

Having read the story several times, I cannot determine whether or not Siegel, who died in 2002, was being tongue-in-cheek. I think she was. I can’t imagine that some of the sentences in this feature are utterly serious. Of restaurants: “There should be fresh flowers — if not fresh, then none at all. Service should be sensitive and subdued.” That can’t be serious advice.

Can it?

The rules of romantic dining hardly stopped there; in fact, they were exhaustively catalogued. “To be romantic, a restaurant must have high drama or a sense of intimacy. Lighting should be discreet and seductive, music, live or otherwise, soft.” (No one tell the romantics of 1984 that eventually we’re going to invent something called Tequila Cowboy, OK?)

Few of the recommended restaurants persist today — although, obviously, Le Mont is endorsed. As is the Terrace Room of the William Penn, after Siegel states, “Going out for breakfast offers tremendous romantic possibilities.”

Further recommendations detail the sorts of shops — bookstores, galleries and (of course) flower shops — one should browse on a date. This is how I learned that the West End was once home to a thrift store called “West Side Store-Y,” quite possibly the best name for a place in the history of both names and places.

Siegel also has some very decisive thoughts on date-night transportation: “Well engineered cars that conserve gasoline are not romantic. Limousines, vintage Mustangs and all Cadillacs but the Cimmeron [sic] are romantic. The Rolls Royce is the most romantic car. Trains are more romantic than planes, but it’s hard to say Amtrak and live the fantasy.”

Please keep these facts in mind when ordering your next Lyft.

Of course, there is one bit of advice which rings true across eras and in spite of any modern cynicism: Given the opportunity, you should probably be fabulously wealthy. It’ll make things easier for you. “Pittsburgh has many stately mansions. Should you be fortunate enough to be the lord or lady of one, use it.”

See, that confirms it: This cannot be an utterly earnest piece of writing. I know 1984 was a bit different, but I’m pretty sure we weren’t awash in lords and ladies.

And yet … this is just plain good advice:

“If your companion suggests a trip to the zoo, resist. Perhaps the movies are responsible for nurturing the idea that zoos are romantic. For filmmaking purposes they may be, but the non-celluloid reality is lots of children, all of whom appear to be not so much interested as distracted.”

Yeah, I still can’t get a read on this story.

Categories: From the Magazine, Then/Now