Quick, Head to the Other Side of Town
Why you should explore whatever corner of Allegheny County you've never visited — with help from Indiana Township's Hartwood Restaurant and Whispers Pub.
PHOTOS BY SEAN COLLIER
Our annual City Guide issue — on newsstands and online now — has for the past two years taken on a somewhat imposing task. Each summer, we charge ourselves with covering every municipality and neighborhood within Allegheny County (and a few beyond the county line, too).
What’s more, we compile things we love, things to do and insider knowledge on all of these areas. This often takes us outside the realm of our individual expertise; though I might be able to rattle off endless facts about the area where I grew up or places I’ve lived as an adult, the City Guide process usually leaves me reporting on at least a few areas I’m visiting for the first time.
To be clear: This is an awesome part of the gig. Although it might seem imposing to find things to recommend in a personally foreign part of town, it’s also quite fun — even adventurous. I hop in the car, try to convince Google Maps that I want to go to a vague area rather than a specific point — always a challenge for notoriously-unimaginative GPS systems — and wander around until I find places to share.
One thing always is revealed by these journeys: There are innumerable awesome spots all over the county, no matter which road you take or which borough you visit. Think of the process of discovery that accompanies a move to a new neighborhood; around each corner, places and things you’ve never heard of, ranging from “Ooo, they have a Chipotle here,” to, “How has this bar been in business for 110 years without me hearing about it?”
This year’s City Guide may be done, but I still had the urge to investigate a new part of town. Scanning the map, I seized upon Indiana Township; of course, I’ve been to Hartwood Acres, much of which sits in the township, but couldn’t name too many other trips I’ve made to the suburban municipality.
Tooling around Yelp and Google, I found a well-regarded restaurant that shares a name with Indiana Township’s most high-profile landmark. Hartwood Restaurant and Whispers Pub, housed in a building that once was an antique store and, earlier, the headquarters of the Harmar Coal Company, grew from a bookstore to a bookstore that sold food to a restaurant (with some leftover books in it). The pub came later, but it carries history in its bones — thanks in large part to the more-than-100-year-old stained-glass window seen above, originally crafted for a Squirrel Hill home.
Whispers Pub is a refined, relaxing bar, as amenable to conversation as it is to sitting with a drink, a snack and a book. A chalkboard menu of featured cocktails provides few suggestions, but the drink menu clearly points toward something to sip: scotch, cordials, aperitifs and digestifs and wine (very affordable by the glass) dominate the selection. A few popular microbrews, on tap and in bottles, are available as well.
The main draw, at least in the summer, might be the remarkably lovely outdoor seating area. Tucked away, green and breezy, I can’t think of a better place in town for a lingering meal on a not-too-hot afternoon. Here, you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve snuck onto the list at a private club or high-society function. Fortunately, no membership is required — and the prices are reasonable.
Oh, and the food is great. I can’t speak for the dinner menu, but I had a house salad with Gorgonzola dressing, a lamb burger and homemade kettle chips, and I’d eat it all again right now. There is surprising variety on the menu; I equally was tempted by the red-curry tofu and the Hartwood cottage pie.
Unless it had been recommended to me, I can’t imagine I would’ve found this place without a determination to explore an unfamiliar area. While I wholeheartedly endorse Whispers Pub, my greater endorsement simply is to do as I did — find a part of the city outside of your own beaten path and make a point to explore. I’ve never been disappointed by wandering around southwestern Pennsylvania.