Pittsburgh Weekend

Pittsburgh Skyline
A bird’s eye view of the “Golden Triangle.”

I spent this weekend out in Pittsburgh, and looking back at all of my previous posts, I’m surprised that I haven’t written about the city in depth yet.  My younger cousin goes to Pitt, for his undergrad and my brother is going to finish his first year at Pitt School of Law this spring.  In the past two years I’ve found myself going out there more and more and I’m a big fan of the city.

I wasn’t expecting much the first time I went to Pittsburgh two years ago.  It’s industrial past has given it something of a shitty reputation, so I was extra impressed.    Even though it’s the second largest city in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh still has a small city feel which makes it easy and timely to navigate.  It’s surprisingly clean for a metropolitan area, has a lot to do and see, and a young populace.

I was planning on lying low this weekend to repair the damage I’d done to my body throughout March, but then I learned that my parents and sister were going out to visit my brother last weekend.  I just visited in January, but have one of those I-hate-to-miss-out-on-fun-and-seeing-them-posting-pictures-on-Facebook-all-weekend-would-kill-me-disorders, so I caved and made my way out Friday after work.

A Shady Night

Lancaster to Pittsburgh is a little under four hours.  It’s an easy, but expensive ride driving almost the full length of the Turnpike (the tolls are up to $20.00).

My parents arrived at my brother’s about an hour before me and they headed out to Buffalo Blue’s, a local bar about a mile from his apartment and asked me to pick up my cousin in Oakland so that the poor boy would not have to take the bus with the rest of the peons.

As I pulled onto his block, I started feeling the jealousy rise up.  Friday was gorgeous, I’d spent the entire drive with my sunroof down, but Oakland’s residents had spent the entire day skipping classes and drinking from keg’s placed haphazardly on sidewalks and front porches, blasting Mackelmore and Celine Dion (no judging here).  Oakland is the neighborhood where Pitt and Carnegie Mellon’s campuses are located and looks and feels like your typical college town.  My cousin had spent the day getting boozed up and offered me an IC-Light Mango, an apparent Pittsburgh delicacy, as I waited for him to get dressed.  I declined as it was pretty terrible but did have a glass of Magners and got nostalgic for my college days sitting on his couch and staring longingly at his John Belushin “College” poster.

Oakland is where I’ve spent the bulk of my Pittsburgh experiences prior to this trip, and though I may be getting a little old to be loitering around these days, it does have a handful of really fun and cheap bars if you’re out in western PA.  Hemingway’s Cafe is a University of Pitt institute/might be my brother’s second home.  It has cheap drinks, an impressive beer selection, and is opened before noon to cater to the morning drunk.  Peter’s Pub has good bar food and The Garage Door (no link, so you know it’s good) always has Coors Light pounders for $2.00, so obviously that was love at first sight.

My brother lives in the Shadyside neighborhood, about a mile from Oakland.  Shadyside seems to be one of the go-to residencies for law/gradschool students/ young professionals who still want the fun of the college lifestyle but without the scumbaggery elements and who could afford nicer  bars and a heavy dose of franchisment.  It reminds me of Manayunk, only it took itself a little more seriously; dive bars share the block with Wholefoods and Banana Republic.

We met up with the rest of the family for wings and beer before going to some upscaleish Mexican joint down the block that was a little too fancy for my tastes but where Shawn felt my parents wouldn’t stick out as those old people. They did, and called it a night around eleven and we went to meet our friend Liz for more drinks at Mario’s, another of my brother’s frequent haunts that was terribly crowded Friday, but that I’ve been to before and is fun with foosball, shuffleboard, a shot wheel and an open air second floor when it gets nice out.

Chicken & Waffles and Meat & Potatoes

I just found out recently that chicken and waffles was a thing.  I can’t remember how it came up, but we ended it up discussing it on our way to brunch at Meat & Potatoes, which my brother had read had one of the best brunches in Pittsburgh, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our reservations for Meat & Potatoes were at noon and we got downtown, where the restaurant’s located around 11:15,  We had some time to kill so decided to take a walk along the river to River Point Park.  For those of you that don’t know, one of Pittsburgh’s defining geographic features is that it’s downtown sits between where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers converge to become the Ohio.  Point Park is where this actually occurs.  Because of it’s two major waterways, combined with a series of steep cliffs along the riverbanks, Pittsburgh is also known for the large number of bridges used to connect its various neighborhoods.  One of these, the Roberto Clemente Bridge (I only know because there was a large plaque, and I’m a nerd who stops and reads all large plaques) was just a block from where we parked and had a pathway leading down to the River Run, a hiking and biking trail that circumvents the city.

A view of several of Pittsburgh’s bridges from the River Walk.

I mentioned before how clean Pittsburgh is, and I’ll mention it again.  The trail was immaculate.  In fact, I remember at one point thinking to myself that it was weird how underneath the legs of the bridge seemed like the perfect spot for hordes of homeless people, empty 40’s and condom wrappers, things that anyone who’s been to a major metropolitan area gets desenitized too, but in fact all there was were a couple of elderly power walkers.  Another difference is the rivers look clean, clean enough that you might be tempted to jump in on a nice day.  Now, I don’t know if this is a smart move, but I can’t remember ever thinking that about the Hudson, or God forbid, the Delaware.  I’d like to get out there in the summer and do some kayaking. 

I imagine catching a Pirates game via kayak would be a fun way to spend the afternoon.  Heinz Staidum, where the Steelers play, is adjacent down river, along with a newly opened casino.
I imagine catching a Pirates game via kayak would be a fun way to spend the afternoon. Heinz Stadium, where the Steelers play, is adjacent down river, along with a newly opened casino.

Unfortunately Point Park was closed for renovations and we were thinking of maybe visiting the Fort Pittsburgh museum before realizing that we needed to hightail it back to Meat and Potatoes so that we could make our reservations.

Meat and Potatoes is one of those trendy brunch places that puts emphasis on giving all the classics some sort of twist and emphasizing morning cocktails.  They also had a very strange juxtaposition of being decorated with taxidermy while playing a disco soundtrack.  I’d skipped breakfast and was starving so opted to get “The Americano” which was simply eggs, bacon sausage, and homefries.  I know it’s boring with a menu full of weird things I never eat for breakfast, but I needed something I could scarf down and knew I would like.  I can’t complain about my choice, but will say I regret that I didn’t get the chicken and waffles like my dad and brother, because they were amazing: four huge pieces of fried chicken served over cheddar jalapeno waffles with bourbon/bacon dressing.   Luckily my mother has already found a recipe online and has promised to recreate it next time I go to NEPA.

The prices were extremely reasonable for the huge portions served.  That’s another reason I always like Pittsburgh: it’s so cheap.

Another important note: they had fresh squeezed orange juice that might have been the best thing I’ve ever drank.  I highly recommend Meat and Potatoes as a brunch option.  Just make sure to call for reservations.

Barely Contained Hysteria: Part Deux: The Duquesne Incline Addition

My sister and I both have a semi crippling fear of heights which is why Pittsburgh’s geography has proved to be a dilemma.  Besides for it’s 111 bridges (she fears bridges, I just fear heights), several neighborhoods, most notably Washington Heights and The Southside Slopes sit precariously on cliffs overlooking the rivers.  After brunch we decided to take a trip up to the Duquesne Incline and Cliff Walk that runs along Grandview Avenue.

The Duquesne and Monongahela Inclines are restored examples of inclined plane railroads that used to transport Pittsburgh’s citizens up and down the slopes before roads became modernized.  Both still operate as a throwback to an old fashioned way of life specific to Pittsburgh.

My last visit to the inclines was decidedly negative and ended with me giving a group of strangers the impression that I had some form of Tourette’s.

Duquense Incline in motion.  Notice the awesome views of downtown in the distance.
Duquesne Incline in motion. Notice the awesome views of downtown in the distance.

My particular brand of vertigo makes zero to little sense.  Flying? Not a problem.  Doesn’t scare me at all.  Bridges? Could care less.  Driving on the edge of an embankment? That will send me over the edge.  I blame this for my state of being the first time I got on the Duquesne Incline.  I was driving and we took the PJ McCardless Roadway, which has a sheer drop off the right side going up, up to the top of Mount Washington so by the time I reached the top and parked, I was already a mess of terror and nausea.

While on the incline my sister and I plastered on our best pageant smiles as the car creeked down the slope, swearing our way down the mountainside.

The original "Barely Contained Hysteria."  I now use this moniker to describe any picture of me standing next to an edge.
The original “Barely Contained Hysteria.” I now use this moniker to describe any picture of me standing next to an edge.

My dad drove up Mt. Washington Saturday, so when I got to the top, I was in fine spirits.  The route the incline takes is far (it’s higher than most of the city’s skyline) but not any steeper than a ski slope (but not as high as ski lift which does require liquid courage for me to board).  I stood on the observation platform and couldn’t help but be embarrassed for 2010 me.

We rode the incline down the mountain and then back up but really you could do it either way .  It costs only $5.00 roundtrip, so I’d add it to my list of Pittsburgh must-do experiences. Of the two inclines, the Duquesne seems to be much more popular, but if I had to go back I’d do the Monongahela because the loading platform on the bottom of the incline is located in Station Square, a complex of bars, restaurants, Pittsburgh’s new pro soccer team and party boats (!!!).

No matter what way you chose to ascend Mt. Washington, getting to the top is a must.  Pittsburgh’s skyline is gorgeous.  It’s downtown is  nicknamed “The Golden Triangle” and it’s only from this vantage point that this moniker makes sense.  The area where the rivers meet does indeed make the downtown a triangular shape (sidenote: the two rivers are different colors…does anyone know why? Google hasn’t been helping me), and a majority of the bridges connecting it to other parts of the city are painted gold (or Steeler yellow, if you prefer).  If you walk down Grandview Street, there are several viewing platforms to take advantage of.

A picture of one of the viewing platforms atop Mt. Washington taken from one of the other viewing platforms.

Church Brew Works

Even if you aren’t religious, or don’t like beer, a trip to the Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh is a must, if not just for the randomess factor.

The Church Brew Works is a brewpub housed in a former Roman Catholic Church.  Driving by, if you weren’t looking for a sign, you really wouldn’t have any idea that instead of an altar, devotees worship a team of brewers.

Church Brew Works
If mass were like this, I’d probably be less of a Chreaster-Catholic.

We went to grab a few drinks after the incline.  We got a sampler, and then I had a couple of Stouts afterwards, which reminded me more or less of a Guinness.  It was an interesting atmosphere to have a few drinks at, and the beer was pretty good.  It was also very reasonably priced for drinks.  We paid $60.00ish for 6 people for an hour of drinking.  One word of warning: the place is slightly stuffy with a very distinct smell.  It’s not bad, but distinct, and noticeable.  If I had to guess, it’s because the brewery equipment wasn’t glassed off, but rather right up there on the altar.

That was an extremely non-educated guess.

Church Brew Works
I really liked their tagline: “On the eight day, man created beer.” While I think everyone would like Church Brew Works, Catholics (especially those of us subjected to Catechism and/or Jesuit school) will find it especially amusing.

Year Round Oktoberfest at Pittsburgh’s Hofbrauhaus

While I haven’t written about Pittsburgh in depth yet, I know that I’ve written about Hofbrauhaus.  It’s one of my favorite bars in the world and has the potential to steal Disney’s “happiest place on Earth” tagline.

Hofbrauhaus is located in the Southside Works, just two blocks from Pittsburgh’s most famous street: East Carson.  East Carson street, in the Southside neighborhood has more has “more bars per capita then anywhere else in the world.” I don’t know if that is true, but it certainly does have it’s fair share of drinking establishments.  I actually haven’t spent a ton of time in Southside as it’s not within walking distance of my brother or cousins and saying that the cab situation in Pittsburgh is bleak might be an understatement, but it is a fun place to walk around and engage in the city’s favorite pasttime.

Hofbrauhaus is located right across the river from Oakland and you have to cross my favorite bridge, The Hot Metal Bridge, to get there.  The Hofbrahaus is a replicated German beer hall, right here in Pennsylvania.  The first thing you notice about Hofbrauhaus is it’s sheer size.  The place is enormous and I’ve yet to beer there when it isn’t filled close to capacity, so be prepared to wait, especially if you want to sit in the main room which seats you cafeteria style.   That’s were most of the action is.

The first few times I was at Hofbrauhaus we were on a mission to drink.  Hofbrahaus brews their own German style beer (I’m a fan of the Hefe Weizen) which they serve only in big and bigger mugs.  The bigger mug is so big that it makes your arms sore and you often are reduced to drinking with two hands.  They also have shot-ski specials.

The atmosphere of the bar is what really makes it.  There’s usually an accordianist decked out in Lederhosen turning the latest top 40 hits into polka and it’s very audience oriented.  After ten, if you aren’t standing on your chair and singing along, you’re practically shunned. If that’s not your thing, take a seat at the bar, or go out to the riverside Biergarten if it’s opened.

The last two times I’ve been to Pittsburgh, we’ve gone to Hofbrauhaus for dinner and they’ve made me a fan of Braut and Schnitzel.  Anywhere that makes me expand me taste buds is doing something right.

We stayed at Hofbrauhaus for dinner and an additional drink (they’re literally so big, you can’t have drinks) which might have been the highlight of the weekend. I don’t know if it was the jovial atmosphere, the head size beers we were drinking, or partially a fault of our afternoon jaunt to The Church Brew Works, but we spent most of the time reminiscing with my parents about what weird children we were, which is always cause for a few good stomach hurting laughs.

Guten Nacht Pittsburgh

After dinner we thought it best for everyone involved if we head back to Shadyside before things got too out of hand.  We ended up going to Cappy’s Cafe, a bar my brother hadn’t yet been to at night, but ended up being somewhere you could take your parents without them feeling out of place.

After they retired around 11:30, the rest of us stayed for a few drinks at Cappy’s before ending the night at Stackd and William Penn, two local Shadyside bars.  It unfortunately here that I was introduced to the concept of debit card accepting juke boxes. Why is this ok?

I’m still scared to check my account balance, but I had a great time and look forward to returning to the Steel City, hopefully during the summer.

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