Pittsburgh…The steel city that recast itself

The Steel City

by Isabel Conway –

Pittsburgh has always been the workhorse city in contrast to big sister Philadelphia’s allure as ‘birthplace of the nation’. “They say there’s work here for every capable man who wants to work” an observer noted back in Post- Depression days. It wasn’t a city of easy liberty like New Orleans or cosmopolitan like San Francisco, people came to Pittsburgh to work and business rather than people’s spirit dominated the landscape. That business was steel.

One of the grimiest and grimmest industrial sprawls of newly affluent America, Pittsburgh, the most western Pennsylvania city recast itself a couple of decades ago after the last of the heavy steel foundries closed, undergoing a miracle of revitalization, transforming industrial eyesores to residential lofts, hotels and entertainment venues.

Regenerated downtown areas in and around the ‘Strip’ provides a good snapshot of Pittsburgh today. A former gritty logistical centre that historically linked the Mid- West with the Eastern seaboard of the US its transport depots are fast being transformed into restaurants, shops, nightspots and emerging businesses like the Wigle Whiskey Distillery (www.wiglewhiskey.com) one of the state’s small batch spirits success stories.


Pittsburgh’s financial district of gleaming glass and steel skyscrapers are monumental reminders of the city’s powerful rags to riches past. Steel barons such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick and Andrew William Mellon left their mark in the high rise landscape. Mellon, a banker with Irish roots, had branched into oil, steel, shipbuilding and property while Henry Heinz was the inventor of the Heinz 57 empire. These titans of Pittsburgh memories live on in a legacy of art, culture, and education. Carnegie had left school at 13, educating himself by reading and he was determined to help others without a formal education, establishing libraries and museums all across the US. The ruthless Frick’s ambitions were to make his first million by the age of 30.

Pittsburgh’s biggest attraction are its large selection of world class museums, most of them philanthropic creations such as those established by Andrew Carnegie and fellow industrialist tycoons. Don’t miss the Carnegie Natural History museum, a paradise for children with umpteen interactive dinosaur exhibits and a vast amount of entertaining knowledge on display.


Another must see is the museum dedicated to psychedelic rebel pop- artist extraordinaire Andy Warhol. As famous for his edgy celeb studded lifestyle and complicated relationships as his work, Warhol turned advertisements for Campbells soup and Brillo pads into art forms. Spread over seven floors start at the top and work your way down to the basement where kids can amuse themselves on zany art projects. Most modern museums around the world have a few of Warhol’s works. His hometown shrine on 117 Sandusky street delivers the whole fascinating Warhol story.


Pittsburgh is famous for bridges having more than 446 of them, more even than Venice. A good first introduction to bond with the city’s history and view bridges and some great views is to climb up the Victorian era Duquesne Incline. The funicular has been in continuous operation since the late 1870s, saving commuters the daunting 1,000 step slog up to Washington Hill.


Pittsburgh supposedly ranks first in the nation in bars per capita and second in pizza places! The food scene really buzzes, ranging from informal gastronomy at its best at two I tried, the Ace Hotel’s Whitfield restaurant (www.acehotel.com) in East Liberty and Eleven Contemporary Kitchen (www.elevenck.com) in the Strip District to pop up food halls. A permanent food court Federal Galley (www.federalgalley.org) at 200 Children’s Way is a sleek sprawling food court with choices from spicy Mexican and steaks to imaginative vegan choices with affordable cocktails and craft beers.


Just to have their own back on big sister’s famed Philly sandwich Pittsburgh has come up with a version of the chip butty that may tempt you for lunch!. French fry-stuffed sandwiches at Primanti brothers (www.primantibros.com) are famous. The chain has been going strong in Pittsburgh since the 1930’s serving me up a delicious calorific bomb of a sandwich stuffed with fresh cut fries, pastrami, provolone, coleslaw and tomatoes for $7.50.


Don’t expect pulsating downtown nightlife in Pittsburgh, though a few clubs lately opened along the former warehouse ‘Strip’ are making their mark at weekends. There’s also a decent jazz and Indy scene in the Lawrenceville and East Liberty neighbourhoods. Pick up a copy of ‘Play’ Pittsburgh’s official see & Do guide for dates and venues.


Driverless Ubers were still being tested during my visit but it may be the way to go! Another fun way to get around in cycle friendly Pittsburgh is using pedal power. Bike the Burgh (https://www.biketheburgh.com/) offer guided bike tours exploring the riverside and nature trails as well the downtown Strip district.



Pittsburgh and the countryside of nearby Butler county offer a contrast of city and rural lifestyles. Butler county is a pleasant mix of small towns and rolling farmland dominated by beautiful Moraine State Park.

Factifile: Getting to Pittsburgh WOW air flights from Dublin to Pittsburgh up to six times weekly from as little as €139.99 one way. The airline offers low fare travel to 14 US destinations, via Reykjavik. The WOW stopover option allows passengers to explore Iceland on either transatlantic journey for an unlimited time. See www.wowair.ie For more information on Pittsburgh go to www.visitpittsburgh.com For trips to Butler county and Moraine State Park go to www.visitbutlercounty.com Isabel stayed at boutique Hotel Indigo, 123 North Highland Avenue (www.hotel-indigo-pittsburgh-east-liberty/)


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