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The Problem with Pittsburgh


If America’s East Coast had three sisters New York and Chicago would be loud pretty little things while Pittsburgh would slump at the table trying her best to get a word in edgewise. For years she’s been the family underdog, offering her own shabby chic allure while silently fighting for the attention of her razzle dazzle sisters.

Over the last few years Pittsburgh has been prettying herself for a party and after significant plucking and prodding she’s stepped into the spotlight so we can all marvel in her makeover. Today those who visit Pittsburgh often describe the experience as “uncovering a hidden gem.” The city seems to consistently under-promise and over-deliver, encouraging guests to return home to their friends and family raving about Pennsylvania’s pretty little secret. For most, the city conjures up memories of a once booming steel town whose signature dish “The Almost Famous Sandwich” served up by the Primanti Bros offers the ultimate gratuitous cheap eats. One does not tend to associate luxury living with a city who’s most iconic meal features cold cuts, crunchy coleslaw and pile of crispy French Fries smushed between two slices of bread.

But its Pittsburgh’s gritty industrial heritage that offers the perfect storyboard for those looking to adventure through its inspiring transformation. Once known exclusively as a steel town, today Pittsburgh is a hot bed of innovation featuring world class museums, urban distilleries, colourful culinary tours and a whimsical restaurant scene. The problem with Pittsburgh is that she hasn’t had a chance to flirt with you just yet. She’s single, ready to mingle and ripe for the picking.

When Fairmont Hotels first announced it would be launching a new property in Pittsburgh many in the industry scoffed at the idea. They muttered, “there’s no way a blue-collar town such as Pittsburgh will be able to support a luxury hotel.” In 2013 the people of Pittsburgh undeniably proved the naysayers wrong as the property was crowned Fairmont Hotel of the year. It seems as though luxury living is exactly what the city was pining for. Located in the heart of downtown, Fairmont Pittsburgh is the city’s first LEED Gold certified hotel, a Four Diamond property featuring 185 luxurious guest rooms, award winning Habitat restaurant, Andys bar and the newly expanded Health Club and Spa. As the city’s only luxury hotel, it has become a hot haunt for A-listers and celebrities with guests such as Lady Gaga and Jake Gyllenhaal prepping for a pillow fight. 

Sips & Nibbles: In the last five years Pittsburgh’s culinary scene has really started to pop! My fondest memories at the table include: snooping at Habitat’s open kitchen, griddlecake brunch at Pamela’s Diner, pretty plates at Salt of the Earth, craft beer died and gone to heaven at Church Brew Works and meat marathon at Butcher & Rye.

The tastiest way to explore Pittsburgh’s popular gritty multicultural Strip District is by hopping on a food tour with Burgh Bits & Bites. Founder Sylvia McCoy is a first-generation Pittsburgher who exudes an enthusiastic knowledge and passion for her city’s culinary roots. Her Strip District tour lasts two hours and features a behind-the-counter look at a variety of eateries in Pittsburgh’s historic market district. The tour links local history with a handful of eating establishments that are peppered along Penn Avenue. Samples from around the world include Italian pepperoni roll, freshly baked biscotti and cured meat, Syrian hummus with pita and plump Polish pierogi.

Our tour ended on a high note at Pittsburgh’s favourite urban distillery Wigle Whiskey. Guests can opt in for an educational tour of the production facility or lounge in the breezy tasting room to sip through a splash from each of bottle. Highlights include a trilogy of White Whiskey’s, Organic Aged Rye Whiskey, Organic Rosemary Lavender Bitters, Dutch Style Gin “Ginever” and Spiced Landlocked Rum. If drinking straight up isn’t your thing, the bartender offers a petite list of signature cocktails worthy of a thirst quench.

If you’re planning an art crawl of Pittsburgh’s best The Carnegie Museum of Art should be your first stop. A stroll through the buildings whimsical galleries offers guests an education on Andrew Carnegie, an industrialist who in 1895 invested his steel town success in the arts. While most art museums founded at the turn of the century focused on collections of well-known masters, Andrew Carnegie envisioned his museum collection consisting of the “Old Masters of tomorrow.” In 1896, he initiated a series of exhibitions of contemporary art and proposed that the museum’s paintings collection be formed through purchases from this series. Carnegie, thereby, founded what is arguably the first museum of modern art in the United States. Early acquisitions of works by such artists as Winslow Homer, James McNeill Whistler, and Camille Pissarro laid the foundation for a collection that today is distinguished in American art from the mid-19th century to the present, in French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, and in significant late-20th-century works.

While she may lay claim as the inventor of stainless steel, Heinz Ketchup, the Big Mac and banana split its Andy Warhol’s groundbreaking work which has crowned Pittsburgh as the world headquarters for Pop Art, which in my opinion, is the city’s most admirable achievement. The Andy Warhol Museum is the most comprehensive single-artist museum in the world. The Warhol offers exhibitions year-round, displaying never-before-seen artworks from a collection that includes 900 paintings; 100 sculptures; nearly 2,000 works on paper; more than 1,000 published and unique prints; and 4,000 photographs. The museum offers a fantastic chronicle of the odd-ball artists life featuring childhood sketches, his quirky collection of travel paraphernalia, polaroid portraits featuring American icons (Liza Minnelli, Diana Vreeland, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mick Jagger) and his evolution from wildly successful commercial illustrator to pop art superstar.

The Mattress Factory offers the worlds most famous installation art experience. Since 1982 the groundbreaking museum has presented new works by more than 600 artists working in residence. The organization is dedicated to providing artists with the space, materials, assistance and freedom to explore new ideas, to take artistic risks, engage the community and create remarkable works of art that help us to see the world in fresh new ways. The Mattress Factory is made up of three distinct buildings featuring work by notable artists such as James Turrell’s Casto Red, Greer Lankton’s It’s all about ME, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Dots Mirrored Room and Chiharu Shiota’s Trace of Memory.

My visit to Pittsburgh was a press trip coordinated by Visit Pittsburgh. Transportation, accommodation, restaurant visits and activities featured in this destination guide were complimentary. 

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