Pittsburgh Travel Review: Slick ‘Steel City’ Thrives After Major Makeover
Think of Pittsburgh and pictures of rusty steel factories might spring to mind.
The Steel City could undoubtedly have followed the path of the many old industrial powerhouses that still aspire to the glories of the past.
But where other parts of the United States show remnants of the industrial boom fading, the mighty city of Pittsburgh has moved on and undergone a major makeover.
Possessing the sleek and strong vibe of New York or LA – without the high cost of living – it’s a thriving cosmopolis.
His forward thinking philosophy was made clear to me when a group of us got a chance to have breakfast with Jim Rooney while he was in town in early 2020.
Jim’s father, Dan, served as US Ambassador to Ireland between 2009 and 2012 under the Obama administration.
At Pamela’s, an old-fashioned restaurant shaped like the 1980s, we ate delicious pancakes and listened intently to Jim recount how Obama was helped by his father to secure the crucial vote in Pennsylvania.
Dan Rooney was born and raised in Steel City, but he never strayed from the Irish roots of his ancestors.
Known for their strong support for Irish cultural, educational and charitable causes, the Rooneys own the Pittsburgh Steelers football team.
A morning spent with Dan’s son Jim as people gravitated around him wanting to shake his hand and you understood the high regard the town had for his family.
Jim wrote a memoir about his father titled A Different Way to Win, which Obama chose as one of his best books for 2019.
Continue towards the town itself and a great starting point is a trip up the famous Duquesne slope.
Passengers board chocolate box cars on a route that has taken people up Mount Washington since 1877.
It offers a breathtaking view of the city and you quickly understand why Pittsburgh is also known as the City of Bridges.
Lunch should ideally then be the Pittsburgh Sandwich.
Why bother putting fries next to a sandwich when you can just wrap it all between two slices of bread?
That’s the Pittsburgh attitude, with fries and coleslaw combined with all your toppings for a healthy, filling meal.
We opted for the Primanti brothers who have branches throughout the city.
Irish roots in the city are stronger than ever. Their St. Patrick’s Day Parade is one of the largest in the United States.
We were given a tour of the Old Saint Patrick Catholic Church, a historic landmark.
And we ran into former Irish Olympic gold medalist Michael Carruth who had brought in fighters from the Drimnagh Boxing Club from Dublin to compete in a tournament.
There are several bowstrings in this city. Consider, for example, what Andy Warhol and Heinz Tomato Sauce have in common?
The answer, as you might have guessed, is that they were both born in Pittsburgh.
One of Warhol’s most famous pieces is his Campbell Soups Cans and the artist also tackled a similar theme with his Heinz Tomato Ketchup Box – an ode to his place of origin.
The Andy Warhol Museum is the largest single artist museum in North America.
This is a must see not only for art fans but also for music fans who will recognize many of Warhol’s album covers for bands like The Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground.
It’s all contained in a seven-story homage to one of the city’s most famous and eccentric sons.
From there you can walk to the Heinz History Center which gives another idea of the Irish connections within the city as well as the origins of the red stuff we all know and love.
Although this is not where Pittsburgh’s hold on Western culture ends. He can claim to have invented cinemas, commercial radio stations and even the first emoji, sent by a professor-researcher from the city in 1982.
Art lovers should also check out The Mattress Factory (nothing to do with beds!)
If you’re still avid for museums, the Cathedral of Learning Citizenship Rooms on the University of Pittsburgh campus are decorated for the ethnicities of the students who attended college.
Among the 31 classrooms, there is of course an Irish classroom.
To get a feel for how immigrants influenced the city’s food, we took a Burgh Bits and Bites food tour in the Lawrenceville neighborhood.
Parma Sausage has four generations of Italian families working there, while Jimmy & Nino’s Italian restaurant offers a fabulous hero sandwich.
Owner Jimmy held a cigar as he feasted us on tales of how Pittsburgh changed in the 1960s.
The Wigle Whiskey Distillery in the Strip District offers a tour telling the story of the region while tasting locally made spirits.
If you are looking for delicious seafood and a view of the cityscape, the Monterey Bay Restaurant is a must.
Also head to The Federal Galley on the North Side.
This restaurant concept offers four local chefs the opportunity to share their menu in a food hall style place.
There’s everything from deep pan pizzas to Korean fried chicken. A quality breakfast option can be found at Pear & the Pickle in the Troy Hill area of the North Side.
This local cafe has a great breakfast sandwich and lots of coffee.
After some hectic whirlwind tours, we focused on the Priory Hotel, a very posh hotel with the smallest bar in the state.
The only thing we couldn’t see was a factory.
Times change, but as Warhol once said, “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them.”