How To Live Large In The Steel City: Pittsburgh

Kristin: While my parents and family may be New Jersey through and through, I was born in the beautiful Steel City, land of pierogies and german beer. While we may get a lot of flack for having extremely… passionate sports fans, a history of steelmaking (and the pollution it caused) and the funny way we speak, it was never a dull moment growing up in Pittsburgh. Even though I’ve always grown up just outside of the tunnel (yes, the one that will make you feel infinite, “Perks” fans) I always felt like I lived in a small town. We put out our chairs the night before the parade and if you try to go out on Game Day, you won’t find anyone out with you. Though I may live far away now, when I do go home, those bridges are always ready to welcome me back.

Amy: When deciding on a location in the U.S. for my study abroad program (I had to pick from a list of eight), Pittsburgh was the only university really stood out. I’m a born and bred British country bumpkin, so I was fascinated by the idea of living in a “big city”. And Pittsburgh did not disappoint. It is a vibrant, unpretentious city with a solid sense of community. Its neighborhoods each have a unique identity and local charm—as a collective, they make Pittsburgh a very diverse and beautiful place to live. I will always think of the “Steel City” with only the fondest of memories.

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Amy: Caliban bookstore in Oakland. I couldn’t adequately explain it’s appeal. Just take a book-lover to Caliban and watch them frolic around like Belle in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”. I would happily spend an afternoon in there, quivering with excitement at being in such close proximity to first-edition classics. And although some of the tomes in Caliban can hardly be considered ‘thrifty’ purchases, it must be said that for little boutiques of once-loved items, Pittsburgh is outstanding. Try Avalon Exchange in Squirrel Hill, or the little vintage stores on Ellsworth Avenue. Some of my most treasured items of clothing were hidden amongst the rails and bins of these shops; you won’t leave empty handed (or broke).

Kristin: The Southside. Whether you want your typical mall stores (Forever 21, H&M), thrift stores or independent shops, the Southside has them. On the same day on this long strip of stores I have bought dresses, incense, goat cheese, a milkshake, records and a yoga mat. It’s perfect whether you want something no one will have, or something more familiar. It’s impossible to hit every store in a day and I’m always finding a new place. It’s by far my favorite place in the city.


Amy: Firstly, an eaterie that is rather close to my heart: “Oh Yeah!” Coffee & Waffles, located in Shadyside. I used to go there every day to use the computer (they’ve since removed the PC, but have gained a pretty swanky coffee machine in it’s place). The combinations you can create with your waffle batter and/or ice-cream must be pushing infinite. It’s also tiny, quirky, and there’s a huge wall of books—real books that you can smell and read and devour while you shovel vegan waffles down your neck. Is it heaven? Possibly.

There are so many top-notch eateries in Pittsburgh that trying to name just a couple of favourites is quite impossible. Union Grill on Craig Street happens to be where my boyfriend and I went for our first “proper” date, but my views are not entirely tarnished by sentiment: The food is quality, the portions are generous. It’s hearty and unpretentious, but upscale enough for a special occasion. On a similar vein, The Porch @ Schenley is a relatively new build right in the heart of Pitt’s campus. The menu is just full of delightful dishes created with simple ingredients—”like all the things you want to eat”, as I once (rather eloquently) put it.

Also, you couldn’t talk about food in Pittsburgh without first mentioning the undisputed King of Pittsburghese Cuisine: Primanti’s. My friend’s mother apparently once went into Primanti’s and was not amused to find that she could not order a Chardonnay. Two words: oh dear. Primanti’s isn’t that kind of place. What it lacks in grandiosity it will always make up for in size. Primanti’s is famous for a sandwich that only Rubeus Hagrid could get his mouth around. Worth it, if only because it’s the most Pittsburghese experience you’ll get without waving your “Terrible Towel” at the Steelers game before heading home for perogies covered in Heinz ketchup, n’at.

Kristin: Amy may have covered the Holy Grail of Pittsburgh, Primanti’s, (Seriously, everyone needs to try it.) I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.

By far my favorite place to eat in the city is Giovanni’s Pizza. It’s a little hole in the wall pizza place in the heart of the Cultural District. I only found it because (surprise, surprise) I was running late to go see a musical and needed to grab a quick bite. My mom and I promptly ordered a whole pie to take home during intermission and now it’s become tradition. I’ve taken everyone I love to this place. It’s the closest thing I’ve had to New York pizza anywhere. The sauce is sweet, the crust is crunchy and the ingredients are fresh. And it is cheap. Oh, and try the cheesecake.

If you want authentic Pittsburgh fare, you always need to hit up basically any tiny shop on the top of Mt. Washington and get you some Pierogies. While they may have these everywhere, there is nothing like a homemade Pittsburgh pierogie with fried onions. We worship these things so much that people dress up as them at our baseball games.


Amy: Having got up-close and personal with many of my musical idols at Mr Small’s, I have to give this tiny, perfect venue a shout-out here. It’s not to be missed; there are fantastic bands—big-name gigs and smaller, up-and-coming artists alike—every week at this place. As far as venues go, it’s ideal: small enough to be intimate, but it packs a sizeable audience. Oh—and it looks cute, too.

Kristin: OOO, OK, this is my favorite category.

As most people who live outside the city, cultural events are the main reason (besides visiting friends) that I go into the city. The entire Cultural District is amazing. We have several theatres, open mic cafes and concert halls all surrounded by street art.

My favorite spot there is the Benedum Theatre. It has the most beautiful marquee with these bright lights that, when you see them at night in the snow, it makes you wanna cry. Inside, it’s stunning, rivaling any Broadway Theatre I’ve ever been to, with amazing stained glass and gorgeous interior. I think twice about seeing shows if they’re not in the Benedum.

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If performing arts are not your thing, just across the bridge is the Andy Warhol museum. This is a huge venue dedicated to Pop artist Andy Warhol. There are floors on floors of his quirky art and those inspired by him. The best is the aluminum balloon room, a white room with silver aluminum balloons blown around by fans. You HAVE to lie on your back to get the whole experience, I promise. People will stare, but it’s so worth it.

Honorable mentions: Stage AE, Consol Energy Center (for concerts), Light Up Night, The Arts Festival.

Favourite City Spots:

 Amy: I’ve never actually stood still in my favourite spot in Pittsburgh. If you’ve seen “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, you’ll remember the scene where Emma Watson stands in the back of the truck as they shoot out from a long tunnel, out onto an incredible cityscape. Everyone who enters Pittsburgh from the Fort Pitt tunnel—which happens to be the main route in from the airport—gets to relive this experience, every single time. And it never gets any less breathtaking—just don’t stand still, because you’ll be mowed down by cars in a nanosecond.

But if I’m looking to actually chill out and just enjoy a place, then my stand-out favourite spot would be the Cathedral of Learning. At thirty-six stories high, it stands well above the rest of Oakland at the heart of Pitt’s campus. On the outside, it looks like a colossal gothic skyscraper, and wouldn’t look out of place in a fantasy movie as a home for dastardly villains. Inside, however, it is Hogwarts. Christmas in the Cathedral is magical—the huge fireplaces are lit and students huddle in groups, chattering and studying at the bottom of a great stone foyer. It’s truly an honour to call it to say you go to school there.

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Kristin: By far my favorite place in the city is Mt. Washington. If you ever want to see what this looks like, check out any Pittsburgh High Schooler’s prom photos. Basically, you go up this sideways street car up this giant hill on the side of the city (you can drive, but that’s lame.) called the incline which at night give you the most amazing view of the city.

Once you get to the top, you can see the entire city off of these viewing platforms off of the sidewalk. Again, at night, you absolutely can’t beat it. It really is the most breathtaking view. So breathtaking in fact, you honestly can’t go up there during the summer evenings without seeing someone getting engaged.

Once you’re up there, you can visit one of the many bars, ice cream shops or restaurants nestled up there and stare out at this weird, wonderful city.

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