10 Hip Pittsburgh Spots Where You'll Want to Be in 2019
If you haven’t been to Steel City in a few years, it’s high time to plan a trip. The local arts-and-entertainment and dining-and-drinking scenes are top-notch so pack your bags and plot a course for these must-visit spots.
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Photo By: The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh ©Abby Warhola
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A Moby-Dick Restaurant
Since 2017, the Salvation Army’s iconic former downtown headquarters has played host to the Distrikt Hotel Pittsburgh, a design-minded boutique destination. Its former gymnasium, in turn, houses or, The Whale — that is, a nautically-inspired restaurant that shares its name with the subtitle of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Appropriately, the sleek space pairs a massive cetacean mural with a bar-level catwalk and swooping rigging, and the "farm-and-fisher-to-table" menu pairs meticulously-sourced seafood with offerings from an onsite butcher room. (Vegetarians, there are local delicacies for you as well: try the gourmet take on the 'Burgh’s beloved pierogis).
The Church Brew Works
With a local brewery trail that boasts more than 30 destinations, it’s easy for Pittsburgh-bound suds enthusiasts to feel overwhelmed. Need a tie-breaker? Head for Lawrenceville’s Church Brew Works, the first U.S. brewery to open in a deconsecrated church (St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church, completed in 1903). Retrofitted with an eye to honoring the church and rectory’s history, CBW’s bar was rebuilt from salvaged pews, and it retains its original Douglas Fir floors, a confessional and, of course, its soaring stained-glass windows. Its extensive food menu includes both traditional and reimagined local favorites, and its current beer menu features a dozen offerings for drinkers of all stripes.
If Outsider Art is your thing, make haste to Randyland, an eye-popping, free-to-the-public fantasia that’s open seven days a week from 10 a.m. until dusk. Randy Gilson’s glorious Northside home, exhibition and event space is as Instagram-ready as the ticketed, influencer-heavy selfie "museums" you’ll find in coastal cities. Think kaleidoscopic, wall-to-wall murals and installations — but as Gibson believes that "happiness shouldn’t cost anything," anyone and everyone is welcome to stop by and enjoy the party.
Row House Cinema
Row House Cinema — a single-screen, 83-seat theater built in, you guessed it, a classic Lawrenceville row house — does not, strictly speaking, have something for everyone: in fact, it prides itself on promoting Pittsburgh’s film community by choosing a weekly theme and going all-out on movies to match. The cinema hosts Brews & Views (screenings with themed beers served strategically throughout the movie), Cereal Screenings (for early risers who fancy a bit of breakfast from an all-you-can-eat cereal bar) and programs late-night events, lectures and collaborations with film festivals. Row House itself serves tap beers and locally-sourced snacks, and its proprietors also encourage visitors to duck into the bottle shop next door and BYOB, as they’re A-OK with adult beverages in the theater.
Grist House Craft Brewery
The recipient of Pittsburgh City Paper’s 2017 Best Local Beer award, Millvale’s Grist House serves its reliably-packed bar, patio and dog-friendly outdoor area with 12 rotating taps, canned beers to go and an ever-changing cast of food trucks. The craft brewery is also looking to expand in a very big way. It recently purchased a 55,000-square-foot future taproom, retail space, barrel-aging space and production facility in what was once a Cold War missile command center (in Collier, a township southwest of the city). There’s no official word yet on when that new facility will open, but Grist House assures its many fans that its Millvale location will keep on trucking.
The Andy Warhol Museum
If your relationship with Pop Art’s crown prince is limited to Marilyn and Mao, it’s high time to pay an extended visit to all seven stories of The Andy Warhol Museum — which, as you might expect, has the largest collection of his art and archives in the world. The Warhol features a vast array of its namesake’s greatest hits, of course, but it also offers visitors the opportunity to sit for a screen test as his subjects once did, to pose on a curved velvet couch a la Andy in an iconic portrait, and to get up close and personal with some of his 612 "time capsules," cardboard boxes the artist filled with everything from plane tickets and A-list invitations to tchotchkes and half-eaten sandwiches. The museum also hosts exhibitions featuring other artists, including Kim Gordon: Lo-Fi Glamour, an upcoming showcase of the Sonic Youth co-founder’s painting, sculpture and figure drawings that includes a commissioned score for Warhol’s 1963-64 silent film Kiss (May 17-September 1, 2019).
Speaking of heavy hitters on the Pittsburgh art scene, no aesthete’s visit to the city would be complete without a lengthy exploration of Mattress Factory, a museum founded in 1977 to support resident artists in their creation of site-specific installations. With bespoke exhibitions spread across three buildings, Mattress Factory has commissioned and presented performances and installations by more than 750 artists from around the world, including Yayoi Kusama (whose Repetitive Vision  is pictured above) and James Turrell. The advantage of seeing those art-world darlings in Pittsburgh? While in some cases visitors do have to secure timed tickets to view some works (such as Turrell’s), wait times and competition for tickets are considerably more visitor-friendly than what one would face in cities like New York City or Los Angeles.
The casual, shareable menu at Lorelei (in East Liberty, an up-and-coming neighborhood that media outlets around the country have been calling the "coolest" in America) owes its excellence to Jamilka Borges, a 2015 James Beard Foundation semifinalist, and pastry chef Dianne DeStefano (of local favorites The Twisted Frenchman, The Independent Brewing Company and Hidden Harbor). Mind you, those killer eats are only part of the story: Lorelei is best known as an incomparable beer hall that encourages laid-back community drinking, and its eclectic "lager-forward" list of 14 drafts includes German, Czech and American offerings. Did we mention that it also boasts an array of Alpine-inspired and classic cocktails? Prepare to clink glasses with half the town’s hipsters when you claim a long table here.
Just around the corner from Lorelei, the Ace Hotel Pittsburgh opened its doors in 2015 in what was once East Liberty’s palatial YMCA (built in 1909). The Ace team took pains to honor its new home in details throughout the hotel’s rooms and public spaces: local artisans upcycled regionally-sourced materials for furnishings, and textiles on guests’ beds feature an abstracted take on an Amish quilt. Keep your eyes peeled in Whitfield, the Ace’s restaurant, for curtains with a Frank Lloyd Wright pattern. Whitfield’s Western-Pennsylvania-influenced tavern fare, in turn, swings from humble regional favorites (don’t miss bar snacks like the cheese ball, French onion dip and — yes — pierogies) to an extensive Butcher’s Menu and family-style steaks from Jubilee Hilltop Ranch in Bedford. (Again, vegetarians, never fear: There’s a tasting menu for you, too.)
A significant portion of downtown Pittsburgh has a pesky habit of closing up shop once weekday work hours draw to a close. Happily, that’s far from the case at The Commoner (a gem nestled beneath The Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh), where the kitchen is open until 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday (midnight on Friday and Saturday, and 10 p.m. on Sunday) and the bar is open even later. If you’re visiting the Commoner in the afternoon or evening, do yourself a favor and request at least one order of the Vermont cheddar fondue (served with Brussels sprouts, fingerling potatoes, and crispy apple slices), an unquestionable star of the restaurant’s eclectic and reliably tasty menu. That foundation will prepare you for head bartender (and lifelong Pittsburgher) Alex Dando’s accomplished mixology, showcased in an extensive cocktail list that pairs local spirits and cutting-edge techniques with nods to pop culture and nostalgia alike. If you order the "Alright Alright Alright" (featuring mascarpone-washed Singani 63, clarified blood orange, a ginger root-asian pear reduction, a white peppercorn tincture, and 'bubbles'), know that you will be quizzed on Matthew McConaughey — and that your answer will affect the beverage you receive.