Pittsburgh Travelogue: Slick ‘Metal Metropolis’ is prospering after a significant renovation
Think Pittsburgh and images of rusting steel mills could forgivably come to mind.
The steel city could undoubtedly have followed the path of the many former industrial centers that still yearn for past glory.
But where other parts of the US are showing fading remnants of the industrial boom, mighty Pittsburgh has moved on and undergone a major makeover.
With 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 became clear to me when a group of us were fortunate enough to have breakfast with Jim Rooney in town in early 2020.
Jim’s father Dan was the US Ambassador to Ireland from 2009 to 2012 under the Obama administration.
At Pamela’s, an old-style 1980s-style diner, we ate delicious crpe hotcakes and listened carefully as Jim recounts how Obama had helped his father win the casting vote in Pennsylvania.
Dan Rooney was born and raised in Steel City, but he’s never strayed far from the Irish roots of his ancestors.
(Image: Collins Photo Agency)
Known for its great support for Irish cultural, educational and charitable causes, the Rooneys own the Pittsburgh Steelers American football team.
I spent a morning with Dan’s son, Jim, when people would pull up and shake hands with him, and you understood how much the town held his family in esteem.
Jim wrote a memoir about his father called A Different Way to Win, which Obama chose as one of his top books for 2019.
(Image: Colin Peter Brennan Instagram)
Continue into the city itself and a good starting point is a drive up the famous Duquesne Incline.
Passengers board chocolate carts on a route that has taken people up Mount Washington since 1877.
(Image: Visit Pittsburgh)
It offers a breathtaking view over the city and you quickly realize why Pittsburgh is also known as the city of bridges.
Lunch should ideally be the Pittsburgh sandwich.
Why bother putting chips next to a sandwich when you can easily wrap everything between two slices of bread?
That’s the Pittsburgh attitude, with french fries and coleslaw combined with all your fillings for a healthy and filling meal.
We chose Primati Brothers, which have offices across the city.
The city’s Irish roots are as strong as ever. Their St. Patrick’s Day Parade is one of the largest in the United States.
We were taken on a tour of Old Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church, a historic landmark.
And by chance we met the former Irish Olympic Champion Michael Carruth, who had brought some fighters from Dublin’s Drimnagh Boxing Club to take part in a tournament.
There are many threads in the arch of this city. For example, are you wondering what Andy Warhol and Heinz Tomato Sauce have in common?
(Image: Rachellynn Schoen Visit Pittsburgh)
The answer is, as you might have guessed, they were both born in Pittsburgh.
One of Warhol’s most famous pieces are his Campbell Soups Cans, and the artist took up a similar theme with his Heinz Tomato Ketchup Box – an ode to his homeland.
The Andy Warhol Museum is the largest museum in North America dedicated to a single artist.
It’s a must-see not only for all art fans, but also for music fans who recognize many of Warhol’s album covers for bands like The Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground.
All of this is contained in a seven-story tribute to one of the city’s most famous and eccentric sons.
From there, you can walk to the Heinz History Center, which will give you another sense of Irish connections within the city, as well as the origins of the red stuff we all know and love.
But Pittsburgh’s influence on Western culture doesn’t stop there. It can claim to have invented movie theaters, commercial radios, and even the first emoji sent out in 1982 by a research professor in town.
Art lovers should also check out The Mattress Factory (nothing with beds!), Another high-quality art installation housed in three buildings on Pittsburgh’s Mexican War Streets.
If you’re still fond of museums, the Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh campus are set up for the ethnicity of the students who attended the university.
Of course, there is also an Irish room among the 31 classrooms.
(Image: Jose Luis de Solar visiting Pittsburgh)
To get a taste of how immigrants have influenced the city’s dishes, we took a food tour from Burgh of the Lawrenceville neighborhood.
Parma Sausage has four generations of Italian families working there, while Jimmy & Nino’s Italian shop has a fabulous hero sandwich.
Owner Jimmy held a cigar as he treated us to stories about the development of Pittsburgh from the 1960s.
The Wigle Whiskey Distillery in the Strip District offers a tour of the history of the area while some locally made spirits can be enjoyed.
(Image: VisitPittsburgh / Joe Vlakancic)
If your looking for delicious seafood and views of the cityscape, Monterey Bay Restaurant is a must.
Also visit The Federal Galley on the North Side.
This restaurant concept gives four local chefs the opportunity to share their menu in one place, food-hall style.
It has everything from deep pan pizzas to Korean fried chicken. For a quality breakfast option, head to Pear & the Pickle in Troy Hill on the North Side.
This local cafe has a great breakfast sandwich and lots of coffee.
After hectic whirlwind tours, we settled in the Priory Hotel, a very posh hotel with the smallest bar in the state.
The only thing we didn’t see was a factory.
Times change, but as Warhol once said: “You always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them.”