The Art And Soul Of Pittsburgh

by Jeff Heilman

In his 2009 book The Paris of Appalachia, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette journalist Brian O'Neill writes of his hometown: “This city is not Midwestern. It's not East Coast. It's just Pittsburgh, and there's no place like it. That's both its blessing and its curse.”

Pittsburgh Resources

Andy Warhol Museum. 117 Sandusky Street, Pittsburgh. Tel: 412-237-8300. He may have left for NYC, but Pittsburgh’s most famous artist remains front and center at his “art that dares” museum. It’s the world’s largest museum devoted to one artist, featuring the definitive collection of the Pop Art icon’s works on seven floors. For fun, try your hand at Warhol’s signature art-making techniques at the underground Factory studio, or star in a Warhol-style “Screen Test.”

Bicycle Heaven. 1800 Preble Avenue, Pittsburgh. Tel: 412-716-4956. It started in 1996 with one discarded bicycle. Today, Craig Morrow’s nearly 4,000-piece velocipede collection includes the fiberglass Bowden Spacelander, one of the most sought-after bikes in the world. Only 30 were ever made; Morrow has 17 of them. Plus, a four-seat bicycle from the Monkees TV show, the bike from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, and much more besides. Filled with memorabilia, his two-level museum/shop, located on the Pittsburgh to D.C. bike trail, is available for private parties.

Carrie Blast Furnaces. Carrie Furnace Boulevard, Rankin. Tel: 412.464.4020. From 1907 to 1978, these two National Historic Landmark blast furnaces produced molten iron for U.S. Steel’s nearby Homestead Works, which ended up in structures including the Empire State Building, Sears Tower and Gateway Arch. Part of the multi-site Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, the site is open for guided tours (April to October) along with private visits and photographic opportunities. The 40-foot tall Carrie Deer, an urban sculpture constructed of materials salvaged from the site, is the artistic highlight.

Kelly Strayhorn Theater. 5941 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh. Tel: 412-363-3000. Named for Pittsburgh-born dance legend Gene Kelly, and openly gay jazzman Billy Strayhorn, who studied at the Pittsburgh Music Institute and then spent three decades helping Duke Ellington compose and arrange some of his greatest hits, this 350-seat multi-use venue in the Penn Avenue Arts district features diverse artistic, cultural, educational and community programming. When in Pittsburgh, remember the opening line from Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”: “I used to visit all the very gay places.”

Mattress Factory Art Museum. 500 Sampsonia Way, Pittsburgh. Tel: 412-231-3169. Frustrated by the long lines to see Yakoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirror Rooms” at the Hirschhorn in D.C. last year? Famed for her polkadotted worlds, the Japanese artist has two readily accessible permanent installations, “Repetitive Vision” and “Infinity Dots Mirrored Room” on the top floor of this 41-year-old Pittsburgh institution. Greer Lankton’s “It’s all about ME, Not You” is also permanently here, along with rotating boundary-bending installation art.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. One Schenley Park, Pittsburgh. Tel: 412-622-6914. Established in 1893 in part as a refuge from the pollutionchoked city, the “Green Heart of Pittsburgh” today is at the forefront of sustainability. Key features include the first-ever LEED-certified welcome center in a public garden; the world’s most energy efficient Tropical Forest Conservatory; and completely self-sustaining Center for Sustainable Landscapes. Plus, glorious floral and botanic displays, and seasonal events.

Randyland. 1501 Arch St, Pittsburgh. Tel: 412-3428152. “If you don’t play, you can’t stay!” That’s the golden rule at Randy Gilson’s folk-art filled home and garden, the signature transformation project from a man who selflessly turns blight to beauty and has given Pittsburgh one of its most joyful and colorful attractions. Hugs and selfies with Randy, like the admission, are free, but donations are richly deserved.

Downtown art space sign credit Jeff Heilman

Downtown art space sign credit Jeff Heilman

Fairmont Pittsburgh. 510 Market Street, Pittsburgh. Tel: 412-773-8800. Yes, that Fairmont, the global luxury hotelier, delivering an exceptional address in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. With 185 rooms, amenities include lobby bar Andys, after Messrs. Warhol and Carnegie, and newly launched Floor 2 Restaurant, with cacio e pepe (hand-cut pasta, Parmigiano and cracked black pepper) a highlight of the modern American menu.

Kimpton Monaco Pittsburgh. 620 William Penn Pl. Tel: 412-471-1170. True to Kimpton’s model of updating heritage structures and introducing winning restaurant concepts, this boutique makeover of a downtown 1903 Beaux Arts building features 248 guest rooms, including 13 suites; whimsical art throughout; and the excellent Commoner Restaurant.

Blue Moon. 5115 Butler Street. Pittsburgh. Tel: 412781-1119. Pittsburgh’s drag headquarters and birthplace of local legends such as Sharon Needles, winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2012. Nightly entertainment includes karaoke and Open Stage Night hosted by regular queens Bambi Deerest, Cindy Crotchford, and Dixie Surewood, plus themed events such as the Miss Blue Moon 2018 pageant, the Greatest Ho on Earth!

Commonplace Coffee Company. 1501 Buena Vista Street. Tel: 724-427-5442. Serving coffee and baked good, this cute neighborhood corner, part of an area chain, is ideal for soaking up the authentic Victorian-era atmosphere of the historic Mexican War Streets neighborhood.

Cruze Bar. 1600 Smallman Street, Pittsburgh. Tel: 412-471-1400. This welcoming gay-owned and -operated nightlife venue in the Strip District features rotating DJ’s, signature cocktails and three distinct spaces, including spacious dance floor, intimate lounge and large outdoor deck.

Hidden Harbor. 1708 Shady Avenue, Pittsburgh. Tel: 412-422-5040. At this “modern Tiki bar” in Squirrel Hill, thirst quenchers include shared drinks such as the O.M.G. (Oh My Guava) for two, and with two dozen ingredients, the Atlantis for four. There’s also the Dead Parrots Society guided rum tour, half-off happy hour tropical drinks (Tuesday-Friday), and plenty of other ways to say aloha in Pittsburgh.

Superior Motors. 1211 Braddock Avenue, Braddock. Tel: 412-271-1022. With a track record of success in Pittsburgh, local celebrity chef Kevin Sousa set his sights on the once gritty outlying borough of Braddock. Opened last year, his locally sourced-driven restaurant, housed in a former Chevy dealership along with a new 70-seat theater from acclaimed Pittsburgh company Barebones Productions, includes an onsite apiary, community bread oven and available housing for culinary, farming and educational interns and externs.

Eons Fashion Antique. 5850 Ellsworth Avenue, Pittsburgh. Tel: 412-361-3368. Richard Parsakian’s much loved, nationally acclaimed boutique is the region’s goto for vintage apparel and accessories. His knowledge and passion are as extensive as his collection, attracting customers like Pittsburgh’s own Billy Porter, Tony winner for Kinky Boots, and celebs Helen Mirren and Jamie Lee Curtis.

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