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Big City Arts with Small Town Charm in Pittsburgh

Not one, but three rivers run through Pittsburgh, demanding an extensive network of bridges, 446 to be exact. These bridges serve as an allegory for the city’s dynamic connectedness, as if threading each neighborhood’s intricate personality into one captivating piece of fabric. In the Steel City, blue-collar meets hipster, Warhol meets Mr. Rogers and sports fanatics meet symphony lovers. At the city’s heart, Fairmont Pittsburgh thrives within the eclectic energy. Flanked by Market Square, complete with its bustling farmers’ markets and yoga sessions, on one end and the historic theater district on the other, the hotel allows guests to easily maximize Pittsburgh’s endless offerings.

Connecting the Arts
“This is a smaller city with an intimate feel,” says Andrea Stehle, digital marketing & communications manager, Fairmont Pittsburgh. “Yet we’ve undergone a major renaissance over the last fifteen years.” This renaissance undoubtedly includes the hotel. Shortly after opening in 2010, The New York Times declared the hotel brings Pittsburgh, “a long overdue dash of modern luxury and big-city flair.” Emanating a museum’s ambiance, the vast contemporary lobby features a statement piece asymmetric staircase, which, depending upon the angle, appears purposefully crooked. Follow it to the second floor to find the aptly named restaurant fl.2, which opened in October 2017. Designed by renowned Barcelona-based designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán, fl.2 celebrates the city with a tile mosaic of Pittsburgh’s skyline sprawled above the open kitchen. Homegrown touches are everywhere, from the locally crafted leather-bound menu books, host uniforms and ceramic plates, to the farm-fresh eggs sourced from nearby Rivendale Farms.

“There's such a spirit of community here in Pittsburgh,” chef Julio Peraza explains. “I really want to spread the message nationwide that not only are we on the cutting edge of the food world, but we also welcome and embrace outside talent and new creative ideas with open arms.” This be-my-neighbor mentality runs as deep as the city’s three rivers. There’s a sense of modesty despite world-class caliber cuisine, architecture, theater and art. Paying homage to history, Fairmont Pittsburgh displays more than 25,000 artifacts discovered during excavation. From pottery and porcelain to toys and tools, these phantom relics provide a window into life in the mid-1800s and the site’s once-upon-a-time pharmacy and orphanage. Each floor contains museum-worthy displays, and a self-guided tour is possible.

Its clear art plays a starring role at Fairmont Pittsburgh. On select Sundays, local gallery owner and artist Christine Fréchard curates a rotating collection for the hotel’s brunch crowd to admire over mimosas. Brunch and a show is seamless with a take-your-pick selection of Broadway shows and world class spectacles at nearby Benedum Center, Heinz Hall and Byham Theater.

And while Fairmont Pittsburgh resembles a contemporary museum with artifacts to boot, paying respect to Pittsburgh’s extraordinary museums is essential to any visit. Carnegie Museums deserve a minimum of a full day’s devotion and include: The Art of the Brick, Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center and, of course, The Andy Warhol Museum.

Outside the Carnegie collection, exploring Mattress Factory makes for a memorable afternoon. Comprised of three buildings throughout the Mexican War Streets of Pittsburgh’s North Side, this contemporary museum features thought-provoking installations and, on occasion, live performances.

Beautiful Day for a Neighbor
“Pittsburgh is as much about the neighborhoods as it is about the city,” says Stehle. “Each one is so eclectic and worthy of discovery.” An array of neighborhoods is easily accessed by foot or quick taxi ride. Begin an adventure at nearby Market Square, where Pittsburgh unites for family-friendly activities such as dancing, yoga, fitness programs and giant chess, checkers and Jenga games. The area also hosts art exhibits, night markets, fashion and Christmas markets, a seasonal ice-skating rink and even a Reading Room.

Next, cross the Monongahela River to the Duquesne Incline for a relaxed-pace cable car ride up Mt. Washington. From the observation deck, you’ll overlook the area surrounding the city’s three conjoining rivers, including views of Heinz Field and PNC Park. Those who can’t get enough of the city’s skyline should stick around for a drink or dinner at Altius, which features American contemporary cuisine.

Beautiful Day for a Foodie
The Strip District is the place to be for all things food related. Outdoor stalls and an indoor terminal host bustling seafood, meat, produce and art markets. On weekends, locals brunch in the hip eateries before undertaking their weekly shopping, as it’s never good to shop when hungry. Thai, Korean, Latin, Italian; there’s a cuisine for every palete in the Strip District.

Once you’ve satisfied your appetite, plunge into history at Heinz History Center, a Smithsonian partner, and the largest history museum in the state. Fans of Mr. Rogers, who filmed his beloved show in Pittsburgh, adore the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood exhibit in the museum’s Special Collections Gallery.

For an Intellectual
Studded with old-world-style architecture, the Oakland neighborhood hums with collegiate energy. This area is home to Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh, and no visit to Oakland should spare a stop at the Cathedral of Learning. This gothic tower, which rises 535 feet, is the second tallest higher education building in the world. Be sure to tour the Nationality Rooms. Whimsical as a Harry Potter set, each is traditionally designed according to a different nationality and comprises an impressive range from Japanese to Ukrainian, all equally mesmerizing. From here, walk Schenley Drive to Schenley Park for a visit to The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, its home to The Center for Sustainable Landscapes, one of the greenest buildings on Earth.

For Shoppers & Hipsters
Boutique lovers find a home perusing the shops of Shadyside. Both big name brands and local shops line Walnut Street, Highland and Ellsworth Avenues. Make time to stroll Fifth Avenue for a showcase of the neighborhood’s beautiful Victorian mansions, one of which was converted into the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

Recently revitalized, the riverfront Lawrenceville neighborhood offers avant garde restaurants, boutiques and cafés. By day, grab a pain au chocolat at La Gourmandine, and then walk along popular Butler Street. By night, enjoy a round or two of beer at any of the neighborhood’s many breweries, followed by a round or two of karaoke and bowling at hipster-favorite Arsenal Bowl.

For Sports Fans & the Outdoorsy
Get into the hometown spirit by attending a Pittsburgh Pirates Games, and if you’re an active type, consider catching the game by kayak. Paddle the Allegheny River and return in time for a homer and fireworks (bonus points if you kayak all three rivers!). From the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins to the endless riverfront trails along both sides of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, Pittsburgh has you covered when it comes to sports and outdoor activities. It’s even possible to run or bike Montour Trail all the way to Washington D.C., but it’s a lot easier to just opt for a cocktail on Cruisin’ Tikis floating bar for a relaxing ride along the Allegheny.

For Relaxing
From the Fairmont Pittsburgh spa to live jazz, relaxation is but an elevator ride away. “Like our food and beverage outlets, the Health Club & Spa caters not only to the hotel guest but to the local,” says Stehle. “At the Health Club & Spa, we see local members and hotel guests enjoying a spin session first thing in the morning and a mid-afternoon manicure between meetings. The Spa is a beautiful place to rest your mind and treat yourself, and the third-floor panoramic city views certainly motivate a workout.”

In the evening, unwind at Andys Bar with live jazz on Fridays and Saturdays. Named after the Pittsburgh’s most famous Andrews (Carnegie and Warhol), the bar shares the city’s neighborly vibes. Go ahead, ask your bartender his or her zodiac sign before ordering a drink. Featured cocktails are named for the staff’s zodiac signs and crafted after their personalities. How’s that for an icebreaker?

And if you don’t have time to buy gifts representing your time in the City of Bridges, simply order them at the hotel. Local specialties from love, Pittsburgh are available in the spa and via room service.

As friendly as a small town and as cultured as a big city, Pittsburgh offers you reason to be its neighbor for life or at the very least a long weekend.

Courtney Lochner is a writer based out of Chicago but frequently escaping to Europe.  Passionate for all things food, wine and travel, her work has been published in magazines like Glamour Magazine, Inspirato, and Runway Live, and her short story became a film produced by Moxie Pictures.


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