In my mind, Pittsburgh has always been a dirty, kind of trashy place. After five days there, I now stand corrected. Pittsburgh is a really cool kind of dirty, trashy place with amazing buildings. You should go there. We approached Pittsburgh from the South and I must recommend this path. Form the South you travel through small, suburban areas, then pass through a tunnel only to be shot out into bright skies and downtown; the contrast is impressive.
Once you arrive in downtown, you become surrounded by brick. It’s everywhere, but that’s to be expected of a town that’s been around since the very late 1700 (founded by George Washington himself in 1758). At the meeting point of 3-rivers and in the middle of coal country, the placement of this city ensured that it would grow alongside the US and this is reflected in the buildings. Downtown – like all downtowns – houses skyscrapers, but right beyond them lie brick row houses and churches galore. The entire East Coast is busy with churches and Pittsburgh holds its own with glorious spires and massive evangelical establishments. Seriously, the churches here are amazing.
Time and changes, however, affect the churches as well. Several churches are for sale in the area, a fact that one group took advantage of in the best possible way. They made a brewery.
Church Brew Works
Church Works Brewery took and old church and converted it to a working brewery and restaurant. It’s fancier than a brewpub (it has to be) with hands-down the coolest placement of brew kettle that I have ever seen.
The atmosphere cannot be beat, but unfortunately the food and beer can be. While the atmosphere is fancier than a brewpub, the food’s not. It’s not bad, but it’s not quality and neither is the beer, really. We ordered a flight of beers and were not really impressed with any of them. In fact, different styles tasted disappointingly familiar to one another. If the food was stellar and the beer meh – or vice versa – we could have given them a pass, but while the space is cool, if you are looking for good beer in Pittsburgh just go to Southern Tier because everything they make is awesome.
Fourth of July
Architecture and beer aside, our big event in Pittsburgh was July Fourth. Point State Park sits at meeting point of the three rivers, providing a broad view of the city and the only proper place for a Fourth of July celebration. With Fin we were not going to be able to see any fireworks, but the city held festivities all day long, with music, food, and colonial weapons demonstrations. We saw a colonial-style band and musket demonstration while taking in lots of sun, live music, and the river view. The people-watching was fantastic and even though we didn’t get a chance to catch fireworks we had a blast.
Last but certainly not least on the list of highlights from Pittsburgh was RandyLand. It’s one of those places that is in a league of its own to such a degree that I’m not sure that anyone can say that they’ve been to Pittsburgh if they didn’t go to RandyLand. We were lucky enough to arrive as a group of 20 or so teenage kids from around the world were wrapping up their visit. We met Randy who was completely genuine, happy, and ecstatic for all the things that life brought him. Without meeting Randy RandyLand would have been fun, but having met Randy – brief though it was – I feel like we left with the espirit de Randy in our hearts. If you go to Pittsburgh, definitely see the churches and all that but don’t skip RandyLand.
Other places that I wish we had had time to see included a bike museum with close to 3,000 items on display, a three-days touring churches, Polish Town, and countless museums.
Alright, we did one more thing on our way out of town. Pittsburgh has the steepest officially recorded public street in the USA, Canton Avenue. at 37% grade, the Westy did not have the horsepower to make it up the hill, though whether that speaks to the street or the Westy I’m not certain. Photos will fail here, but we’ll post them anyways.
Perhaps the best example is some footage of the Dirty Dozen race, a bicycle race of Pittsburgh’s thirteen steepest hills. Of course this is on the list and a lot of people can not make it to the top of Canton Avenue.
Dirty Dozen Race 2009 – Canton Ave – Pittsburgh PA