From Thursday night through Sunday morning of this past week, I had the pleasure of visiting Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I got to spend my time in Pittsburgh with my good friend from high school, Erik, and his fiancée, Nikki. It was a memorable trip.
Pittsburgh is a hard working, blue collar city. It is not flashy, it is not over the top, it is not in your face. For a big city, the people are down to earth and nice. I got on the bus in Pittsburgh and accidently almost fed a $50 bill in the dollar bill fare collector only to have the bus driver quickly put his hand in front of the slot and say in the nicest way possible “Sir, I think you would like to save $49 extra bucks.” Pretty sure in any other big city with an established public transportation system I would have gotten an eye roll and the wrath of a pissed off driver.
Never did I realize how big of a role water serves in Pittsburgh. Three different rivers cut through the city with big, yellow and blue bridges connecting everything. It gives the city an old school, but very unique, look. When you live out west, you do not see houses like the ones you see in Pittsburgh. Houses in Pitt are magnificent old structures that are built very close to each other. As is the norm in many eastern cities, the African-American population is very high. The city has an overabundance of funeral homes and hair salons. When it comes to the cleanliness of the city, I have seen cleaner cities and I have seen much dirtier cities. The city also did not have nearly as many transients as other cities its size. Yes, Pennsylvania has sales tax. The license plate design is cool.
I could go on forever mindlessly jotting down my observations about the city but I would rather have them come naturally while telling you about what I did on my trip.
Thursday, May 19th
I flew from Spokane to Minneapolis to Pittsburgh. I arrived in Pitt at about 6:30pm and Erik came and picked me up. We first went and picked up Nikki from work. From there we went to an area called Station Square that is a walk way type area with shops and restaurants just on the edge of the water. Of course, this provided for a great view (see picture).
Me taking in my first great view of Pittsburgh at Station Square.
We ate at a restaurant called Houlihan’s. It was here that I had my first Yuengling Lager, a very popular beer in Pittsburgh. After dinner we went to the South Side district. What makes up the South Side are blocks of streets lined completely with bars. It was the coolest thing ever. I am not lying, there were probably 60 bars sitting right next to each other up and down this one street. It was so funny, you would walk by one bar and it would be packed and then the one right next door would be completely dead. It alternated this way down the whole street. The locals really know where the hot spots are. If I ever go back to Pittsburgh again I want to go back to the South Side and spend some more time touring and experiencing all of the establishments.
After the South Side we went to Erik and Nikki’s house. I got to meet their cat and dog and Erik and I watched the rest of the Thunder’s victory over the Mavs in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. Did you see that Durant dunk?!?! Wow!
Friday, May 20th
On Friday morning, Erik and I jumped on the bus and went to the University of Pittsburgh campus. Here is the cool thing, the college is immersed in the city. In fact, you can walk onto campus with not really knowing that you are on campus! It has a very urban feel and one that is in stark contrast to many of the campuses I have visited. Erik is enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh Law School. You know you have some talent when you are studying law at a prestigious University such as Pitt. Anyway, Erik showed me around the school and I saw plenty of aspiring lawyers!
For lunch, we went to Primanti Brothers. For those of you who are not familiar with Primanti Brothers, it is synonymous with Pittsburgh. It has been featured on Man vs. Food (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMHF7MvBBCA) and is deeply revered in the city. What is a Primanti Brothers sandwich you ask? It is your choice of meat coupled with cheese plus French fries and cole slaw all slapped together between two pieces of bread. Nothing short of delicious. I had a hot Italian sausage one.
My first time ever eating at Primanti Brothers.
This place is so good that people literally have to line up outside the door to get in
After getting ice cream and looking around at some more of the U-District, we went to the Pittsburgh Museum where Erik and I spent majority of the time on the sports floor. Of course, the history of the Pirates, Steelers, and the Pens were colorfully presented. The museum offered many hands on sports challenges that were meant for little kids but Erik and I did them anyways. We passed through many of the non-sports exhibits too, including an exhibit on the Heinz Co.
We next walked across the Roberto Clemente Bridge. This bridge leads you right up to PNC Park. On days where the Pirates play at home, the bridge is completely shut down to traffic. Right when you get across the bridge you are greeted by the famous Roberto Clemente statue that is outside of the center field entrance to PNC Park. It is a big photo draw and it was no different for us.
By the time we had finished getting our pictures with the statues, it was about 3pm. We were going to the Pirates game that night but the gates did not open until 5:35pm so we strolled over to a sports bar called Mullen’s right across from the ballpark. The bar itself is indoors but they have a large part of the wall that opens up giving a great view to the streets and to PNC Park itself. We posted up at a table right at the open area. Erik and I had a great few hours in that place running up a bar tab and catching up on everything that has happened since we graduated high school. As the drinks started to go down, the place got more and more full. Many of the patrons coming in were clad in Detroit Tigers stuff (the Pirates opponent that night). The atmosphere was great, the music was good, and the beer was cold.
We left the bar at 5:25pm and went to one of the outfield gates to await the opening of PNC Park. Right at 5:35pm the gates opened and we entered the stadium. This is hard for me to do because there is nothing more that I would like to do than devote 2,000 words to the description and review of the park but I must hold off for right now because I plan to do that in a later blog post (I have a couple more MLB stadium stops this summer and I want to write about them all in one post).
When we entered we both got a free t-shirt as part of their “Friday T-Shirt Giveaway” promotion. We then got a couple of Iron City Beers, another Pittsburgh original brew that you have to try when you go there, and went down to the left field bleachers where we watched batting practice. This is the type of stuff I live for. I was a kid in a candy shop as I took in the surroundings of a new stadium and watched batting practice while chatting with the people around me.
Hanging out in center field during batting practice
We then went to our seats. Immediately as we sat down the usher came over and skeptically looked at us and asked us for our tickets. You see, that usher was not expecting to see two 24-year old dudes in t-shirts with beers and peanuts sitting in the THIRD ROW right above the Tigers dugout. I love buying tickets off of Stub Hub.
The game was awesome. It was pretty cool to be looking eye level with the players, hearing every call the umpire made, and being able to really recognize the true velocity of the pitches. We got the whole PNC Park experience front and center. Obviously, it always makes the experience just a little bit sweeter when the home team can pull off a victory. The Pirates won 10-1.
View from our seats!
After the game, Nikki picked up the two of us and we decided to go to Rivers Casino. Rivers Casino is the new Vegas style resort casino in downtown Pittsburgh. This casino was more than impressive. If you know me, you know that I have a taste for cards. Being in high school when the poker boom was at its height and living in the state of Washington where table games are legal, there was really no way not to develop that taste. Having been to casinos all over the place and having been to Vegas four different times since I have turned twenty-one (will be five times come June), I feel I know an advanced casino when I see one.
Everything in Rivers Casino is ahead of the game. When you bought in at a Blackjack table you were given your chips electronically. You had a screen under your playing space and you would simply touch it to make your bets. Likewise, you made all of your plays (hit, stay, double, surrender, tip, etc) from the screen as well. Of course everything else was normal about the table – the dealer, actual physical cards, player positions – so it was very interesting. Many of the slot machines had televisions built into them. Cash out machines were all over the place. All you needed to do was feed your receipt into the machine and it would dispense your cash. Who needs a cage anyways? At the casino I played a 4-8 hold ‘em game and then some Paigow. I did not win that night but it was fun. After closing the night at the casino bar by watching some of the Root Sports replay of the Pirates game, we came home for the night.
Saturday, May 21st
I woke up bright and early on Saturday morning to the beautiful sun. As it was the weekend, Nikki did not have to work so she was able to join us for the day. As we waited for Erik to get ready we went to a brand new coffee place about 30 seconds away from their house called “Java n’ Crème House.” I hate coffee, so I got a hot chocolate. Erik came out and we hit the road.
We started the day off by going back to the area surrounding the University of Pittsburgh campus. It was here that we had breakfast at a place called Pamela’s. This is another Pittsburgh institution that is raved about. I had chocolate chip-banana pancakes. It was at this place that I had another experience that proved my stupidity and proved Pittsburgh’s niceness. The restaurant was a place where they bring your tab to your table and then you pay it at the cash register. Okay, well this is an extremely busy place and lines get long at the register. When we were ready to leave, I left the tip on the table and then I went up to the cash register and handed the lady a $20 bill as I thought the total on the bill read $19.45. Thinking that I had paid the full bill and not wanting to hold up anyone for $0.65, I quickly walked out the door. Once I get out the door, I see Nikki at the counter forking over about $5 to the cashier. Immediately knowing that I must have shortchanged her, I went up and with great embarrassment I apologized. The cashier just laughed it off and said don’t worry about it. For all of the scum that must go into that diner and dash and run, I was expecting her to be pissed. She wasn’t. I still don’t know how I got the bill wrong, I could have sworn it said $19.45. But it all makes sense: Great food simply is not that cheap.
My breakfast. You have to be hungry now, right?
After breakfast we drove to an elevated area that looks down on all of Pittsburgh. In fact, it was the place where Erik proposed to Nikki. (See picture)
Erik and Nikki
Erik and I
Next stop for us was the Strip District. In order for you to get an idea of what the Strip District in Pittsburgh is like, think Pike Place Market in Seattle. While not as exotic as Pike Place, it was very entertaining and hopping. We especially liked going into the Italian groceries they had. In one Italian grocery, they had just about every cheese ever known to man for sale. On a large white board they displayed all the kinds of cheese available by country. The Strip District also had great options for t-shirts and other souvenirs at very cheap prices. Musicians played on the sidewalks and people of all walks of life roamed the streets.
After the Strip District we came back to the house for about 2 hours because we figured if the world was going to end (it was May 21st), Erik and Nikki had better be with their dog and cat. When it was obvious that the old man in California was full of shit, we went to a borough right next to Pittsburgh called Bellevue. It was here that we went to a ristorante called Luigis for dinner. This place was a favorite of Erik and Nikki and I must say it was my favorite dining experience of the trip. The atmosphere was so laid back and the whole layout of the restaurant was very interesting. I ordered a calzone and I had never tasted a calzone like it before. It was a meat lovers one but it had a bit of a sweetness to it. It was very unique tasting and I was just about able to eat the whole gargantuan thing.
This calzone tasted like nothing I had ever had before
After Luigi’s, we drove back into the city, parked the car, and made a beautiful walk to PNC Park for Saturday night’s game. It was Neil Walker bobblehead night so it was nice to get another souvenir to bring home. For this night’s game, we had seats close to behind home plate and about 30 rows up. While not as close to the field as Friday night, they were still great seats. I made it a point to walk the entire stadium and take pictures and video just to give myself a lasting impression of PNC Park.
Me at packed PNC Park
Unfortunately, I did not eat too much ballpark food at PNC. Erik and I devoured two bags of peanuts on Friday night and then on Saturday night I had a hot dog. What I lacked in eating I made up for in drinking though. I became very well acquainted with the beer hawkers and the beer pourers at the ballpark. The beer hawkers at PNC Park work extremely hard and are the nicest people you will meet. At PNC Park they have a stand called the Beers of the Burgh and one of the women beer pourers at that stand remembered my name and beer choice from the night before when I went back on Saturday! Beer doesn’t taste much better than at a ballpark.
As for the game, the Pirates overcame a 2-0 deficit in the 6th inning to end up winning 6-2 over the Tigers. Believe it or not, the game was a sell-out! This simply does not happen for the Pirates so it was definitely cool to see the place packed and everyone excited about the team. After the final out, we walked back to the car and drove back home. Erik and I watched the rest of Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals which the Mavericks won to go up 2-1 and then I watched Baseball Tonight. It was then to bed so I would be ready for my early morning flight.
Thank you to my hosts, Erik and Nikki, for a great time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For anyone going to a new city, I have a bit of traveling advice for you: Don’t Blink.