My father was born and raised in Pittsburgh, but I’m relatively new to the city. In exploring Pittsburgh, I’ve been looking into the eighteenth century side of things. With the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies meeting coming up soon, I thought I’d write a quick post highlighting some of the eighteenth century related things to see in Pittsburgh. The ASECS conference hotel, the Omni William Penn, is located downtown and is in close proximity to some sites related to the eighteenth century that are worth checking out if you have some time.
Pittsburgh: A Transatlantic Black and Gold City
A cool thing to do while in Pittsburgh is to think of the city and its history in a transatlantic context. I’ve spent a lot of time as of late driving between western and eastern Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is a big state and driving gives me a lot of time to think. One thing that has helped make the drive a little more interesting is thinking about Pittsburgh, and that big swath of in-between Pennsylvania, as a transatlantic contact zone between indigenous peoples, the British, the French, and many diverse groups. Maybe it is just me, but thinking of Pittsburgh as a transatlantic location helps in looking past the skyscrapers, the sports teams, and all of the black and gold.
Speaking of black and gold: You might be wondering what is up with all the black and gold in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has a long and complex history. The city is defined by many things, but black and gold is the most visual manifestation of the city’s identity and the color scheme is rooted in the eighteenth century and the city’s connection to William Pitt. Pittsburgh’s professional sports teams– Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins—all feature black and gold as their team colors. Black and gold is also an important part of the city’s civic identity, too. A recent article delves succinctly into this black and gold history and I recommend it as a crash course to the black and gold.
Things to See and Do Near the Conference Hotel
Be sure to check out Point State Park which is also home to the Fort Pitt Block House, and the Fort Pitt Museum, all within a 20 minute walk of the conference hotel. Known as The Point, it is the site of Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt. The park features some interpretive information. Visitors can also walk the footprints of Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt.
While at The Point, check out the Fort Pitt Block House, the only confirmed remaining remnant of Pittsburgh’s eighteenth century built past. There is no admission fee to the Block House. It is an interesting site that is run by the Fort Pitt Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution of Allegheny County. The Block House isn’t just a site of interest for its connection to Fort Pitt, it is also worth a visit if you’re interested in history and memory. The site includes a small commemorative garden celebrating the efforts of women in the early twentieth century to save the site from being turned into a stockyard.
If you have some extra time at Point State Park, I’d encourage you to visit the Fort Pitt Museum. The museum is part of the Heinz History Center and is not affiliated with the Fort Pitt Society. The museum introduces visitors the history of western Pennsylvania, focusing on the struggle for the region during the French and Indian War. Currently, the Fort Pitt Museum features a special exhibit called Captured by Indians where visitors can “[t]ake an epic journey to the heart of the early American frontier as the Fort Pitt Museum explores the practice of Indian captivity.” This is an interesting exhibit and is worth the museum’s nominal fee. The Capture by Indians exhibit is now closed, but Fort Pitt is still worth a visit for an 18C fix.
Visiting The Strip: The Heinz History Center and More
The Heinz History Center, which is about a 20 minute walk from the conference hotel, is worth checking out, too. The Heinz History Center covers the entire history of Pittsburgh. Exhibits of note include Clash of Empires: The British, French & Indian War, 1754-1763 and From Slavery to Freedom. The Heinz History Center features other interesting exhibits, such as their Visible Storage. Plus you can see items related to Mister Rogers, too! The Heinz History Center is also the home of the Detre Library & Archives.
If you are at then Heinz History Center, then you are not far from many of the shops and restaurants in The Strip. If you’re interested in Italian specialty foods, then The Strip is worth a visit. The Strip is also the home of Primanti Bros and their famous sandwiches. People have strong feelings about Primanti Bros. The sandwiches aren’t too expensive. I think the sandwiches are best when nice and hot. I recommend sitting at the bar to ensure a hot sandwich.
In this post I wanted to focus on some of the eighteenth century related things that Pittsburgh has to offer. If you have some more time you might want to check out the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, which include Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center, and The Andy Warhol Museum. The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is also a fun time. Lastly, if you like baseball, the Pirates home opener against the Cardinals is on Sunday April 3rd at 1:05 PM.
November 2017 Update: During my last visit to the Carnegie Museum of Art they were updating their exhibit area of 18C pieces. I think the update was supposed to be completed at the end of October or early November.
I’m still learning a lot about Pittsburgh and all the things to do and see. And eat. If you have questions don’t hesitate to shoot me an email (specterg at DUQ dot EDU) or contact me on Twitter: @GregSpecter.
Note: Here is an updated section based on my scant food knowledge in Pittsburgh.
Several folks on Twitter have posted regarding food options for Pittsburgh. I’ve only been in Pittsburgh since August and can’t speak in great detail as to places to eat in Pittsburgh beyond a small sample set. However, I’ll share what I know.
There is a high concentration of restaurants in The Strip, which isn’t too far from the conference hotel. I can only speak to Primanti Brothers. However, you can find a restaurant guide to The Strip here.
I’m more familiar with the restaurants on Bryant Street. Bryant Street is located in Highland Park, which is a short ride from downtown. Many of the restaurants on Bryant Street are frequently featured in local newspapers and best of guides.
Applewood Smoke Burger Company is located in the Park Side Pub. Their burgers feature locally sourced ingredients. Prices range from $9 to $14. I’ve had nearly every burger they serve. Each one has been excellent. Their wings are also excellent. They do serve salads. I usually get my burgers done medium-well which tends to be medium at most other places. If you go, just order the doneness of your burger one step up.
Park Bruges serves mostly Belgian inspired food. They are well-known for their mussels and frites. I do recommend getting those. They also serve poutine, which is very good, too. The bar is nice with a decent selection of foreign beers, but it does tend be expensive. The food can be expensive depending on what you order. It is also very popular and tends to get very busy. Point Brugge is a sister restaurant located near Bakery Square. I’ve heard positive things about it, but I have not been there.
Smiling Banana Leaf serves Thai food. It is fine for a neighborhood place. I wouldn’t say to travel all the way to Highland Park to dine here.
Joseph Tembellini Restaurant and Teppanyaki Kyoto are also on Bryant Street. I’ve not been to either restaurant, but people seem to like both of them.
If you go the Carnegie Museum or Natural History / Art, then you might want to check out Union Grill, which is nearby. They serve burgers, sandwiches, and other things. I’ve been there a few times and enjoy it. It is like an everyday kind of establishment. It doesn’t seem to get too busy. There are other restaurants on the same street, but I’ve not been to them.
Here is a best of guide from Pittsburgh Magazine. You’ll see that many of the locations on Bryant Street make the list.
November 1, 2017 Edit and Update:
I was still new to Pittsburgh when I originally created this quick guide. I’ve had a chance to explore more of the city since then, especially the area around Market Square. The Market Square area is a quick walk from the Duquesne University campus—just around 15 minutes. There are several restaurants and shops in the area. There is a Primanti Brothers location here; it isn’t the original location, but it has the same vibe. I still recommend sitting at the bar in order to get the hottest sandwiches. I’ve also eaten at Pizzaiolo Primo—a nice Italian restaurant the in pizzas. I enjoyed the food here, but it is on the expensive side, but not unreasonable. Check out the menu here. Many of the restaurants are busy for lunch and dinner.