The NHL draft is rolling into Pittsburgh from June 22-23 this year, and let’s be real: on the whole, people still don’t have a damn clue when it comes to Pittsburgh.
Yeah, there used to be a ton of steel mills here and the population dropped dramatically starting in the 60s. It, along with places like Cleveland, Buffalo, and even Baltimore to some extent, was lumped into the ‘Rust Belt’ bucket and forgotten. It was just another town whose economy fell apart as manufacturing and heavy industry moved abroad. It was crumbling, grimy, and depressed. Why the hell would anyone go to Pittsburgh?
Well, ’cause the city figured out a way to transform itself and is, in my opinion, probably one of America’s best-kept secrets. For whatever reason, people still see Pittsburgh as what it was in the 70s, and that’s just flat-out wrong. But word is slowly getting out that it’s, you know, kind of a great city. It’s always at or near the top of livability surveys and rankings, its economy is now based in high-tech industries and thriving (you know, consistently adding jobs — including new Google offices — while the rest of the country lost them), and it has reclaimed the title of City of Champions thanks to a certain Sharon Needles, winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 4.
The film industry has seemingly found a new home in Pittsburgh, too, with more and more studios popping up and more movies being filmed in our streets. It’s got world-class universities, a housing market that was unaffected by the housing bubble and its subsequent burst, and still boasts an arts and culture scene that few US cities can match. For the first time in decades, Pittsburgh’s population actually has increased. Hell, even National Geographic named it as one of the 25 must-see places in 2012, one of only 2 North American locations. In short, the city is doin’ the damn thing.
But the NHL draft almost didn’t happen in Pittsburgh. You see, the furries of the world have traditionally convened in Pittsburgh for Anthrocon, their annual convention, for years now. The draft was slated to take place at the same time. Luckily, the city of Pittsburgh was able to convince the organizers of Anthrocon to change their dates in exchange for some hotel rooms, and all was right in the land. (Note: I’m so, so sad that I’ll miss it. But gay hockey calls and I’ll be in New York playing in the NYCGHA’s Chelsea Challenge with the Pittsburgh Tigers.)
But, you ask, where does the hockey fan, gay or otherwise, go when the festivities at Consol Energy Center cease for the day? Where can he or she go to get away from it all and enjoy what the Steel City has to offer? Well, yinz guys, let me be your guide.
The options I present are a result of my personal bias, of course, and I’m trying to factor in convenience. I’ll give options within walking distance, then those that require wheels of some sort. There are buses that will get you to Lawrenceville and Bloomfield/Shadyside and other East End joints listed below (91, 86, and 87), but if you’ve got a car, all the better. Note that taxis aren’t exactly plentiful on the street, so you’ll need to call ahead (Classy Cab is one that comes to mind). For reference, Lawrenceville and Bloomfield are around a 10- to 15-minute drive from downtown (double that for the bus), and Shadyside’s likely just another 5-7 minutes more.
Let’s start with the most important piece of information: where to get a good buzz. Consol Energy Center is on the edge of downtown, so let’s take a look at what dahntahn has to offer:
- Sharp Edge (922 Penn Ave.): Beer, beer, and MORE BEER — seriously, check out the menu. You absolutely cannot go wrong here if a good brew is what you want, and they’ve even got some good grub to soak it all up. This place is on Penn Avenue, and it’s only a 10- or 15-minute walk from Consol. (I tend to do it in 7, but I’m a former New Yorker who walks with a purpose.) Bonus points: non-smoking!
- Images (965 Liberty Ave.): A bar for teh gays on Liberty Avenue just around the corner from Sharp Edge. A rather large, good beer selection (although they just stopped carrying Pilsner Urquell), regulars who flock, and some truly awful carpeting. Unfortunately, they do allow smoking here (as do most bars in Pittsburgh) since they don’t make enough money from food services.
- 941 Saloon (941 Liberty Ave. – imagine that): Another gay bar on Liberty, it’s also home to an after-hours bar upstairs called Tilden, which is members-only (but those can be purchased upon entry).
- There Ultra Lounge (931 Liberty Ave.): Yet another gay bar just down from the other two mentioned above, it’s got plenty of drinks to sling your way. Nothing particularly outstanding about it, but it’ll get the job done.
- Real Luck Café (1519 Penn Ave.): If you find yourself in the Strip District (right outside downtown and walkable) and feel like a dive joint that will likely have some naked dudes dancing around on a bar whose structural integrity might be questionable at best, look no further. Popular on Sunday nights.
- Cruze (1600 Smallman St.): Technically in the Strip District, too, but easily walkable from downtown, Cruze is part lounge, part dance club. Bonus points for a lovely outdoor deck, too. Saturdays tend to be far busier.
- Damon’s (600 Grant St.): Your run-of-the mill sports bar in the US Steel Building. Ultra-convenient.
- TGI Friday’s (1001 5th Ave.): I didn’t want to mention it but it’s attached to Consol. So, you know.
- The Blue Moon (5115 Butler St.): One of my favorite gay bars in Pittsburgh, it’s the dive that Sharon Needles and the Haus of Haunt call home. Cheap beers ($2.75 Yuengling draught, I do believe). There’s a little deck out back if you need a break from the insanity and smoke inside. Located in Lawrenceville, it’s also not too far from all of the other establishments that line Butler St.
- 5801 Video Lounge and Café (5801 Ellsworth Ave. – notice a trend here?): The more popular of the two gay bars on Ellsworth St. in Shadyside, 58 (as we call it) has a fantastic roof deck out back. Probably Pittsburgh’s most consistently popular gay bar, and it’s often got a nice mix of girls and boys.
- Spin (5744 Ellsworth Ave.): The other gay bar on Ellsworth, it’s smaller but more sleek. There’s also an outdoor area, but the plus to Spin? Non-smoking.
- Cattivo (164 44th St.): Many of Pittsburgh’s queer girls come here to work it out. It’s in the middle of the action in Lawrenceville, too, which is great. Sadly, though, Pittsburgh hasn’t got much in the way of predominately lesbian establishments, but this is where to go if that’s what you’re lookin’ for.
- Donny’s Place/Leather Central (1226 Herron Ave.): If you’re feeling a little bit like being a freak-a-leek and want to see what happens in a dark maze created by barrels and stable-like partitions, head over to Polish Hill. The ground level is Donny’s Place where you can have a seat at the bar and shoot some pool. Downstairs, though, is Leather Central. I don’t think I need to say anything else; y’all get the picture.
- Brillobox (4104 Penn Ave.): Not a gay bar (but decidedly gay-friendly), this place sits on the edge of Lawrenceville and Bloomfield and packs the house. Good drinks and there are often performances of all kinds.
Downtown and its environs
- Primanti Brothers (46 18th St.): This is a Pittsburgh institution and you kind of have to go. This is the original location in the Strip District and open 24 hours. You choose the meat (or egg, I guess, if you’re one of those), they pile on a mountain of slaw, tomatoes, and fries between two slices of Italian bread. If you don’t at least try it, you’re a jerk.
- Seviche (930 Penn Ave.): Feel like Latin American food and drink? This is your destination downtown.
- Meat and Potatoes (649 Penn Ave.): Solid ‘gastropub’ (I hate that word) in the heart of the Cultural District.
- Nine on Nine (900 Penn Ave.): More upscale, but if that’s what you want, you’ll get it here. New American.
- Eleven (1150 Smallman St.): Bordering the Strip and Downtown, this is where you can blow lots of money on very good food. New American.
- Kaya(2000 Smallman St.): Caribbean restaurant in the Strip that really does things right. Fantastic cocktails, good food, and I’ll even go for brunch. And I hate brunch.
- Tram’s (4050 Penn Ave.): You want pho? Go to this place in Lawrenceville. Cash-only establishment with terrible decor and absolutely no frills, but it’s packed for dinner. You ain’t here to look at the walls, you’re here for the solid Vietnamese cuisine.
- Thai Gourmet (4505 Liberty Ave.): The girls here know me because I’m always here. One of two Thai joints on Liberty (Thai Cuisine is just down the road) in Bloomfield, it’s my favorite of the two. Kitchy decor that feels like a 50s lunch counter, cheap and delicious food, and enormous portions? Sure thing.
- Tamari (3519 Butler St.): Latin American and Japanese fusion. On the edge of Lawrenceville and the Strip, always a good meal.
- Piccolo Forno (3801 Butler St.): Really, really, really good pastas and pizzas. BYOB. A favorite of mine for sure. Lawrenceville.
- Avenue B (5501 Centre Ave.): A great BYOB joint on the Friendship/Shadyside border. New American.
- Legume (214 N Craig St.): A real gem of a restaurant in Oakland right by the University of Pittsburgh. Menu changes daily, not exactly cheap, but if you’re lookin’ for something you know will impress and satisfy, faut y aller, yo.
Other stuff that isn’t (entirely) centered around eating and drinking
I tend to eat and drink my way through cities, but sometimes you need to go places and do things to fill the time in-between. And if you’re here for the draft, you’ll likely have very little of that time, anyway, and will need things you can do close to Consol. With that in mind, I offer up a few suggestions:
- Mt. Washington/Duquesne Incline: This is a must for fantastic views of the city. Located just across the river from downtown, you can take the old-fashioned funicular up to the top of Mt. Washington and take in the stellar scenery. And while you’re up there, stop in Grandview Saloon on Grandview Ave. and have a drink outside on the patio for the best views in the city. (Sorry, had to include food/drink.)
- Andy Warhol Museum: Just across the river north of downtown, this museum is, of course, all things Warhol. Another must.
- The Mattress Factory: Also located north of downtown, this is a great place for modern art. Frequent programs to check out.
- PNC Park: The Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t exactly a great baseball team, but they play in the best park in the league. And it just so happens they’re playing at home on the afternoon of June 24. If you’re all hockeyed out after Saturday, I strongly suggest you pick up a cheap ticket (trust me, they’ll be available) and take in a game with spectacular city views and wonderful concessions. You can walk across the river or take the T (which is our lame-ass version of a subway) from 2 locations downtown.
- Rivers Casino: Maybe you feel like blowing all your cash on table games or slots. If so, you can do that just across the river from downtown. Located next to Heinz Field and a stone’s throw from PNC Park, you can walk from downtown or take the T.
- Strip District markets and shopping: Head down Penn Ave. on Saturday afternoon and see the Strip District come to life. All sorts of vendors, definitely a highly-enjoyable experience.
What I suggest is hardly comprehensive, of course, but I hope that visitors to my fair city, be they gay or straight or somewhere in the middle, will have an enjoyable time. Pittsburgh is a dynamic place that’s just getting better, so come check it out before everyone else finally gets the memo.