city slicker Pittsburgh

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The Independent Culture
This Sunday, American football fans will be glued to the Pittsburgh Steelers against hot favourites the Dallas Cowboys, in Super Bowl XXX. This week in Pittsburgh, one of the USA's most surprisingly likeable cities, they're decking the place out in the team colours, with black and gold banners, and the weekend will be one big party - whatever the result

Past form: For more than 100 years, Pittsburgh led the nation in the production of iron, steel and glass... and paid the price. The steel plants took root right by downtown's riverbanks, smoking, sparking and smelling all day and all night: the skies were black, the rivers were brown and there was a strange orange glow at night. The city developed a reputation for its dirt and grime which seemed to be summed up in its very name. All that ended in the early 1970s when US steel prices took a nosedive, the mills were unceremoniously dismantled and the city's naturally beautiful setting was exposed for the first time in a century.

The skyline: Downtown Pittsburgh is known in the tourist bumph as the Golden Triangle, and it's not a misnomer. Wedged into a tight area where three rivers - the Ohio, Allegheny and Monogahela - converge, its skyline is a mix of new and old, and all of it on a grand scale.

Nice views: The touristy way of seeing the city's skyline, including Three Rivers Stadium, where the Steelers (Neil O'Donnell, right) play home games, and the dense clump of surrounding hills, is to take the rickety Duquesne Incline tram up Mt Washington. Next to the observation platform are some of Pittsburgh's fanciest restaurants; the South Side strip a few blocks away is one of the liveliest nightlife zones.

Key hang-out zone: The Strip District, a five-minute stroll from downtown, is the destination for the thrifty. The chaotic early-morning market is good for fresh produce, and the street vendors at lunchtime sell amazingly cheap Oriental food. At night it's where you'll find some of the trendier restaurants (Kaya is great for Caribbean cuisine) and the best music venues, such as the Metropol.

The neighbourhoods: Other US cities might drone on about having so many distinctive parts, but Pittsburgh really is a place where the two million populace is tucked into more little neighbourhoods than you can count. These run the range from posh to rough, from yuppie to slacker, and dozens of different ethnic groups have their own enclaves. This urban mosaic is largely due to the topography, with the hills and sweeping road bends making for handy demarcation lines. Exploring the neighbourhoods yields Pittsburgh at its quirky best, leading to discoveries like the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern, an old Polish hang-out with live music, from punk to polka.

Andy Warhol: The late pop artist and mentor of the Velvet Underground was born Andrew Warhola on 6 August 1928, of Carppatho-Rusyn immigrant parents, in a tiny terrace house in the blue-collar Soho district. In 1994 the Andy Warhol Museum opened its doors. Though most of Warhol's most famous works were bought up by private collectors, the museum still has some cool pieces that span his career, as well as lots of archival material, a movie theatre and an education centre, which teaches Warhol's pop-art methods.

Other famous names: It's hard to walk a block of central Pittsburgh without encountering the names of three past tycoons: Carnegie, Frick and Mellon. Between them, this trio of a steel baron, a coalmine owner and a banker competed to leave their mark on the city. Carnegie won out, and in collegiate Oakland, three miles out of downtown, is The Carnegie, a huge complex taking in the largest of the 2,800 libraries he funded, a music hall and two major museums; all of which come with the Carnegie prefix.

TIM PERRY

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