It’s a great time to be a Pittsburgher. The city is changing everyday. But no matter how much the city evolves, there are some iconic, old school Pittsburgh spots that we just can’t live without.
Of course we’re excited to be a part of the transformation, but we’d be bummed if the places that have shaped our history, and it’s eclectic past, up and disappeared. Which got us thinking about all of the stores, museums, restaurants, bridges, and bars that embody Pittsburgh’s unique narrative.
Sure, it’s a list that could go on, and on. But there are 13 places around the Burgh that stood out as spots we hope never close.
There are a slew of diners in Pittsburgh that would be sorely missed if they should ever close (Ritter’s, the Dor-Stop, Pamela’s, Kelly O’s, the list goes on), but Tom’s Diner of Dormont would leave a giant, gyro-shaped hole in our hearts if it ever closed down. Tom’s combines the beauty of an old-school, inexpensive 24-hour diner with the advantage of being able to order a beer. The huge portions of your standard greasy spoon fare are fantastic, especially after a night out on West Liberty, but it’s the enormous gyros that would leave us pining if Tom’s ever locked its art deco diner doors.
Even if you’re not a fan of the fish, Wholey’s Fish Market in the Strip District, is prime for people watching, exploring, and finding new and interesting things. Established in 1912, Wholey’s and its bright and smiling fish sign have become Pittsburgh staples, and the cityscape – and Lenten Fridays – have come to depend on it. Wholey’s has been all around town, opening first in McKees Rocks before moving to what’s now Market Square, and finally settling in the Strip in ‘59. Since then it’s seen the Strip District transform from a wholesale hub to a bustling Saturday morning destination. The Strip might have changed, but it would never be the same without Wholey’s.
Jack’s Bar, right on the corner of East Carson and 12th Street in the South Side, is a glowing, glass block Pittsburgh legend. Everyone over 21 has a story about Jack’s and everyone under 21 will someday. With all of the options to drink on Carson, there’s something about the familiar neon gleam of Jack’s Bar that’s irresistible. It could be the reasonably-priced drinks or the laid back Yinzer vibe, but whatever it is, Carson Street wouldn’t be the same without it.
The Thunderbolt at Kennywood
We’d miss anything that changed about Kennywood Park (R.I.P. Old Mill), but the Thunderbolt roller coaster’s loss would hurt the most. The Jackrabbit, built in 1920, may be older and the Phantom’s Revenge is certainly faster, but there’s something about ducking under the Thunderbolt’s rickety wooden tracks and crushing the person strapped into the bench seat next to you as you whip around the curve that’s irreplaceable.
The Original Hot Dog Shop
They don’t call it the Dirty O for nothing, but we’re willing to overlook the less-than-appetizing nickname for those giant baskets of fries. What started in 1960 as a hot dog shop near historic Forbes Field in Oakland has become a late-night staple for greasy, delicious dogs, burgers and, sandwiches that would be sorely missed by those with a pre-hangover hankering and Pitt students pulling all-nighters. The O is a reminder of Pittsburgh’s past – a past in which the Pirates won the World Series – and without that history, a hot dog would be just another hot dog.
Sure, this mode of transportation might date back more than a century, but the thrill of riding any of Pittsburgh’s inclines never gets old, and there’s no better way to haul yourself up Mt. Washington to see that skyline. Pittsburgh just wouldn’t be Pittsburgh without them. And though most of the inclines on the mountain went out of commission when the mills did, the remaining Monongahela and Duquesne inclines are reminders of a history unique to Pittsburgh.
Eide’s Entertainment on Penn Ave. is a three-story pop culture mecca for all things geek and glory. It may have started as a comic shop in the ‘70s, but Eide’s has since morphed into a one-stop shop for comics, figurines, movies, magazines, records, and engaging conversation about all of the above. Time slows down in Eide’s and, before you know it, you’ve spent three hours perusing old issues of Rolling Stone and unearthing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy Michaelangelo from you childhood, complete with pizza-tossing action. Nowhere else would those two worlds collide. Eide’s closing would be as heart-wrenching as the fate of Spiderman’s Uncle Ben.
KDKA is special, and not just because we’ve all had the “KDKA… Pittsburgh” jingle stuck in our heads since the early ‘90s. Created in 1920, KDKA is considered the first commercial radio station and is one of only a few stations east of the Mississippi to start with K and not the standard W. It’s an institution of the Pittsburgh airwaves. Pittsburgh might be largely remembered as the Steel City, but woven in between the smokestacks is the beginning of national broadcasting. KDKA’s roots in PGH run deep, and ripping them out would leave a gaping hole in the foundation media.
Bloomfield Bridge Tavern
Pittsburgh has become an international culinary destination, but that doesn’t mean we’ve lost an ounce of interest in our potato-and-cheese-filled past. That’s why we need the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern, Pittsburgh’s self-declared Polish Party House, to keep the pierogi, haluski, and kielbasa coming. It’s delicious Polish cuisine plopped right in the heart of Little Italy and you’d be hard-pressed to find another joint where you can enjoy local music and golabki at the same time.
The Fort Pitt Bridge
When the Fort Pitt Bridge shuts down for some temporary maintenance, city commuters collectively lose their minds. But if the bridge were ever to suffer a more permanent fate, not only would we lose an artery to the city, but we’d be without one of the most breathtaking views of the ‘Burgh. Those rivers, that skyline – no Pittsburgher should be without them. In no other city can you go from the drab tableau of the Parkway, through a mountain under flashing tunnel lights and be smacked in the face with three gorgeous rivers, the stadiums, the Point, and the city itself, all framed in the skeleton of that bright yellow bridge.
The Carnegie Museum of Natural History
All of the museums in Pittsburgh are cultural necessities well worth visiting, but it would be hard to recover if the Carnegie Museum of Natural History were to go the way of the dinosaur. Adult or kid, it doesn’t matter: the Natural History Museum, full of birds and dinosaurs and mummies and rocks, is one of the best places to spend an afternoon in the ‘Burgh. And the museum itself has just as much history as the fossils it’s home to. It was founded way back in 1896, it’s consistently ranked one of the best natural history museums in the country and it boasts the first complete T rex skeleton, which used to be a part of New York’s Museum of Natural History, but, like everyone else, packed up and moved to Pittsburgh. It’s more livable, even for dinosaurs.
The Benedum Center
The Benedum Center is the pulsing heart at the center of Pittsburgh’s downtown Cultural District. Built in 1928 as the Stanley Theater, what was once a movie palace now sets the stage for everything from big Broadway musicals to bands like Wilco the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater’s yearly performances of the Nutcracker. Pittsburgh has tons of great and they would all be completely missed, but there’s something about the Benedum’s high, ornate ceiling, killer acoustics, and classic theater atmosphere that make it such a draw. Without it, the city would suffer artistically and financially, since the crowds the theater brings enliven the whole area.
Page Dairy Mart
There’s a reason there’s always a line around the block at Page Dairy Mart at the corner of Beck’s Run and East Carson; it’s just plain great Pittsburgh ice cream. No fuss, no frills. Just delicious soft serve, milkshakes and gigantic sundaes with a Pittsburgh twist. It’s such a staple that April 17, 2012 was officially proclaimed Page Dairy Mart Day by the Council of the City of Pittsburgh, because it just wouldn’t be summer without a Yinzer Sundae or South Side Shake. Without Page’s, the city might be stuck with Dairy Queen