| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter RSS Feed


The Best Yet Guide to Mt. Washington

From the top of Mt. Washington, Pittsburgh's topography comes to life. Downtown's steel peaks and valleys shift as the Monongahela Incline ascends almost 600 feet above the city. The basins of the North Side's stadiums fill with black and gold while Victorian Manchester gazes patiently toward Brunot Island, Neville Island's mysterious sibling of the Ohio River. Station Square stirs as the restaurant and shopping crowd swings to the nightclubs, and snakes up and down Carson Street into the South Side. In the distance, the Cathedral of Learning crowns Oakland's achievements. The three rivers roll with kayaks and bigger boats, and the bridges breathe as cars, bikes and pedestrians make their way to a concert or home or the office, or stop to take in the view. Point State Park's majestic fountain marks the meeting of the rivers. Everywhere, there are trees, and the sky spreads forever.

This view as been awarded one of the "10 most beautiful" in the country by USA Today, and Mt. Washington sees nearly a million visitors a year for it.

But Mt. Washington has so much more to offer than breathtaking vistas of Pittsburgh's other neighborhoods. The neighborhood of more than 12,500 residents has its own distinct community and culture, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say its own distinct communities and cultures. Mt. Washington, which was known as "Coal Hill" until 1876, is an exercise in contrast. Brand new, million dollar condos two blocks from rowhomes that have been in families for generations. Lavish fine-dining establishments down the road from classic dive bars and pizza parlors. Nearly 300 acres of trees and trails that cut through and are surrounded by high rises and perpetual construction. The oldest continuous inclines in the world that draw both tourists looking for fun and residents in need of public transportation.

Living the High Life

Just across the Mon from Downtown Pittsburgh, Mt. Washington is a mostly young, working class community. The largest population by age is between 25 and 44 years old, with the average income exceeding $42,000. And because of the luxury houses and condos that line Grandview Avenue, Mt. Washington is home to one of the largest populations of those earning greater than $200,000 in the region.

"The charm of the Mt. Washington is in the community," says Chris Beichner, executive director of Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC). "What sticks out in everyone's mind is the view, but if you come here, you realize the diversity of the people here, and their passion for the neighborhood."

Mt. Washington residents say they love their neighborhood not just for its views, but also its amenities. There are dry cleaners (including Bram's Tailor and Cleaner, established in 1909), a Foodland grocery store with ample parking, drugstores, several banks, a quaint post office and tons of salons for all your hair, nail and tanning needs.

Another appeal is Mt. Washington's proximity to just about everything outside its borders. Jena-Anne Sabom, who rents in both Mt. Washington and Midtown Manhattan, says she loves how "close and convenient" the neighborhood is to Downtown and the airport, as she travels a lot for her work as an artist and fashion designer. Jeff Paul, a seven-year resident and area developer, explains that Mt. Washington's so ideal because "you've got the big city right down there, and the suburban community feel up here."

Housing ranges from ranches on narrow lots, to apartment rentals in partitioned homes, to modern mansions with sweeping verandas.

Condos include the Trimont on Grandview, where two-to-three bedroom units (with pool and health club access, naturally) range from $375,000 to $1.475 million, and 1000 Grandview, which doesn't look like much from the street, but cascades elegantly with down the mount, offering each condo a remarkable view of the Golden Triangle.

New developments include the family-oriented Sweetbriar Village, which broke ground in July; the luxe, 11-unit Vista Grande, which is taking shape at the corner on Grandview Avenue and Ulysees Street; and the mixed-use One Grandview, which is slated to replace, by 2012, the vacant former Edge Restaurant near the top of the Incline. Within the business district, there are also some new constructions and renovations in the works, including a promising commercial/residential space by Paul Apostolou of Apostolou Associates, Inc.

Perhaps the most famous housing option on Mt. Washington is Chatham Village, a 46-acre cooperative residential community built in the 1930s and still studied by architects and planners today. Nestled in an idyllic green space toward the Duquesne Heights side of the neighborhood, Chatham Village has the air of a storied university campus with its ivy-draped, red-brick homes arranged around impeccably groomed quads. Gourmet coffee shop Café Cravings caters to residents, but is open to anyone.

Food with a View

Mt. Washington is home to some of the city's ritziest restaurants, and also some of its best holes in the wall.

"Restaurant Row," as the strip of eateries along Grandview Avenue is known, boasts some truly formidable special-occasion spots. Standouts include LeMont, the romantic, five-star staple that does an inspired tableside Baked Alaska; Monterey Bay Fish Grotto; which serves the freshest catches from atop the Grandview Point Apartment Building; and Tin Angel, where the black cherry-stuffed filet mignon is named after President Clinton in honor of his 1994 visit to the restaurant.

Stray from Grandview, though, and you'll discover the gems hidden deeper in Mt. Washington's Shiloh Street and Bailey/Boggs Avenue business districts.

You've got your pizza joints, including Cestone's (yes, they serve pizza bagels), Bellissimo's (go for the vegan pie and vintage arcade games) and Fox's Pizza Den. And then there's La Tavola Italiana Restaurant & Pizzeria. Located a bit back from the tourist-targeted area, La Tavola is a BYOB that serves unpretentious Italian food in an unpretentious environment. Everything is homemade and everything is excellent. Its mention in a 2007 Sports Illustrated article as a Steelers player and coach haunt justly adds to La Tavola's appeal.

Mt. Washington also has its share of watering holes where you can fill up on classic American cuisine and frothy pints of draft beer. Redbeard's is a local fave with a cozy, street-level courtyard that serves conventional pub grub and homemade potato chips. And don't pass up newcomer Packs & Dogs. All the right fixings are available for the veggie and standard franks, and you can pick your own six-pack from more than 400 varieties of hard-to-find bottles. If beer's not your thing, the wine and spirits store is just a storefront away.

For breakfast all day, don't miss J.J.'s Family Restaurant, where the wait is never more than five minutes and the eggs are always made-to-order. And for caffeine, homemade fudge and frozen treats, be sure to hit up Grand Brew coffee shop and DiFiore's Ice Cream Delite toward the view-side of Shiloh Street. Both are popular with Incline visitors and both are owned by Todd DiFiore, who made local headlines in June for working 1,000 days in a row.

Places to Pay and Pray

Mt. Washington doesn't have tons of retail, but what it does have is astoundingly unique. There's Wallace Floral Shoppe and Eiseltown Flower Shop, which also sells small gifts, penny candy and lottery tickets. Exile Cycle Shop, which opened on Boggs earlier this summer, does repairs, and new and refurbished bikes. And you can set up an appointment with Mt. Washington Scooters owner Scott Wroblewski to plan the purchase of your next motorized two-wheeler at his new shop on the corner of Shiloh Street and Southern Avenue. Other area shops include JV Rashi's Treasures, which feels like a one-room flea market, complete with jewelry, coins, knives and other collectibles; and Schwarz's Woodworks, Inc., on Merdian Street, where you can order a custom pool table.

Some shops that are more distinctive sights than actual retail destinations include Horsefeathers Singing Telegrams, a puzzling little storefront on the corner of Sycamore and Kearsarge Streets, and the long-vacant Mr. Magoo's Variety Store on Boggs Avenue, which is both a beautiful and haunting relic of what once was. The Carnegie Library's books are not for sale, but its Mt. Washington branch--a century-old white building on Grandview Avenue--is worth stopping by for a browse or a story time.

Also, Mt. Washington has some gorgeous churches, including the regal Saint Mary of the Mount on Grandview Avenue, and the Presbyterian Church back on Bailey Avenue, which hosts conferences and events at its on-site Urban Mountain Gathering Place--a great way to incorporate Mt. Washington's signature view for less than at a Restaurant Row banquet facility.

Parks and Arts

Sure, Mt. Washington is a fun place to eat and shop, but it's also an amazing neighborhood in which to breathe the fresh, open air. There are the obvious panoramic views from the top of the Duquesne and Monongahela Inclines, and the overlooks along Grandview are perfect for post-meal strolls and event photo ops.

When not in formal wear, take advantage of Mt. Washington's other outdoor recreational amenities. Grandview Scenic Byway Park, which wraps in a U-shape around Mt. Washington's peninsula, comprises 235 acres of playgrounds, playing fields, woodlands and trails, some of which are so untouched you can spy deer, foxes and wild turkeys, says longtime resident Eva Simms, a psychology professor at Duquesne University.

According to Ilyssa Manspeizer, the MWCC park resource manager, regular park events include yoga practice and film screenings, and two upcoming special events include the 100th birthday celebration of Grandview Park (Oct. 3), and Wild Art, Wild Trails Fest (Sept. 7)--a festival in which participants will clean up a dump site, and create art from the former waste.

The Charles Lewis Memorial Park on Shiloh Street was developed into a sustainable rain garden exhibit by Burt Hill architects in 2008. The garden is home to just one of Mt. Washington's murals, an impressionistic streetscape on the side of the neighboring historic firehouse. The other two murals are "Bloom," created in 2007 by Gerry Tonti, and a depiction of George Washington surveying land for Fort Pitt painted onto the gas station-facing side of MWCC's office.

The murals set the perfect stage for the weekly Arts Marketplace, which brings performers and craft vendors to Mt. Washington every weekend from May through November.

"We try to engage the tourists by pulling them in with the art, and hope they'll stay and explore the rest of the neighborhood," says MWCDC's Greg Panza.

Captions, top to bottom:  Vicki at Cafe Cravings; Duquesne Incline; The View from Grandview; Hiking in the Grand View Scenic Byway Park; Jeff Paul; Chatham Village; Shiloh Street Grill; Schwartz's Woodworks; Charles Lewis Memorial Rain Garden; (l to r) Greg Panza, Chris Beichner, and Ilyssa Manspeizer of the MWCDC.

Caralyn Green is the development news and Buzz editor for Pop City.

Photographs copyright Brian Cohen
Signup for Email Alerts
Signup for Email Alerts