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The Insider Guide to the Northside

The Northside flats, sometimes called "the North Shore" by those who don't live here, are hemmed in by a contour of riverfront and steep hills.  In a teeming crosshatch grid, the communities of Manchester, Allegheny West, Central Northside and Deutschtown once comprised the City of Allegheny, annexed to the City of Pittsburgh in 1907 in a catalyzing moment that set the ball rolling for decades of urban decay.  Despite the vestiges of foibles and quirks, the Northside now stands proud as a Victorian comeback, working through its previous tawdriness with a balanced commitment to community heritage and future-driven investment. 

What strikes visitors of the Northside the most?  It could be the small village appeal of the urban neighborhood that is within walking distance of Downtown. Never mind the drunk Steelers fans and the post office's bulletproof glass. Those who live here can run a tab at the corner store, share a community garden, shop at the famers' market, and work together to solve problems and build businesses. The talent in the Northside is considerable. 

Take Bob Beckman of Central Northside, who founded Artists Image Resources, an atelier for printmakers and artists of renown.  Or longtime Central Northsiders Joan Kimmel and Lynne Weber, who teamed up to sprout Urban Gardener, converting a neglected lot into a spectacular urban nursery.  Spring Hill's Sara Radelet runs the New Hazlett Theater while Sweet Time, an old-time candy and gift store, is owned and operated by local former City Councilwoman, Barbara Burns. Partners Sandra Telep and Jessica Burgan opened Hoi Polloi vegetarian coffeehouse, living upstairs.  Undaunted by a fire that gutted his home and business, Kerry Kennedy re-established KS Kennedy Distinctive Floral Gift and Gourmet and his home right back on Western Avenue.   

And of course the famous Northside's Manchester Craftsmen's Guild and Mattress Factory, international incubators of jazz and art, were founded by formidable Northsiders--Bill Strickland and Barbara Luderowski, respectively.  Finally, neighbors invested in long-neglected East Allegheny with businesses like Priory Fine Pastries (Ed and Mary Ann Graf), Amani Coffeehouse (Terra Jones) and Rita's Water Ice (Galen Moorer). 

With a commitment to invest comes a commitment to preserve.  The Mexican War Streets Society recently held its Preservation Ball to help raise awareness as well as funds for a façade improvement program for homeowners.  Allegheny City Society maintains the history and legacy of the Northside while the Allegheny Commons Initiative works to preserve and protect Allegheny Commons park, an urban greenspace that dates to the post-Revolutionary war era.   

Manchester has some of the most finely preserved urban Victorian architecture in the country, and tours such as the Old Allegheny Victorian Christmas House Tour showcases the very best of Allegheny West's historic homes. Historic tax credits and Pennsylvania's Elm Street program assist neighbors in affording building restoration and greening parts of the North Side, particularly Deutschtown.  Festivals such as Pumpkinfest, House Tours, Northside Celebration in the Park and the German-American Heritage Day Parade are opportunities to celebrate what makes our community strong. 

Back to the City
The best sign of a community in comeback? Families are increasingly moving to Northside neighborhoods, which host superior family destination places: the Carnegie Science Center, Children's Museum and the vamped up National Aviary, now with a permanent and very cool penguin display.  And consider the practical proximity to must-haves: a Giant Eagle, playgrounds, a major hospital, and a brand spanking new Carnegie Library with a wonderful children's section.  

National Blue Ribbon Manchester Academic Charter School or Allegheny Traditional Academy with its ballroom dance program are solid choices for a public school option, while the Sue Murray Pool is everyone's public option during the dog days.  Speaking of, adopt a pet at the Western Pennsylvania Human Society and enjoy socializing at the dog run in the leafy Allegheny Commons Park or run on the riverfront trails where you can also enjoy biking or fishing, kayaking, or splashing in the Water Steps

The largest boys and girls club in the country resides at the exceptional and LEED-certified Sarah Heinz House, home to affordable, nationally ranked gymnastics and swimming programs, robotics, music, art, and leadership programs for youth.   Urban Impact Foundation hosts additional youth sports and the YMCA offers healthy recreation for all ages.  All of this and more within a short walk or bike ride from one another, creating a kind of populism and urban density that breeds local investment and sustainability.

Sports and Nightlife
While we locals enjoy an ice ball from Gus and Yia Yia's stand on East Ohio Street, folks come from all points to the North Side to whoop it up big at Rivers Casino, Heinz Field and the one-of-a-kind Andy Warhol Museum.  

We have plenty of parking and partying alike. Stadiums are accessible by any of Pittsburgh's major highways as well as water taxi and boat, and it is not uncommon to see hundreds of boats crowding the Northside riverfront to party on game day. For Pirate games, the Roberto Clemente Bridge closes to traffic and becomes a walkers' paradise, connecting downtown with PNC Park for convenience and ease. Adjacent to the ballpark are Atria's, Soho, and a string of beer bars, while Jerome Bettis's Grille 36, Calico Jack's, Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse, and McFadden's promenade the riverfront to Heinz Field. 

Elsewhere, Northside hosts corner bars, pubs and carry-out, all with decent food and local color: Wilson's BBQ and Monterey Pub in Central Northside - affectionately known simply as "the pub," and Park House or Max's Allegheny Tavern in Deutschtown.  Of note is Max's Steelers Shuttle, which will assist your inebriated self in safely making it to Heinz Field. There's also Cassis, a new restaurant at 900 Western Avenue, which boasts an interesting menu, complete with a fried peanut butter and bacon sandwich, and an upstairs bar. 

If you plan on making it a night, check into an elegant, impeccable inn such as the Priory Hotel, named one of the world's top 10 hidden gems by Hotels.com.  Overlooking the park is the Inn on Mexican War Streets, and island elegance is found at the Parador in Allegheny West.  Just up the hill from the North Shore sits the Arbors, a restored farmhouse-turned B&B perched on a secluded hill.  Dinner is found at local eateries such as Nicky's Thai Restaurant, Legend's of the North Shore, Serendipity's speakeasy, or café dining at Bistro to Go.  Savor great pizza and Italian fare from Giorgio's on Western Avenue or a hoagie from Peppi's or Olde Allegheny Sandwich Shoppe.  As for me, I'll have my dinner in my European-inspired urban courtyard, or perhaps on my neighbor's roof deck overlooking the skyline, or a family picnic in the park. 

So many things to choose from here in my 'hood, the Northside. 

Jen Saffron writes, bikes, eats, mothers, organizes, sings, photographs and does a host of other rewarding, fun things living with her husband and two sons in Deutschtown.

Featured in the photographs:  Bob Beckman at AIR; Sara Radelet at the New Hazlett Theater; Jessica Burgan and Sandra Telep at Hoi Polloi; Terra Jones at Amani Coffee House

Photographs copyright Brian Cohen
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