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Urban Walk #3: Squirrel Hill to East Liberty

It’s a lovely winter day when I take my library-to-library Squirrel Hill-to-East Liberty walk. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. Sure, I have on mittens and a hat, but that’s okay. After a few blocks my cheeks are rosy, and the brisk pace has my heart thumping. I’m ready to read some books. I had one to drop off at the newly-renovated library at Forbes and Murray in Squirrel Hill and one I planned to pick up at the Whitfield Street library in East Liberty.

After being warmly well-wished by a friendly librarian when dropping off book number one, Walking the Black Cat by Charles Simic, I continue toward Shady Avenue away from Murray, strolling along Squirrel Hill’s Forbes Avenue business district. There are many diverse snacking and shopping opportunities here. Starting  on your right is The Squirrel Hill Café, known to locals at the Squirrel Cage, serving beer and bar food of the highest caliber. Then there’s the Chocolate Moose, Coffee Tree Roasters, Rose Tea Café (great Chinese food and tapioca bubble tea) and Rita’s (gelati, in season). For shopping (both window or for real) check out Little’s Shoes—especially if they’re having one of their famous rack sales.

After opting for coffee to-go at the Coffee Tree, I resist all other temptations and get “on the sidewalk,” as it were. I turn left up Shady Avenue, and there in front of me is a pretty tree-lined street. There’s also a sense of history here: big stone walls and inviting porches. Landscaping features laurel bushes big and small dotting the way.

First detour: If you take a left at Northumberland you’ll find Ruggeri’s Food Shoppe (5878 Northumberland). The little shop with a 1950s-looking “Quality and Convenience” sign on its red-and-white façade has a deli with freshmade salads, fruits, fine cheeses and meats, and gourmet breads as well as Pellegrino and pizza. There’s a cozy-looking park bench out front. Rumor has it that Mister Rogers used to shop here.

Back onto Shady Avenue, I continue past the majestic houses. This is the word that comes to my mind, unprompted: majestic. Though just to shake up the ambience there’s one of those Pittsburgh “blue belt” signs on the right—white sign with a solid blue circle in the middle? Beautiful minimalist mystery. Nearly across the street, around 1221 Shady, there’s a rustic grape arbor tucked behind an ornate cast iron fence.

Second detour: With a sandwich from Ruggeri’s in hand, you can head into Mellon Park, past Phipps “Shop in the Park” home décor store, and through the stone historic gateway. Once the entrance to the R.B. Mellon estate, it was built in 1912 by Alden & Harlow. Head on through and enter the rolling hills of Mellon Park. It overlooks our destination: East Liberty. You’ll probably see some romping dogs, and on Sundays in the summer months you can catch the “Bach, Beethoven, and Brunch” free classical music concerts in the Rose Garden.

Back onto Shady and you’re passing by the newly revived Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. Great contemporary exhibitions pop up here these days. You can check out the current exhibition, and then cross at the busy intersection of Shady and Fifth. Stay on Shady until you reach Kentucky Avenue. Turn left. Take this peaceful street until you hit South Highland. Take a Right. To your right, in the distance, you’ll spot the church steeples of the East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

Continue on South Highland and soon a quaint business district announces itself with tightly packed storefronts, a laundromat, and a florist. There’s fancy Thai food to be had on your left at Typhoon and fancy Mediterranean food on your right at Casbah. Take  advantage of Casbah’s wine bar, where you can soak in the atmosphere, order a drink and dessert, and then head back out onto your walk.

If you happen to be walking your dog on this stretch of South Highland, there’s the ever-popular and super-friendly Smiley’s Pet Pad on your right. Here’s what my little dog had to say about Smiley’s: “Treats. A doggie water bubbler. Treats. Toys. Treats.”

As you forge onward, Shadyside mysteriously morphs into East Liberty as you cross the South Highland Bridge over the East Busway.

Once across, note the sparkling new chocolate store on the left: A Taste of Chocolate. This location, just opened in 2008, has fresh dark chocolate peanut butter cups and—I’m told—chocolate-covered bacon. They were out of this delicacy on my visit, but not one but three people came through the door looking for it while I browsed.

Back out on South Highland you’ll feel the heart of East Liberty pounding away. There’s an urban bustle to this neighborhood that is unlike anywhere else in Pittsburgh. The main business district is straight ahead with the wonderful Kelly Strayhorn Theater. Head straight and you’ll pass by The Red Room on your left at the corner of Penn Circle South. Upscale food, cozy bar with couches, and a fireplace. Very, very nice and helpful bartenders. Equally nice cocktails.

A left onto Baum Boulevard, and there’s my destination: the library—just beyond the fountain with larger-than-life people dancing in the rain. The gorgeous and historic East Liberty Presbyterian church is on your right, and the popular and hip Shadow Lounge is on your left. Just beyond the Shadow Lounge is the Kapi authentic braiding Salon at 5868.

Then, it’s into the library where I pick up Velocity by Nancy Krygowski from another equally friendly and ever-helpful librarian. I take my book and my tired legs back to Kelly’s Bar and Lounge at 6012 Penn Circle South, where I settle into a quiet, comfy booth, order a beer, accompany it with some of the best homemade macaroni and cheese in the world, and read.

Walking time: approximately 1 hour
Bus route back to Squirrel Hill: 64A
Sherrie Flick is a freelance writer and dedicated walker who is also artistic director for the Gist Street Readings series. This is the third in a series of ongoing Pittsburgh walks she’s written for Pop City. To read the first article, click here.

Captions:

East Liberty dancers

Squirrel Hill library

Ruggeri's

Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

Ask a librarian

All photographs copyright Brian Cohen

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