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Neighbourhood Watch: Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville

If you're visiting Pittsburgh, check out Lawrenceville, an evolving industrial neighbourhood where body shops coexist with craft beer and chic boutiques

Usually it’s the artists who find a neighbourhood and make it cool. But in the case of Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville area it was a local hospital that made people look again. The arrival of the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in 2009 was the first infusion of something new to the neighbourhood in a long time, and it led to a growing entrepreneurial spirit seen all along Butler Street, bringing independent businesses of all stripes to set up shop.

Named for Captain James Lawrence, noted for his bravery during the War of 1812, the town of Lawrenceville was founded in 1814 by William Foster and in 1868 annexed to the city of Pittsburgh. After the industrial revolution, this area was a mix of residential and small industry, but an area of the city that attracted little notice from visitors.

Over the past seven years, Lawrenceville’s transformation has brought restaurants, boutiques and galleries to formerly shuttered storefronts. Locals from other Pittsburgh neighbourhoods are now making tracks to Lawrenceville to see what’s new in this ever-changing district. Several local business owners told Billy that even as they work to attract new customers from elsewhere, they're eager to engage the local community by keeping their goods and services affordable and accessible.

Butler Street is the main thoroughfare; Upper Lawrenceville is to the north(east) of 51st Street, Lower Lawrenceville south of 40th Street, and Central Lawrenceville is, as the name implies, in between.

UPPER LAWRENCEVILLE

Who’s snapping up those available storefronts? Caffe D’Amore, for one, a catering company that decided to take on a second life as a coffee shop. Owner Sarah Walsh offers  ethically sourced java (pour-over fans welcome here) without the pretension and is also focused on reinventing the shrub, a historic drink based on fruit vinegars (it’s better than it sounds – actually quite refreshing).

Caffe D'Amore

Courtesy Caffe D'Amore

Take time to chat over cake or tarts at Butterwood Bake Consortium, a welcoming vintage parlour-slash-modern bakery. It’s like being at your funky Aunt’s house for tea, except the freshly made offerings are inventive choices like matcha cake with salted almond buttercream or black sesame cake with pistachio icing.

Also homey is Von Walter & Funk. Named for the owners’ inspiring grandmothers, this French-influenced shop sells a mishmash of home décor, beauty products, gifts, books and garden items, as well as vintage items found near and far. From humorous cards to unique must-have objets, owners Jamie McAdams and Shawn Aversa offer shoppers a curated collection of past and present.

For the evening, Nied’s Hotel,  opened in 1941, is a neighbourhood tavern offering the most famous (and many say the best) fish sandwich in Pittsburgh, as well as a friendly atmosphere and a place to hear live music (including country and blues) courtesy of the Nied’s Hotel Band as well as local and touring acts.

CENTRAL LAWRENCEVILLE

Arsenal Bowl, a mainstay of Butler Street, encourages new fans of bowling to hang with those in the know. Offering a mix of old and new, the vintage bowling lanes running the span of the second floor are paired with newfangled machines to help keep score. Winners can hang out at the bowling alley’s Upstairs Saloon for cocktails and snacks.

At Mid-Atlantic Mercantile, owner Emily Slagel focuses on local designers to showcase in her boutique. Stylish women’s clothing and shoes are displayed alongside accessories and selected home décor. Look for something new for the wardrobe that can’t be found anywhere else.

Rowhouse Cinema and Atlas Bottle Works combine to give you double the fun at the same address. At Atlas, find your new favourite craft beer among the 700-plus selection of bottles and cans (or from the 19 on draft) from around the state and region. Then take your beer to the adjacent movie theatre to indulge in recent classics of the big screen – a new theme is showcased each week, properly served with a side of freshly popped popcorn and real butter.

Hungry? The Vandal caters to a number of whims: This chic café pairs locally sourced ingredients with old school cooking influences from Italy, France and Asia. Foodies will appreciate the chef’s ever-changing menu – which might include a burger, tempura fish and Mediterranean roasted vegetables at the same moment – and special event dinners with neighbourhood pals including Atlas Bottle Works. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday to Friday (brunch and dinner on weekends).

LOWER LAWRENCEVILLE

Toll Gate Revival is a recent addition to Butler Street, featuring vintage furniture and industrial objects, reclaimed and renewed for home or office. Owner Seth Hunter will help find the perfect gas station sign for your den. Don’t bother asking about the store’s vintage red leather couches, the only items in store that aren’t for sale.

Courtesy Toll Gate

Toll Gate

Since opening in 2006, Pavement has brought selected Pittsburgh and American designers to the neighbourhood. This fashionable women’s boutique also focuses on eco-friendly and ethically sourced footwear, jewellery and accessories. The hip career woman and the party maven alike will appreciate owner Alissa Martin’s au courant style picks.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you might be in the mood for Franktuary, which is all about the well-dressed hot dog. Try the “classic New Yorker,” topped with house sauerkraut, onion sauce and brown mustard, or the “signature Pittsburgh frank” with potato and cheese pierogi and vinegar slaw. You can sub in a vegan or grass-fed frank or locally raised sausage for the standard tube meat, and pair it with a side of poutine and a stylish cocktail.

Finally, a welcome evening roost for a cold brew and good eats any night of the week: Thunderbird Café is a live music venue that regularly hosts touring as well as up and coming local bands. Every Monday the café hosts the no-cover Butler Street Sessions, an open stage for vocalists and players of rock, jazz and blues.

Published Wednesday, February 3rd 2016

Header image credit: Courtesy John Marino

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