Oakmont: It fits to a tee | Suburban Neighborhoods | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

You couldn't call Oakmont rustic, although the municipal symbol is a jaunty squirrel with his tail cocked high. But Oakmont does seem to inhabit an earlier, more refined, era. Something about the place's laid-back gentility makes you want to stop your car and wait as an old couple crosses the road -- against the light -- and wave cheerfully at them afterward.

Its leafy, brick-paved main drag is filled with high-end boutiques with unusual dresses, glam shoes and distinctive jewels. If the goal of your shopping trips is to end up pictured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Seen column, this quaint riverside town may be the destination for you. And if shopping's not your bag, you can see a movie, browse books or eat, fancy or casual.

The roughly 2-mile-square borough just north of Pittsburgh was founded in 1889, and is home to about 7,000 people. It sits along the Allegheny River, and the name comes from the original deed for the property, which began at a black oak along the riverside. Its main commercial district, along Allegheny River Boulevard, is a wide, brick-paved stroll with free on-street parking. It's divided by a paved walking path straddling a little-used rail line, which only adds to Oakmont's turn-of-the-century feel. The Hulton Bridge is the only point of access across the Allegheny, which keeps traffic down and helps maintain the town's Norman Rockwell character.

The community is perhaps best known for the private Oakmont Country Club (1233 Hulton Road, 412-828-8000), home to a world-renowned golf course that has played host to the U.S. Open more times than any other course in the country. It was designed by Henry Fownes and built in 1903, and remains one of the country's most difficult courses. Jack Nicklaus beat Arnold Palmer there in his first professional victory at the 1962 Open, and Johnny Miller made history at the 1973 Open with a fantastically low score of 63. Another place you can't go unless you're invited is the Oakmont Yacht Club (11 Washington Ave., 412-828-9847), a private spot for bazillionaires to dock their crafts.

Not surprisingly, golf is a theme at many of the area's upscale clothing boutiques, especially with Open-mania reaching a fever pitch before the recent tournament. As the tournament drew near, for example, lingerie specialists Mia Boutique (638 Allegheny River Blvd., 412-828-1600) stocked custom-made golf-themed pajamas amid the Cosabella, Vera Wang and Scanty lines.

At Carabella (328 Allegheny River Blvd., 412-828-2187), a boutique specializing in upscale sportswear with a focus on customer service, ladies in capri pants with sweaters tied around their shoulders browsed big floppy hats -- perfect for keeping the sun out of one's eyes at the 18th hole.

Just a few blocks up, at Catherina (618 Allegheny River Blvd., 412-828-1995), you can find dresses with four-digit price tags that society dames rock when they're snapped at fund-raising galas and balls for the social columns. The boutique also carries bling made exclusively for it in Italy; Missoni knits and shoes; and gowns by Badgley Mischka, Vera Wang and Cesar Galindo, among others.

For the fellas, Traditions of Oakmont (634A Allegheny River Blvd., 412-828-8244) is the place to go for a full-service shopping experience. Just before the Open, an antique golf bag in the window beckoned duffers in.

Got footwear fever? Lucy (510 Allegheny River Blvd., 412-820-2410) has the cure. Find shoes you won't see at the mall, ranging from matronly slides to drool-worthy tortoise-shell peep-toe stilettos, all at surprisingly reasonable prices.

Oaks Jewelers (414-416 Allegheny River Blvd., 412-826-1299) stocks colorful gems and unusual rings, as well as more standard fare like chains and crosses in yellow and white gold.

The cozy Mystery Lovers Bookshop (514 Allegheny River Blvd., 888-800-6078) has an impressive selection of murder, crime and mystery to curl up with, and a little café for coffee and tea. The yearly Festival of Mystery brings authors in to the shop, and book clubs are based there, as well.

The Oaks Theater (310 Allegheny River Blvd., 412-828-6311) is a film-lover's dream. The single-screen, independently owned theater shows new movies as well as the classics, and runs midnight showings and the occasional science-fiction double-feature. Bring cash, because they don't take cards. (And the candy selection is to die for.)

If you've worked up an appetite after all that shopping, options abound. The Mighty Oak Barrel Restaurant (939 Third St., 412-826-1069) specializes in wine and seasonally inspired American fare. Grab a martini at the lounge in Hoffstot's Café Monaco (533 Allegheny Ave., 412-828-8555), or have a hearty, Italian-inspired meal. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are cooked up daily from old family recipes at What's Cookin' at Casey's (608 Allegheny River Blvd., 412-826-1400). For yet another throwback to another time, check out Just My Cup of Tea (850 Allegheny River Blvd., 412-828-0500), a Victorian tea room and banquet hall. The Oakmont Bakery (531 Allegheny Ave., 412-826-1606) can satisfy your sweet tooth.

As for culture, the Kerr Memorial Museum (402 Delaware Ave., 412-826-9295) was the home and office of Dr. Thomas R. Kerr, who lived there with his wife and daughter at the turn of the century. The museum strives to provide an "accurate depiction of upper middle-class life" at that time. 

And if you're seeking the comfortable life in this century, don't be surprised if Oakmont's charms have you heading up Allegheny River Boulevard ... even after you've been fully glammed up and golfed out.

click to enlarge Tree of Life: The Oaks Theater adds vibrancy to Allegheny River Boulevard - PHOTO: HEATHER MULL
Tree of Life: The Oaks Theater adds vibrancy to Allegheny River Boulevard

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