Oakland | City Guide | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Main Branch
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Main Branch

One Day in Town

On the surface, Oakland may seem like just a place for students. From September to May, tens of thousands of University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon students descend on the neighborhood to fill dorms, apartments and bars. Youth and vibrancy are abundant in the streets of Oakland, but the area is also teeming with history and culture. Start your day by grabbing a coffee at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center (101 Panther Hollow Road, 412-802-8511). This century-old building is one of the only surviving structures of Schenley Park’s inception. Also, there are restrooms and snacks inside.

After the visitor center, cross the street to Phipps Conservatory and Botanic Garden (1 Schenley Park, 412-622-6914). If it feels like a museum kind of day, pay admission inside and enjoy the Butterfly Forest and Tropical Forest Congo exhibits among other features, which include bonsai, native plants, orchids, palms and more. If you’re short on time, relax for a bit in Phipps’ free outdoor gardens. If it’s a Wednesday afternoon, you’re in luck because a farmers’ market sets up shop out front from June through October.

By now you’ve probably worked up an appetite, so walk along Schenley Drive until you hit Schenley Plaza (4100 Forbes Ave., www.pittsburghparks.org/schenley-plaza— an acre of green space with a large covered area and cafe tables. If you’re in the plaza on a Friday during the summer, there’s a good chance you’ll catch live music. No matter what season though, you’ll find several food kiosks and the full-service restaurant called The Porch (221 Schenley Drive, 412-687-6724). Expect farm-to-table dishes garnished with fresh herbs and homemade condiments; relax in the rustic interior or enjoy its namesake porch.

After you fill up on great food, head directly across Forbes Avenue to the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning (4200 Forbes Ave., www.nationalityrooms.pitt.edu). From the lawn, stare up at the nearly 600-foot-tall historic landmark. Once inside, stroll through the first floor and enjoy the Gothic architecture. And if you’ve made an appointment ahead of time, you can tour the nationality rooms — 30 rooms decorated in the style of various cultures, from African and early American to Korean and more.


Ali Baba. Indulge in tasty Middle Eastern food, including homemade hummus, moussaka, falafel, tabooli, fatoosh and more. Desserts, tea and coffee served up as well. 404 S. Craig St., 412-682-2829 

Café Phipps. No need to pay museum admission to visit this green-restaurant-certified cafe at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Expect organic foods and compostable paper products. 1 Schenley Park, 412-622-6914 

Conflict Kitchen. This small kiosk offers a rotating menu of foods from areas of the world with which the U.S. is in conflict, such as Iran and Cuba. 221 Schenley Drive, 412-802-8417 

Dave & Andy’s Homemade Ice Cream. This old-school ice-cream shop is a must-see during any visit to the neighborhood. Breathe in that waffle-cone smell and enjoy one of the many ice-cream flavors. 207 Atwood St., 412-681-9906

Legume. A new menu is posted daily on the website, just before dinner. With about five entrees available, each detailed plate receives individual attention. 214 N. Craig St., 412-621-2700 

Mad Mex. An all-around fun place to drink cold beer or specialty margaritas, and enjoy Mexican-American food, from wings to giant burritos. 370 Atwood St., 412-681-5656 

Spice Island Teahouse. An oasis of Southeast Asian cuisine, Spice Island serves up Burmese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai and Singaporean dishes. 253 Atwood St., 412-687-8821 

Thai Hana. Eat in or take-out Thai dishes at this small restaurant where the food packs a spicy punch. Choose from several curry, noodle or fried-rice dishes. 3608 Fifth Ave., 412-621-1100

click to enlarge Oakland
Photo by Billy Ludt
Gene's Place

Bars & Clubs

Bootleggers. A dive corner bar in Oakland where a few bucks will get you some good food and plenty to drink. 403 Semple St., 412-682-2668

Butterjoint. Craft beer, classic and specialty cocktails, and a wine selection are available in the cozy atmosphere in this full-service bar connected to Legume restaurant. 214 N. Craig St., 412-621-2700 

Gene’s Place. A corner neighborhood bar with cheap beer, a dart board and a juke box. What else do you need? 3616 Louisa St., 412-682-2158

Hemingway’s. Located practically right on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, Hemingway’s is a laid-back, cheap bar with rotating daily specials. 3911 Forbes Ave., 412-621-4100 

P-Town. A diverse, accepting bar where entertainment runs the spectrum, from karaoke to dance to drag. 4740 Baum Blvd., 412-621-0111

Arts & Culture

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Main Branch. Gone are the days of librarians scolding “Shhhh!” Visit not only for the colossal book collection, but also for the games, crafts, language classes and even live music. 4400 Forbes Ave., 412-622-3114

Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History. Enjoy the permanent collections and exhibits of contemporary works and natural-history wonders, or see this summer’s visiting National Geographic photos and Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads. 4400 Forbes Ave., 412-622-3131 

Carnegie Music Hall. Catch a concert or lecture at this grand 1895 theater, connected to the Carnegie Museums. 4400 Forbes Ave., www.carnegiemusuems.org

Cathedral of Learning. Stare up at the 535-foot-tall landmark, stroll through the Gothic architecture on the first floor, or schedule a tour through the various nationality rooms. 4200 Fifth Ave., www.nationalityrooms.pitt.edu

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Walk through a tropical African landscape, experience a butterfly forest or learn about native plants. 1 Schenley Park, 412-622-6914 

click to enlarge Oakland
Photo by Luke Thor Travis
Phantom of the Attic


Caliban Book Shop. Peruse the shelves of eclectic books and collector’s items, including autographs, photographs and original artwork. 410 S. Craig St., 412-681-9111 

Irish Design Center. Get that authentic Irish-knit wool sweater you’ve been after. Or, choose from a selection of Celtic design jewelry, Scottish novelties and fine pottery. 303 S. Craig St., 412-681-4230 

Phantom of the Attic. Two stores across the street from one another carry the latest comics and role-playing games. 406 and 411 S. Craig St., 412-621-1210 

Top Notch Art Supply. Paints, pens stretched canvas, you name it. This store will impress beginners and advanced artists alike, and the sales are often impressive as well. 411 S. Craig St., 412-683-4444 

The University Store on Fifth. Not just a college-textbook shop, the University of Pittsburgh’s store carries titles by faculty authors, book of local interest and works published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. 4000 Fifth Ave., 412-648-1455 

Other Spots of Interest

Forbes Field Wall. A section of the outfield wall of this revered Pittsburgh stadium still stands in Oakland. You can even relive the anniversary of Bill Mazeroski’s Game 7 World Series homer from 1960 here during a celebration every October. Located on Roberto Clemente Drive, near Pitt’s Katz Graduate School of Business