BY JOE HOLLEMAN
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Sunday, May 1, 2011
firstname.lastname@example.org & 314-340-8254
PITTSBURGH • Going to a baseball game in Pittsburgh is nothing like going to a contest here at Busch Stadium.
Now, don't get me wrong.
Statues of Pirates heroes of seasons past stand guard around the home field, PNC Park; the park is clean, well-designed and boasts a breathtaking skyline view of the city; and the food and drink is from the standard ballpark menu, dozens of delicious and overpriced items.
Where it takes a turn away from St. Louis-style baseball is that, well, no one in Pittsburgh seems to go to baseball games after Opening Day. This conversation actually took place between a traveler and two Pittsburghers (yes, that's what they're called):
TRAVELER • "Last night, there were only about 8,500 people at the game."
PITT-1 • "Well, the Penguins had a playoff game. If they hadn't been playing in town, there'd have been more people at the ballgame."
PITT-2 • "Yeah, like maybe 10,500."
Sad as that story is for Pirates fans, it works in the favor of a Cardinals fan looking to cheer for El Birdos on the road. But let's start at first base:
Pittsburgh is a 10-hour drive, about 605 miles, so chances are you will want to fly to this destination. Even though I like to drive, I find that six hours is about all I want to drive for a weekend or three-day trip. Any more than that, and I feel like I spent most of my time off behind the wheel.
Nonstop airfare from St. Louis to Pittsburgh (a 2 1/2 hour flight) was $240, booked about three weeks in advance.
Once on the ground in Pittsburgh, you'll need to either rent a car or taxi into downtown. I chose a taxi service, convinced I didn't need a car for this excursion.
Regular cab fare will run about $40-$50 from the airport to downtown. So I used the Super Shuttle service, which waits until several people sign up before leaving.
The trip downtown cost $20 — with a $5 tip for Sean, who gave me the straight story on sports ("The Steelers are everything"), food ("Gotta go to Primanti's") and urban development ("You're goin' to the North Shore, which was the North Side until developers fancied the name up.")
Except for one short trip downtown, I hung out in the North Side neighborhoods around the ballpark for my entire visit. I walked from my hotel whenever possible. Should you take a taxi from a North Side hotel to the ballpark, the fare would be at most $10, and that includes an appropriate tip.
Walking around PNC Park, it's hard not to feel sympathy for Pirates fans. It seems like every person in this city knows the Pirates have had "18 losing seasons in a row."
Regardless of that albatross of a streak, the area surrounding the park is second to none I've visited. Walking along the city's River Walk, which is on the North Shore of the Allegheny River, there are river kayaking stands, joggers and walkers and stately pedestrian bridges.
Up from the river around the stadium, there are huge statues of Pirates heroes from decades past: Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Honus Wagner and, my fave, Bill Mazeroski caught waving his hat in celebration of his seventh-game, walk-off home run to beat the Yankees in the 1960 World Series.
The beauty continues as you enter PNC, with excellent sight lines from all sections of the park and what I think is the absolute best view offered at any park: The home-to-center field visage that takes in the entire Pittsburgh skyline.
I bought my ticket two weeks before the game, using StubHub to secure a first-row bleacher ticket. The cost is $14 in advance, or $16 the day of the game. Stubhub adds a $4 surcharge. But I thought it would be best to have ticket in hand instead of trying to get tickets once in Pittsburgh.
That was my St. Louis coming out. There are so many tickets available in Pittsburgh, it's not even funny. Even with the season new and the Pirates at .500 when I went, one guy was struggling to get rid of four tickets behind the home dugout, with a free parking pass. All he wanted, he said, was to get the list price.
Dugout boxes are $35; infield boxes are $27 and outfield grandstand tickets are $11. Trust me, and everyone I talked to, there will be tickets available. In a stadium that seats 38,496 people, average attendance is less than 20,000.
But if you want to be absolutely sure you'll have great seats, you can go through StubHub (http://www.stubhub.com/) or the Pirates box office (http://www.pirates.com/).
When it comes to food at a ballpark, I'm stingy. There are many tasty treats at a game, sausages, dogs, nachos, all good. It's the price tag I find oppressive, and that's the same across the National League.
I did enjoy my stop at Manny's BBQ inside the park. The sandwich featured pulled pork, onion relish AND two pierogis on a bun. It was $7.50 of carnivorous overkill, and I ate every bit of it.
Best of all, former Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen is usually at the stand, shaking hands and signing autographs. Even at 53, it's fun to meet a guy you still have on a baseball card from your childhood.
The Andy Warhol Museum • 117 Sandusky Street, http://www.warhol.org/; 1-412-237-8300. Admission: $15 adults, $9 seniors; $8 students and children.
One of the highlights of a short trip, aside from watching the Cardinals cruise to victory, is finding an excellent side venture to occupy your time that morning and afternoon before the actual ballgame.
In Pittsburgh, The Andy Warhol Museum — simply called 'The Warhol" by everyone — is just that kind of gem. It is the largest museum in the U.S. dedicated solely to the work of one artist.
Located about one-quarter mile east of PNC Park and less than a half-mile from my hotel, I leisurely walked to the museum in 15 minutes. There are seven floors in the museum, but they are somewhat smaller floors. It is quite possible to cover the museum in an afternoon.
Warhol, the undisputed king of pop art was a Pittsburgh native and lived there until he graduated from Carnegie-Mellon Institute and moved to New York to begin his career as an illustrator.
Start your tour on the seventh floor, where selections from Warhol's last important work, the "Last Supper" cycle, dominate the space. Also on this floor is a collection of Warhol's early illustrations for various advertisements, including some beautiful sketches done for I. Miller Shoes.
Of course you'll be able to check out Warhol's famous "Campbell's Soup" series on the fifth floor, where his other most-famous work are displayed: "Three Marilyns," "Jackie 64" and "Elvis (11 Times)."
My favorite piece was on the second floor, where another "Last Supper" work was displayed, a collaboration between Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat.
In this piece, Jesus and his apostles are represented on 10 boxing heavy bags suspended from the ceiling, broadcasting the traditional Catholic story of Christ's suffering through a powerful blend of classic and pop imagery that also speaks to Warhol's lifelong devotion to Catholicism and Basquiat's sad death from a heroin overdose.
If this interests you at all, set aside two hours minimum to tour it. If you have a free Friday evening, take advantage of the half-price "Good Friday" from 5 to 10 p.m.
Art lovers may also want to check out the Mattress Factory, a modern art museum featuring conceptual room-sixes artworks. It is located in the Mexican War Streets neighborhood. (For more information, call 1-412-231-3169 or go to http://www.mattress.org/.)
If art is not your interest, these attractions are all less than one mile from PNC Park:
• National Aviary, 1-412-323-7235; http://www.aviary.org/
• Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, 1-412-322-5058; http://www.pittsburghkids.org/
• Carnegie Science Center, 1-412-237-3400; http://www.carnegiesciencecenter.org/
Primanti Brothers • Various locations, http://www.primantibros.com/
Sean, the aforementioned shuttle driver, was not the only person to recommend Primanti Brothers for my first meal in Pittsburgh.
Now famous from appearances on most every food and/or restaurant show on every food and/or travel channel, Primanti's is known for making excellent sandwiches with a handful of fresh-cut fries right on top.
(I didn't bother to mention to Pittsburghers that you can get those in Illinois, and they're called "horsehoes.")
There are now 13 locations of this restaurant, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But I was told I needed to visit the original site, 46 18th Street in "The Strip," a section of downtown Pittsburgh long known for ethnic food markets and, more recently, nightclubs and restaurants.
Simply put, Primanti's is a joint. The waitresses all seem to have been on the job for a while and have endured their fair share of tourists. They're unfailingly polite, but you can tell they prefer tables full of locals over visitors (like me) with a notebook and camera.
Except for Toni Corradeti Haggerty, a short, feisty Italian woman who manages the original location with a brusque charm.
"Do you have any suggestions," I asked, looking at the menu.
"I suggest you go someplace else," she said without missing a beat.
But once you have decided that you want a half pastrami/half corned beef sandwich with everything, she gets right to work and quickly places a sandwich that has the weight of a full meal.
"Everything here is fresh, sweetie. We make the slaw and the fries every day," Haggerty said.
Even better, there are few places in Pittsburgh that do not sell Yuengling, as good a beer as you can get from a large brewery. We discovered that it takes exactly two bottles of lager to wash down a Primanti sandwich.
Max's Allegheny Tavern • 537 Suismon Street, 1-412-231-1899; http://www.maxsalleghenytavern.com/
If you're like me, you avoid recommendations found in hotel room brochures. I follow advice Calvin Trillin once wrote in one of his food books, which is to ask a regular person in a city you're visiting where he would take his wife to dinner.
So I did that, and was told about Max's. The recommendation was this: "They have great German food and all kinds of beer."
Good enough for me and, being auto-free, I was pleased it was only five blocks from my hotel.
Do you know that feeling of walking into a place in a town and immediately knowing that if you lived in that town, this could easily become your "place." Well, that's Max's.
From hipsters in their 20s, through blazer-wearing business people, to white-haired diners, Max's draws a diverse crowd.
At the bar, they give out bowls of fresh-popped popcorn, with butter if you want it, and will serve up a draft of Dogfish Head 60-Minute in a friendly but not cloying manner. It's a place where you can chat it up with the bartender and patrons or just sit and drink a pint without being bothered.
"Welcome. Whatever" would be a great motto for the place.
And a great dish — from a menu the size of a small book with just about any German dish you'd want — is their Jager Schnitzel. (They serve six different schnitzel dishes.) The brown mushroom gravy was perfect and gave an earthy base for the tender mild-fed veal. Sides of potato pancakes with sour cream and German potato salad rounded off the feast.
I'd like to share another dinner venue with you in Pittsburgh, but when it came to time for my other non-ballpark meal, I went back to Max's and had another plate of Jager Schnitzel.
So as not to be too predictable, I had applesauce instead of potato salad and Kostritzer Black Lager instead of Dogfish.