Meet Me In The Square

Frankly, we're not surprised one bit at what's happening. After all, everything is turning out exactly as we planned. But just in case you haven't noticed just yet, Market Square is quickly turning into Downtown's newest place for people to get together in groups both small and large.

Just the other day, on our morning stroll through the Square, we noticed a group of ladies sipping coffee and chatting about their weekend. And, of course, the Downtown office lunch time crowd swarmed to the new Square almost as soon as we pulled away the construction fences. We expected that to happen all along. Still, since the Square reopened earlier this year, we've cried at a wedding, partied with our neighbors at a block party and admired the antique autos of the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix when they parked their classic chassis in the Square.

Now this past weekend, the Salvation Army set up camp in the Square for an event that really put the "fun" in fundraiser. Based on TV's "The Amazing Race," the Army held "The Most Amazing Race" ever that pitted teams against each other to see who could tackle hilarious challenges such as eating a sardine sandwich at Primanti's on the Square — with their  hands tied behind their backs — and learn and perform a "Give My Regards to Broadway" song and dance routine taught by performers from the CLO to get the clue to their next location. While the competition was tight, Team Shankopotamus outpaced the pack with only a few minutes separating the next few racers from the winners. Actually, all the teams were champs because their efforts will help our neighbors in the region through the great work of the Salvation Army.

Even our neighbors just off the Square are busy bees - Wednesday through Saturday evenings this week you can catch live Jazz in Andys Bar at the Fairmont Pittsburgh, just a hop skip and a jump down Market Street which will be finished with construction in no time (just you wait till this rain let's up and watch how fast they move!).

And don't forget that local foodies will be flocking to the Square through Thanksgiving to enjoy fresh from the farm vegetables, meats, cheeses and other naturally produced goodies at the weekly Thursday Farmers Market. This harvest of wholesome foods is a perennial Pittsburgh favorite.

We can't spill all the beans just yet. But there are more big gatherings planned for the Square in the months ahead. One of the biggest to-dos of the year in the Square will be the 50th Anniversary Light Up Night Celebration, which is so big this year that we expanded it to two nights on November 19 and 20. And our inside sources tell us that gatherings of Steelers fans, zombies, politicians and brides and grooms are in the near future as well.

So stayed tuned for details. And we'll meet you in the Square...soon.


Rock Around The Block

Oh, the joint was rockin' all night long when more than 1,500 Downtown residents and their guests transformed Market Square into Party Central during last Saturday's second annual Downtown Neighborhood Block Party. And if you missed this year's get together, well, read on to catch up on the fun.

First off, we want to tip our party hats to the Downtown resident committee for planning and hosting the Block Party. Now, let's get back to the party. 

For starters, we couldn't have asked for a more beautiful evening with clear skies and just perfect temperatures, especially for the end of summer. But even better was all the fun, food and fantastic people to be found in every square inch of the Square. Whether it was the finger-lickin' good Southern style cooking from A J Ribs or the Middle Eastern treats from the Istanbul Grille, the best of Downtown eateries and cuisines were well represented. And while our tummies served up four stars for all the party edibles, the Sonoma Grille nabbed the event's Best Dish award with its yummy Smoked Pork Slider with Apple-Ancho BBQ and Habanero Scented Slaw .  Bon appetit, indeed.

Of course, while we were sampling all the tasty eats, we worked up a pretty big thirst. Luckily, we found plenty of "watering holes" around the Square where Downtown's best barkeeps where mixing up their top concoctions. Let's just say that we seriously sampled all the beverages to be fair and balanced. And though we prefer to keep our fave cocktail a secret, we will tell you that the people's choice for Best Drink was the delicious "Choose your Flavor Man-jito"... feauturing a flavor choice of either Pineapple, Peach, Pomegranate or Orange - muddled with fresh mint, raw sugar, and lime. Seviche wanted to integrate Clique vodka into a Nuevo Latino-esque themed drink specifically for the event.  We had mentioned to the ladies in line that they should choose the flavor of the Man-jito they desired. And for the men we informed them of the vodka being manly and from Latvia - hence a Man-jito. It was fun and catchy, and people enjoyed it.  Thanks to Clique vodka for sponsoring that element of the evening.

When we weren't noshing and sipping our way around the Square, we got our groove on and danced the night away to the musical stylings of DJ Nugget and the super sounds of the Delaneys, who rocked under the performance tent. For the kids, clowns twisted balloons into all kinds of crazy configurations, and a gigantic, inflatable "bouncy house" gave the youngsters something to jump up about. And the inventive folks from Obscure Games invited adults and older kids to get in touch with their inner child with a fantastic four-square in the Square ball game and a Cake Hunt, with the prize - a Burnt Almond Torte from Prantl's.

We're willing to bet that just about everyone had a great time at the Block Party in the Square. But some card sharks in the crowd had us humming that old Kenny Rogers tune "The Gambler" as they played their hands close to the vest during a Vegas style Poker Tourney. Well, we certainly knew when to fold them as soon as we spied Fairmont's massage chair, where a masseuse was giving free back rubs to keep our party muscles relaxed.

So thanks again to the resident committee and Vertical Life Pgh  for making Saturday special. And here's a shout out to all the participating sponsors and restaurants listed below:

      City of Pittsburgh
      Port Authority of Allegheny County
      Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership
      Au Bon Pain
      Rivers Casino
      Vitamin Water

      A&J Ribs
      August Henry's City Saloon
      Istanbul Grille
      Prantl's Bakery
      Mancini's Bread Company
      The Sonoma Grille

Interested in becoming a Downtown resident yourself?  Learn about your options at DowntownPittsburgh.com/Living. And hear what residents say themselves on the new, Vertical Life Pgh, a forum for residents to talk to each other and about Downtown Living.

Photos courtesy of Robert Strovers


Getting Streetwise On Market Square

Maybe it's just us. But we like to think of Downtown as a great big, beautiful jigsaw puzzle. At first glance, Downtown might seem to be a bunch of pieces that don't connect. But when you put all the parts in place and look at the whole wonderful picture, you're amazed at how it all seamlessly fits together.

For instance, just this week, the crew put on their hard hats back on kick off work on Market Street. Now one way to think about this is that Market Street is that piece of the puzzle that links Market Square to Fifth Avenue and the Fairmont Hotel, the Heinz Healy clothing store, the new 3PNC parklet, Heinz Hall, Six Penn Kitchen, Fifth Avenue Place and so many other nearby Downtown hotspots. Or maybe you want to picture the new Market Street as the grand entry way to the Square itself.

So if you're an armchair construction foreman type, here's what you'll notice happening on Market during the next four to six weeks. But before we do that, let's go below the surface, to the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority's work replacing all the aging pipes under the old Market Street. Some of water lines were more than 100 years old. Let's fast forward to the present again to catch up on what Merante Construction  — that's the company that's responsible for making the Square itself look so great — will be doing on the surface.

Merante will install terrazzo sidewalks on both sides of Market Street. Our eagle-eyed readers know that terrazzo is a mixture of cement and a gazillion bits of granite chips. And they probably will point out that terrazzo is what covers most of the Square's surface as well as the sidewalks on Fifth Avenue near the beginning of Market Street.  Merante will also be installing granite curbs and putting up two new lamp posts to match those in the Square. See what we mean about all the piece fitting together?

Okay, just so you know this, too. The good news is that during the Market Street project, you'll be able to stop in at all your favorite merchants along the way. That means if you have an appetite for a pepperoni roll from Mancini's or a heavenly slice of Prantl's sour cream chocolate cake, you'll have no trouble satisfying your taste buds. If you're craving something a little bit spicier, use the entrance on Market Square to enjoy some of the best south of the border cuisine at Las Vela's Mexican eatery. Gentlemen, of course, can update their fall wardrobe with a new pair of shoes or leather briefcase at the classy Nettleton Shop. You can treat yourself with a new cut and manicure at Park Place Salon and Paris Nails.  And shutterbugs will want to pop into the Camera Repair Service store next to Mixstirs to focus on some vintage photo equipment or get your gear checked out or repaired. (Incidentally, they have great photos of Market Square through the decades inside!)

Now, that we've put a few pieces together for you, isn't time that you check out how it looks by taking a short stroll along Market Street during your next visit to Market Square?


A Team of Rivals

On the football field, we hope the Steelers certainly grab a tiger or two by the tail when they lineup against the Cincinnati Bengals during the 2010 NFL season. But off the gridiron, we're here to tell you that the city and people of Cincinnati are a lot like all the place we love best — Pittsburgh.

Just last week we took a trip down the Ohio River — which starts here at the Point —  to visit the town once called "Porkopolis" because of all pigs farms and slaughterhouse nearby. That nickname stuck until Chicago took on the title of "Hog Butcher to the World." These days, the locals like to call their hometown the "Queen City," because that's how Longfellow referred to it in one of his classic poems about the city's natural beauty.

Anyway, enough of the History Channel lessons because we learned that Cincinnati is a thoroughly modern city that is sprucing up its downtown just like we're doing here in Pittsburgh. During our visit, we meet with some of the great folks who run the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, which is their version of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Also known as the 3CDC, the organization is transforming Cincy's Fountain Square, a traditional meeting place that reminds us a lot of our very own Market Square.

Well, this Fountain Square — just like our Market Square — is surrounded by amazing shops and restaurants and gleaming new skyscrapers. And the fountain is so amazingly beautiful that we wanted to jump in to make a big splash. With the water babbling in the background, we sat there with our Cincinnati counterparts and some similar folks from Newark to swap notes on what we're all doing to make our downtowns more welcoming, vibrant and exciting.

What we discovered is that we're more alike than you might imagine. For instance the 3CDC realized that keeping public spaces clean is a team game, a challenge they tackled with their version of our Clean Team. Then they added some shade and color to their square with new trees and floral plantings. Sounds familiar, right? And while we were chatting, one of the 3CDC people mentioned that they have had weddings in Fountain Square. Of course, we had to brag that only a month after the Market Square renovation opened the space, we hosted our first wedding a few weeks ago...

Now we're plenty proud of Market Square and wouldn't trade it for anything. But we did suffer some "big screen" envy when we viewed the giant outdoor LCD monitor above Fountain Square. All we kept thinking was how cool it would be to have our own enormous TV in Market Square to watch the Steelers shred the Cincy Bungles on Monday Night Football on November 8. Well, you can join us for the game at any number of watering holes and eateries in the Square where Black and Gold fans will gather to watch the game.  You might try... Primanti Brothers, Moe's Southwest Grill, The Original Oyster House and Las Velas.

But the real "win" of our trip to the Queen City was making new friends and discovering how so many others are working to make their cities someplace special.

Photo of Fountain Square courtesy of David Robillard. 


Fall Into Square Fashion

Just the other day, we heard the TV weatherman say that autumn really begins on September 1. That confused us a bit because we sweated through 90-plus degrees temperatures all last week. Then all of a sudden, a big chill blasted through the city and cooled down Downtown over the weekend. So maybe Mr. Meteorologist really does know his stuff. But we don't need to know which way the wind blows to figure out when to pack up our summer clothes until next year. All we do is draw a big red circle around Labor Day on the calendar to mark the start of the official fall fashion season.

Which brings up another issue...who wants to kick off a new fashion season in last year's styles? Of course, we all know the answer to that one. But, just in case, you need a few hints about where to find the latest fall looks, we can point you in the right direction. Let's make this easy and start right in the center of Market Square, where your first shopping destination is in plain sight. We could call that a bit of Serendipity, the tres chic boutique just a few steps away on Forbes Avenue. Let's just say that Serendipity is the perfect place to discover the hottest new trends in handbags, jewelry and accessories of all sorts from New York City to LA — all handpicked by the fabulous fashsionistas who own this hip hot spot.

Since we're putting away our sleeveless tops, sandals and Capris, we'll tell you where in the Square you can find ultra cool jeans, sunglasses and more hip gear for fall. Actually, that would be WEAR on Market Square — the tiny, tucked away shop on Graeme Street, just across from the Bella Sera restaurant. Though WEAR might be the smallest storefront in the Square, it's big on attitude and style.

Ladies, we all know that most guys would wear the same old shirts, slacks, socks and shoes year after year until everything crumbled into one big pile of lint, which they would never clean up. So we recommend a short trip around the corner from WEAR to the Heinz Healy's apparel store on Fifth Avenue. Whether it's casual wear or a tux — and everything in between — this is the place for men to get in touch with their inner GQ style.

Gentlemen, while we're on the subject, let's keep walking to the Nettleton Shop, that classy little footwear emporium on Market Street. In business Downtown for more than 80 years, Nettleton has been helping Pittsburgh men put their best foot forward in some of the finest shoes made on this planet. Aside from the shoes, Nettleton can help professional men get their hands on handcrafted brief cases, belts, wallets and other fine leather goods.

Just so we see eye to eye on all this, let's agree that we always want to look our best. Which is why we suggest a new stop on the Square shopping circuit. Maybe you've already noticed 3 Guys Optical on the ground floor of the beautifully renovated Buhl Building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and McMasters Way. Operated by the same people who run the classy Eyetique stores around town, 3 Guys will focus their attention you and that just right look for your new specs.

Of course, if you have the time, you'll find plenty more fall fashions at Larrimor's, Macy's, Sak's, the Shops at Fifth Avenue Place, Boutique La Passerelle on Wood Street and more around Downtown. So the next time we see you in the Square, you better be stylin'.


More Roads Lead To The Square

Now we realize that you've had to map out some creative routes over the past few months to get to the Farmer's Market, KidsPlay, Tuesday Reading Room, the Toyota Farm to Table Caravan and all the other great activities in Market Square. But very, very soon, we'll all be able to dash more quickly to the Square along more detour-free routes. That's because PWSA is finishing their pipe replacements and city road crews have been busy scraping away old layers of asphalt from lower Forbes Avenue, between Market Square and Stanwix, and McMaster's Way, that quaint little alley between the Original Oyster House and dreamy new lofts at MarketSquare Place.

Of course, we're not roads scholars (ha ha), which is why we always thought those guys in the orange vests and hard hats poured out the thick, oozy, steamy hot blacktop out in one big glob and then spread it around like icing on a cake until the new surface was all nice and even. But after observing the careful step-by-step work from the sidelines, we understand now that laying a new road is a complicated process that's best left to the pros.

First of all, you've got to "grind" away the old surfaces that have built up over the decades before you can even think of putting down the new road. After the grinding, what you end up with is a clean, bare surface. Then the crew starts the new road with a thick layer of asphalt.  A dump truck filled with asphalt (rocks mixed with tar) gets dumped into thier little green machine.  The green machine churns it to make sure it is well mixed, then dumps it underneath the vehicle.  As the vehicle moves forward, the back has a smoothing mechanism to make it nice and even.  Once it gets laid out, they compress with a big giant wheel that makes us giggle and think of Roger Rabbit or Wile E. Coyote when they get flattened by steam rollers in cartoons. So after that first layer, comes another, this time with smaller rocks for a smoother surface. Even on a short street like McMasters, the crews spread out six truck loads of blacktop for the first layer alone. But it's not all mechanized.  At special detail areas, like sewer grates and in the corners at the end of the streets, the guys push the asphalt into place with shovels, rakes and other tools.

Okay, did we mention the asphalt is so hot that you could fry an egg for a Primanti's sandwich on it? Because we don't want the yolk to be on us, we probably should say that we don't recommend that method of egg cooking. But at 300 searing degrees, you get the idea. Actually, it was sort of "cool" to notice how the temperature skyrocketed really fast from the time we turned off Fifth Avenue early Monday morning into McMasters, where the first layer had just been finished. You can also tell from afar when the rolling machine makes a pass the newly laid asphalt is smokin.' Literally!

So, now that more and more roads are leading to the Square, we expect to see you there more and more as the Grand Opening gets closer all the time. 

Check out this sweet video to see the crew in action...