A Year to Remember

Okay, you have to excuse us if we want to hold on to 2011 for a little bit longer. After all, this past year marks the first full 12 months of the wonderfully transformed Market Square and it's new, inviting open piazza makeover.  And what an amazing 365 days it's been. From the opening of new restaurants and businesses to another electrifying, two-day Light Up Night to open a spectacular holiday shopping season, the Square really is at the heart of Downtown's newest renaissance. So as the final moments of 2011's 525,600 minutes tick away, let's take a look at just a few of the Square's more memorable happenings of the year.

The fun kicked off early in the year when more than 1,300 Black & Gold faithful huddled in the Square for the DIGIORNO'S "Go Pittsburgh" High Five Challenge. This early February competition pitted Pittsburgh fans against their cheesehead counterparts in Green Bay in a show of support for their favorite football teams before the big game. Though the Steelers came up short on the gridiron, their fans nabbed the pep rally championship during this showdown.

Just to prove that we are plenty willing to put our stomachs where our mouths are, hundreds of red-hots lovers turned out in late June for the local finals of the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest. As the competition chomped through scores of dogs, a pair of wiener winners emerged to represent the region in the grand finale at New York City's Coney Island on Independence Day. Juliet Lee, our local winner got second place in the finals with 29.5 dogs, beaten only by Sonya "the Black Widow" Thomas.

Most days, business casual is the typical fashion statement in the Square. But when a bevy of local models dressed to the nines and strutted their stuff on the catwalk during Pittsburgh Fashion Week's runway romp, the Square earned the title of Style Central. As the  hundreds of people who watched the tented show in the center of the Square will attest,  Pittsburgh Fashion Week — in just its second year — established itself as one of the premier events on the city's social and cultural calendar.

Speaking of stylish, Design Squared opened the doors on home decor trends as interior design professionals gathered in the Square for this primer on the latest trends in kitchen, bath and overall renovation and decorating. Sponsored by local businesses—including the Square's very own SPLASH! and PPG Paints—Design Squared offered free cooking demonstrations from the chefs at NOLA and continuing education credit courses for aspiring and working design pros. Not to mention the live music and gorgeous design items that could be installed in your very own home.

Normally, the Square is a fairly lively place. But every year around Halloween thousands of the walking dead stumble into our favorite spot for a day of spine-chilling, blood-curdling fun during ZombieFest. With costumes and makeup that's just might scare to death the faint of heart, these unborn again creatures fill the Square as part of a daylong fright festival that also benefits the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

With something happening nearly every day in the Square, we just have to mention these favorites such as the Farmers Market, the Carnegie Library's Tuesday Reading Room, Bike to Work breakfasts, the Salvation Army's Most Amazing Race, flash mobs of all sorts, YMCA exercise programs, the Vintage Grand Prix auto show, free concerts sponsored by the Market Square Merchants Association, scavenger hunts and much, much more. In fact, the nearly 50 officially permitted events scheduled during 2011 in the Square are almost twice the amount of permitted events that took place there in 2008— the last full year before the makeover. With 2012 adding an extra day to the calendar, we're not taking a great leap in saying that we'll find 527,040 ways to measure life in the Square next year.

By the way, if you're still looking for that perfect place to bid farewell to 2011, you can check out the options in the Square by clicking here.


Last Minute Gift Shopping on the Square

Okay, maybe you were thinking about a trip to the mall or big box store to finish off your last-minute holiday shopping. But if you're already Downtown, why not head to Market Square?  After all, within just a few minutes' walk from the center of the Square, you'll find everything from the finest men's and women's fashions to the funkiest Black and Gold accessories for the Steelers upcoming playoff run. And if you're a little short on ideas on what to get that special loved one or person who signs your paycheck, just bookmark this handy shopping guide to one of the city's fastest-growing shopping destinations.

Whether you want to dress a special someone for success or outfit them in a more casual style, you'll find plenty to choose from in and near the Square. At its new Fifth Avenue location, Larrimor's continues a 70-year tradition of specializing in quality men's and women's clothing with designer names such as Hickey Freeman, Hugo Boss and Fabrizio Gianni. For a total head to toe ensemble, Larrimor's carries jewelry, shoes, belts, ties and more.

Also new to Fifth Ave., is JoS. A. Banks, where quality clothing comes at affordable prices. With plenty of knowledgeable and ready-to-help staff on hand, JoS. A. Banks is the one-stop shop for the gentlemen looking for a GQ look on a less than Manhattan-priced budget. Located across the street from the new PNC Bank branch office, JoS. A. Banks is part of what is fast becoming Fashion Row for Downtown men.

Just a few steps closer to the Square, Heinz Healy's men's shop is where you'll find a selection of clothing that covers all the bases from Tommy Bahama leisure wear to black-tie formal tuxes. Check out the choice of hats, slacks, shirts and more in this lovingly restored historic store on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Market Street.

Around the corner from Heinz Healy's, you can help that special guy in your life put his best foot forward in a pair of shoes from the Nettleton Shop. A Pittsburgh institution more than 80 years, the Nettleton shop carries quality footwear for men, along with belts, brief cases, wallets and other fine, high-quality leather goods. After a visit to the Nettleton Shop, just about any gent can step out on Pittsburgh's streets in style.

Okay, we've haven't forgotten the ladies. If you cut across the Square towards the gleaming towers of the PPG Plaza, you'll happen to discover Serendipity. A must-stop destination near the Square for more than six years, Serendipity is indeed the place where local fashionistas go to find accessories to express themselves. With the newest, hand-picked handbags, hats and seasonal wear from New York, LA and Paris, Serendipity is one lucky find.

Let's cross the Square again towards Fifth Avenue, with a quick stop in at WEAR on Market Square, one of the smallest shops in city. Tiny though  it may be, WEAR is packed with sunglasses, jeans and other goods loaded with attitude. A big seller this season are the designer Steelers offense and defense wristbands. So whether you're a fan or Troy or Big Ben, you can wear your true colors in style.

And for even more options, check out the shops in Fifth Avenue Place. With a stellar lineup of jewelry, men's and women's clothing, silver and more, Fifth Avenue Place creates  a sophisticated and convenient atmosphere for those who prefer an indoor shopping experience right in the heart of Downtown Pittsburgh.

Before we send you on your merry way, keep in mind all those people who make living, working, dining and shopping Downtown a pleasant experience year-round.
Whether it's your stylists, the parking garage attendant, a favorite co-worker or even your favorite waitperson, a gift certificate to one of the many dining spots in the Square is a great way to show you care. For an extra special touch, a bag of fresh roast coffee or European tea biscuits is especially appreciated.

Here's hoping that you have the very best of holidays this year — once you finishing your shopping.


Ring in 2012 in the Square!

When it comes to First Night, our first thought is "What's going on in Market Square on New Year's Eve?" You see, while tens of thousands of revelers ring out 2011 during Downtown's annual year-ending street party, there plenty of space where you can reflect on the past 365 days with family and friends in the cozy comfort of one of the Square's many dining hot spots that are offering special party packages of food, beverages and entertainment. With choices from fine Italian and homestyle Mexican to nouveau Creole accented cuisine and good old American burgers, here's a quick look at what's on the menu for the final countdown to 2012.

You can say "Ciao!" to 2011 at Bella Sera with three seating times for a special five-course, year-ending sendoff with starters like a caviar crepe or roasted corn and grilled shrimp chowder, entrees featuring delicacies from the land, air and sea, and tasty desserts that will have you singing "Auld Lang Syne" to your diet just before you resolve to start a new one on January 1, 2012. Seating times are at 5:30, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., which means you'll have plenty of time to enjoy the festivities all over Downtown. To save seating for any number from two to eight people, call Bella Sera at 412-281-6363.

Of course, the good times will roll at NOLA, where the tastes, sounds and joie de vivre of The Big Easy put the Crescent City of New Orleans on the Market Square map. To usher in 2012, diners can feast on a choice of three- or five-course meals on a prix fixe menu — including a Champagne toast — or four-course a la carte selection that covers all the bases from appetizers to desserts. And for a feast for your ears, the John Gresh Gris Gris Band will serve up a hefty dose of New Orleans-infused blues and rock tunes. For reservations, call 412-471-9100.

Things will get hot, hot, hot at Las Velas as the Square's Mexican cantina provides diners with a bird's eye view of the outdoor fun and a double dose of fun that starts with a special New Year's dinner that features ahi tuna and a spicy surf and turf that features shrimp and steak cooked in tequila. Then, the party really gets started with a Latin dance party emceed by one of New York City's top DJs.  Whether you choose the dinner, the party or both, call 412-251-0031 for reservations.

For a taste of Italia, La Cucina Flegrea promises to serve a traditional multi-course feast of meats, cheeses and seafood from its spacious Graeme Street loft accommodations. Fans of owner Anna Fevola, who recently became a Downtown resident, will attest to the authentic touch she adds to every dish. Save a space at the table by calling 412-521-2082.

Around the Square, just about every eatery will be open beyond normal hours for the First Night Bash, including Primanti's, Moe's, Winghart's, the Diamond Market Bar & Grill, the Oyster House and many others. Even if all you want is a snack, you can grab a large beverage at Dunkin Donuts and get a free donut (before those resolutions kick in!).  So whether you're looking for a leisurely sit-down celebration to cap off the old year or a less formal bite to eat between First Night happenings, there's something on the menu for everyone in the Square.


  Even if Ebenezer Scrooge is getting a rude awakening or three on the stage of the Byham Theater this weekend during a run of "A Musical Christmas Carol," we're happy to say that we've not spotted ghosts of any sort at Market Square these days. Okay, maybe we do get a little spooked at the idea that there are only 16 shopping days left to wrap up our holiday shopping. But that's a story for another blog (hint, hint). Still, we thought we might take a short sleigh ride down memory lane to revisit some of Downtown's most-treasured remembrances of holiday traditions from seasons past.

Just so you know, we really searched around for some really old-time Christmas stories about Market Square.

One reason that we came up with nothing but a lump of coal is that early Americans didn't celebrate the occasion because they considered the custom to be "too English." In fact, the first Congress to serve under the newly ratified U.S. constitution stayed in session on Dec. 25, 1789.

Seriously, can you imagine that? Christmas started to turn a corner in America in the 1820s but it didn't become a big deal celebration until the mid-1800s.  A Victorian Christmas focused a lot on generosity and small family celebrations. Of course, some of our local forefathers probably managed to enjoy the spirit of the season by imbibing the spirits of the season right in our very own Market Square. In the late 1800s maybe even in the Oyster House!
Most likely, these groggy old St. Nick's couldn't remember how they made merry on the morning after. Which is probably why we can't share any holiday tales on the Square.

But it's not our nature to "Bah, humbug" anyone. So let's put on our walking shoes to return to old haunts from holidays of a more recent vintage, when Downtown seemed to have more department store Santas than there are elves at the North Pole. Many of the stores even set up "special" shops where youngsters could buy inexpensive stocking stuffers for Mom and Dad after telling the big guy what big surprises they hoped to see under the tree.

Speaking of stores, everyone lined up back then to "oooo" and "ahhh" at the holiday window displays at Horne's and Gimbel's and Kaufmann's. From Thanksgiving evening to New Year's Day, the fabulous holiday scenes captured the imaginations of everyone from the tiniest tots to the tops execs of the city's Fortune 500 corporations.

Pittsburghers tuned their radios to 1020 AM during the holidays as KDKA DJ Jack Bogut spun his homey tales across the airwaves and raised money for the Children's Hospital Free Care fund as he broadcast from store windows while passersby pitched in for a great cause.

Trees have been a big deal for Downtown also. Check out this beauty at the City-County Building in 1933.

Each year, the biggest tree in town could be found at the corner of Penn and Stanwix clinging to the side of the Horne's store. Wrapped around the intersecting sides of the building, this towering conifer twinkled through the night all season long. Which sort of brings us back to the present because even though the names have changed, the tradition continues as the Unity Tree brightens Gateway Center and the "T" station from its perch on Highmark's Penn Avenue Place Building.

Somehow, we always manage to end up in the Square, where families are creating memories today for holidays of tomorrow, starting with Light Up Night(R) — a Pittsburgh tradition that crosses generations and even centuries — and continuing way past January 1 with the dazzling Eat 'n Park Season of Lights display that paints the Square with thousands of LED lights each evening.

It's never too late to start a Downtown holiday tradition — whether it's Light Up Night(R), the Season of Light, a spin around the skating rink, a ride on a horse-drawn carriage or special memory that's all your own. If you're looking for some ideas, see what these favorite Pittsburghers cherish about Downtown during this festive time of year, in the Holiday Memories section of our website.