The More The Merrier In The Square

The countdown is on. That's right, just 2 1/2 more days until the Merry Month of May blossoms in Market Square — and we're not just talking about the lovely daffodils and other fantastic flowers planted around the Square by the wonderful Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, who are all joyfully green thumbs. The blooms we're waiting for are the many perennial events that will open in the Square during May. In fact, the Square events calendar is just about ready to burst with the weekly Farmers' Market, the Carnegie Library Reading Room and other welcome favorites. So, until we turn the calendar page to May, we're giving you a bit of a sneak peek.

Now during just the very first week of the fifth month of the year on the fifth day of May, we'll all be taking a virtual trip South of the Border for Cinco de Mayo, a festive celebration of Mexico's victory over the French army in 1862. Instead of battlefield recreations, you'll enjoy some muy caliente cuisine at one of the Square's Mexican style eateries, such as Moe's Southwest Grill or Chipotle — even Bruegger's will be serving a spicy jalapeno bagel and Southwest breakfast sandwich. And, though they won't be ready for Cinco, Las Velas is scheduled to open its doors very, very soon. Watch this space for more news about this much anticipated return on the Square.

No other event in the Square attracts as many people as the weekly Farmers Market. After all, it's hard to resist the tasty temptation of fresh from the field goodies delivered right to the heart of Downtown. Along with nature's best veggies and fruits, the Farmers' Market serves up hot lunches, desserts, flowers and more treats. The Market sets up every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., starting May 12. Let's just say that we're planting a seed so that you don't forget about this popular attraction.

You could say that May really gets off and running when the starting gun goes off for the beginning of the Pittsburgh Marathon. If you're in the running, then you already know that you'll need to have your Nikes laced up and ready to go at the starting line, which just happens to be at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Sixth Street at 7 a.m. this year. One of nation's top long-distance races, the 26.2-mile course winds its way all over the city, across three rivers and up and down more than a few hills before coming to an end near Heinz Field on the North Side.  For those watching the race, Downtown is the perfect spot for viewing.  The full and half marathons cross through Downtown several times and while waiting for runners to loop back, what better place than Downtown to grab a coffee or other breakfast treat?  A quick walk over to the Northside and you're at the finish line celebration!

Of course, there's more than fun and games to what goes on in the Square. And what better what to show that Pittsburgh cares than donate a little elbow grease during HandsOn Pittsburgh 2011, May 20-21. Sponsored by Pittsburgh Cares, caring folks of all ages will volunteer their time to make our town an even better place through a variety community service opportunities. To catch the civic spirit, check out Pittsburgh Cares when they are in the Square the week of May 16.

If you want to get a good read on, then there's obviously no place better than Market Square. And if you really want to get a good read for the commute home on the bus or to escape during lunch, then make sure you bookmark this page for the return of the Carnegie Library's Reading Room, which opens a new chapter starting May 17.  This al fresco library pitches its tent in the Square this year, with a surprise twist. Instead of last year's every other week schedule, the Reading Room is open for business in the Square every Tuesday this year from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. You also can purchase the volumes of your choice — paperbacks 50 cents, hardcovers $1— and  the proceeds help support the library system.

Everyone knows that all roads lead to Market Square — well, at least we think they do. But did you know that many of the region's urban trails actually do take you to Downtown? Well, there's no better time than National Bike to Work Day to put your mettle to the pedal and spin your two-wheeler to Market Square to support the most fuel-efficient form of transportation around. We're looking forward to seeing more folk pedaling around town — but don't forget your helmet!

Other events to look forward to:
National Day of Prayer - May 5
A religious presentation - May 6
T-Mobile store event May 11
CEA/PA Continuing Education Fair May 18
Henne Diamond Dash May 21

For the most up-to-date info, check out the Market Square Events Calendar.

Let's hope that April's end also brings a close to month of showers — and a sunnier, even merrier month of May in Market Square.


Keeping the Faith in Lunch

This week two of the world's major religions mark major holy days during Passover and the last week of Lent leading up to Easter. And while followers observe the end of each period with bountiful feasts with families and friends, many of the faithful follow strict dietary restrictions until then. Now even if most of the culinary delights in the Square aren't exactly Kosher, there are plenty of dietary choices for true believers looking for a midday or afterwork bite to eat.

For starters, salads in the Square certainly don't break any culinary commandments. And good grazing abounds around the Square, from Moe's Southwest and Chipotle to NOLA and Fat Tommy's. For a heartier non-meat alternative, plant yourself in front of a Wingheart's Beretta Veggie Burger — a juicy portabella mushroom topped with spinach, arugula, artichoke spread and lots of other garden goodies.  For those seeking the unleavened, let your burrito go naked without a tortilla, or the NOLA salad is a refreshing change with sweet potato chips and the option to add blackened redfish on top.

Of course, during this special week, many believers give up a little more than usual as a sign of devotion. If fasting is part of your religious menu, you'll be pleasantly surprised to discover that many of the Square's eateries are ready to serve made to order smaller portions. Now, most days at the Original Oyster House, it seems that the miracle of the loaves and fishes is on constant replay. However, the Square's oldest restaurant also dishes out a mini-fish sandwich. And if that's pushing the limit, a breaded oyster or two should help keep the observant within the gustatory guidelines. For even lighter fare, the vegetarian and fish soups at Bella Sera, NOLA or Bruegger's will do, or pick a basic flatbread from the menu at Dunkin Donuts. And for the real saints in the crowd, a single fish taco from Moe's might even push the limits!

Now, all this fasting can be a bit taxing. But now that we can all quit thinking about the IRS, why not not take a spring shopping break at the many shops in and around the Square? With the warmer weather here to stay, we're seeing more and more Dapper Dans dashing around town. Which means there's no better time to give your feet a treat with a new pair of kicks from the Nettleton Shoes. Put that tax refund to good use!  And why not top off that head to toe makeover with a sporty chapeau from Heinz Healy's. Even if Pittsburgh doesn't have an Easter parade, ladies, there's no reason why you can't stroll down Fifth Avenue in a fabulous little print dress from Larrimor's, which can be nicely accessorized with up-to-the-minute handbags and jewelry from Serendipity and an oh-so-cool pair of shades from WEAR in the Square.

However you might count your blessings at this special time of the year, we're sure you'll find a way to keep the faith in the Square.


The Square Route to Freedom

These days, you don't need to rely on the North Star to chart a course to Market Square. But in the years before the Civil War erupted 150 years ago between the North and South, runaway slaves looked to the heavens above to find their way to the North on the Underground Railroad. Which is why Mayor Luke Ravenstahl led other dignitaries in the Square to unveil a commemorative plaque honoring Pittsburgh's proud past in helping African-American citizens escape bondage and live as free men and women.

Now, even though we're going to mix a little astronomy and history here for a moment or two, you don't need to worry since there's no test at the end. Still, we really want to invite everyone who visits the Square to take a moment or two to see the plaque — and the special LED Big and Little Dippers embedded in the center of the Square— to understand and appreciate the courage of African Americans seeking their freedom and the many brave Pittsburghers who helped them on their way.

Okay, if you want to spot the North Star, all you have to do is stand at the plaque and tilt your head back a bit and peer into the skies just over the roof of the Camera Repair Service building. Yes, it works a whole lot better if you try this after dark. Now, the North Star is always in the same spot in the sky (polar North) and the other stars in the constellations rotate around it through the night.  The lights in the ground are arranged as the stars would have been seen at 8pm on June 2, 1835. The sun is setting later and later now that spring has sprung, but you might catch a glimmer at 8pm.  The 8pm arrangement honors the first recorded meeting of the Pittsburgh Anti-Slavery Society.  Although there were plenty of abolitionist activites in the Burgh before that date this meeting was actually advertised in the newspaper as an organized and public meeting — more than a quarter of a century before the first cannon shot fired at Ft. Sumter in South Carolina set off the War Between The States.  Incidentally, this week marks the 150th anniversary of that first shot.  The rebels opened fire on Fort Sumter on April 12 at 4:30am.  Today, April 14, marks the day the first union soldier died.

Of course, we like to think we're near know-it-alls when it comes to the Square's storied past.  But we know when to make way for the professionals... Dr. Kimberly Ellis — she's the executive director of the Historic Hill Institute — mentioned that business owners and waiters in and around the Square often hid runaway slaves during their passage through the city. And did you know that in 1850 about 75 percent of the city's African American citizens lived beside white neighbors? Well, you can learn this and more on one of theHistoric Hill Institute's two Underground Railroad tours.

At a spry 97-years-old, Virginia O'Connor still can't get enough of the City she loves.  Collecting, recording and researching since her birth in 1914, it was Virginia who brought about the deeper investigation into Market Square's history with the Underground Railroad when she sent some unique documents to the renovation team - information that did not exist in record anywhere else.  You could say that Virginia O'Connor really did her homework when it comes to Pittsburgh's role in the Underground Railroad.  With a dedication and determination that would outshine people a quarter of her age, Virgina's commitment to the cause is truly a reason to celebrate.  Special thanks to the team of historians that verified and supplemented the information from Virginia, Dr. Laurence Glasco, John L. Ford (seen in the photo above), Dr. Kimberly Ellis (also in the above photo), and Terri Blanchette.

Along with honoring the city's strong role as a hot bed of abolition activity, the gathering also officially opened the al fresco dining and fun season in the Square. On hand to help the mayor usher in the festivities were PDP board chair Rich Beynon, Lloyd Wright of Sen. Ferlo's office, representatives from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, John Rohe of Colcom Foundation, Zach Winghart of Winghart's Burger and Whiskey Bar, developer Lucas Piatt, Bella Sera chef Jason Capps other Square business owners and regulars.

You read it here. History happens in Market Square. Make sure you're there when it does.

Special thanks to: Dr. Laurence Glasco, University of Pittsburgh, Department of History; John Ford, Historian and Curator of Artifacts and Documents; Dr. Kimberly Ellis, Historic Hill Institute, Executive Director; Terri Blanchette, Heinz History Center, Director of Community Programs; Bomani Howze, instrumental in assembling the team of researchers; Virginia O’Connor, a private citizen who began the investigation by sharing family history; Dina Klavon and Associates, designers; Hal Hilbish, lighting; Wilbur Smith and Associates, engineers; A. Merante Constracting, construciton adn installation.

The Market Square renovation is a project of Mayor Ravenstahl and the City of Pittsburgh. It is the culmination of several years of public process and has been made possible through the leadership, vision and financial contributions of the City of Pittsburgh, Heinz Endowments, Richard King Mellon Foundation, Colcom Foundation and Hillman Foundation.

PS  Other reasons this week is cool:

“The municipality of Washington, D.C., celebrates April 16 as Emancipation Day. On that day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act for the release of certain persons held to service or labor in the District of Columbia.  The Act freed about 3,100 enslaved persons in the District of Columbia nine months before President Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation. The District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act represents the only example of compensation by the federal government to former owners of emancipated slaves.

This is the reason tax day is not April 15 this year but was moved to April 18.  The IRS abides by D.C. holidays in addition to federal holidays.


It's Opening Day In Market Square

You can take us out to the ballgame at PNC Park, where the ump yells "Play Ball" at 1:35 p.m. Thursday for the first game of the 2011 baseball season as the Buccos take the diamond in America's best ballpark. But we'll also be catching the first pitch of the Downtown Season Opener when Mayor Luke Ravenstahl officially inaugurates the 2011 Outdoor Season at 10 a.m. in the center of another historic diamond — Market Square.

Now if you've been paying attention — and we know you do — you've noticed that tables and chairs have been popping up the past week in the Square like daffodils in your backyard. And speaking of daffodils, everyone's favorite buttercups are adding a little bit of sunshine throughout  planters in the Square, thanks to the green thumb folks of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

Of course, we encourage everyone to have as much fun as possible just about anytime they visit the Square, especially now that more outdoor activities are on the schedule. But did you know that there's a serious side to the Square, as well? History buffs will want to get on track to learn more about the Square's role in the Underground Railroad, the secret network of land routes and safe houses that helped runaway slaves escape bondage below the Mason-Dixon line. Check out the Big and Little Dipper lighting display —and a brand new historical plaque —  in the middle of the Square. Check out next week's blog post for more on that...

Warmer weather also signals the start of the al fresco dining season in the Square. Actually, we've already spotted more than a few hardy and hungry souls enjoying their lunches in the Square. But as the temps climb — and more tables and chairs appear — the Square will be the place to feast upon the many taste temptations that surround the terrazzo plaza. And we're more than willing to admit that we've been around the block quite a few times or two, sampling the diversity of cuisines found in the Square.

Back to baseball, keep in mind that the Pirates schedule gives you 81 good reasons to visit the Square before and after games for pre- and post-games snacks and beverages. Plus, parking in Downtown for most home evening and weekend home games is one of the best bargains around, since most garages post a $5 flat rate. So even if there are extra innings, there's never an extra charge.

Of course, one of the best ways to beat the traffic and parking concerns is to pedal on down to the Square. With more and more publications ranking Pittsburgh as one of the bike-friendliest and accessible cities in the U.S.A., you can freewheel to the Square and lock up your ride for free on any of the many artsy bike racks on the perimeter. There's no better time of year than now to keep those big wheels rolling.

Now everyone knows that diamonds are a Square's best friend, which is why our Market Square will soon be sporting some sparkling gems created by artist Carin Mincemoyer. Carin's electrifying Diamond, Diamonds installation of 80 glass "diamonds" gently powered by energy-saving LED lights will hang from two lamp posts at the Square's entrance on Market Street.  Look for them later this spring. We've been saying this for a while now, but it's truer than ever — this really is the Square's time to shine.

With so much happening in the Square — and just about everywhere else Downtown — the best way to keep up with everything is to check the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership calendar of events often. All you have to do is click here. Or check out the calendar featuring only events in Market Square. It's the best way to make sure you get a great seat for all that's going on Downtown. See you at the opener!