Summer in the Square

Okay, we're pretty sure that Mother Nature's timing is a bit off. After all, why would she rain on her own parade to start off the city's week-long celebration of Earth Day with the inaugural Earth Market in Market Square? Still, we're not going to let a little slushy precip dampen our spirits because we're here to bring a little sunshine into your life with a preview of the upcoming — and an even bigger and better — 2012 schedule of summer events and attractions in the Square, that include old favorites and a few new twists.

One thing you can be sure of...we love the city life, especially in Market Square. But we can 't help but imagine we're walking down a country road each Thursday during the summer when we make our way to the Square for the weekly Farmers Market. This year, the Farmers Market sprouts up in the Square for the first time this year on Thursday, May 17 and continues on each week from 10 a.m. -2 p.m. right into November. We're still working on the last few details, but we can tell you that we're going to fill the Square with more vendors than ever before. In fact,  you could say that there will be a bumper crop for this year's Market.

Along with the Farmers Market, another thing you can count on finding — well, hearing, actually — in the Square is live music nearly every day of the week. Of course, the Thursday Noontime concerts will strike a familiar chord during the Farmers Market. But this year, the sounds of summer will resonate a bit longer as the concert schedule expands beyond the traditional June to August line-up. Stay tuned for a complete list of dates and performers, including a series of Friday evening shows. We promise to keep your toes tapping to the sounds of music right in to fall.

One of the big reasons for Market Square's recent success the past couple summers is also the reason why people throng to the Square all year long — the magnificent merchants who open their doors for business every day on the Square. This year, the Market Square Merchants Association will once again sponsor Mellow Mondays and Wednesday's Mid-Week Concerts with local and national acts from Noon- 1 p.m. And, since most of the MSMA members just happen to be in the restaurant business, the music is a perfect side dish to whatever you order — from a whooper of a Primanti's sandwich to a tasty pasta entree at Sienna on the Square.

Okay, so maybe you're looking for some quiet time in the Square. May we suggest that you visit the Tuesday Reading Room, sponsored by the Downtown branch of the Carnegie Library. Each Tuesday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., the bookworms at the Library will load up their carts with best-sellers, self-help titles and dozens of other hardcover and paperback volumes to sell to anyone with an appetite for a good read. Anyone can buy a book or two, and every purchase will help benefit the Library. And, if you don't already have a Carnegie Library card, you can discover how to get one here. The Reading Room opens on Tuesday, May 15 and keeps on going each Tuesday through October 9.

Once school's out for the year, it's time for KidsPlay in the Square. This year, the popular kid-eriffic event changes days from Fridays, to Tuesday mornings. Each Tuesday from
10-11:30 a.m., little ones from all around flock to the Square for 90 minutes of storytelling, crafts, special demonstrations, special guests and special treats — all geared for the young and young at heart. The fun starts on June 5 and continues each Tuesday through August 21.

We hope this sneak peek at the coming events in the Square provided a bit of a silver lining behind the recent dark clouds. Because no matter the weather this week, summer is coming to the Square sooner than you think.


Greening up the Square

We hear it's your Earth Day. And on this 43rd celebration of the wonders of this spinning orb we call home, the City of Pittsburgh welcomes you to a week-long series of events in Market Square during the first-ever Earth Market, April 23-27. Every day from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m., more than two dozen green vendors will sprout up in the Square to promote sustainable practices that will reduce the size of the carbon footprint we all leave on this third rock from the sun. According to our intergalactic grapevine, the other planets are just, well, green with envy over our status as the most livable place in the universe. 

The Earth Market just happens to be part of a program Mayor Ravenstahl developed called "Green Up Pittsburgh." We like the clever word play and Hizzoner's determination to help everyone in the city and region realize how they can pitch in to protect Mother Nature, because she really does have the toughest job in the world. And the big reason why Earth Market will take root in the Square is because of the Square's central location and fast-growing reputation as one of the coolest places to spend time in Downtown.

Photo courtesy of Coca-Cola
One big takeaway of Earth Market is that it really IS easy is being green. Especially when experts will be on hand to point out how to reduce your utility bills with a simple energy audit — which Duquesne Light will be on hand to provide for free. Earth Market visitors can also find out exactly what days recycled materials are picked up in their neighborhoods and  exactly what type of things can be recycled. Now that tax time is over—whew!—you might have a pile of confidential papers to dispose of. Just bring those receipts, checks and other bits of paper to the Earth Market on April 27 to shred them into tens of thousands of hundreds of unreadable strips that will be reused again and again — for just $5 a box of documents. That same day, the sweet folks of Coca-Cola will be passing out vouchers to anyone who would like to transform one of the company's 55-gallon syrup drums into a convenient, economical barrel for catching rain that can be used for watering gardens. And speaking of gardening, the city will be giving away 1,000 free baby evergreens as part of an initiative to plant 20,000 trees throughout the city.

Photo courtesy of CMU
Now there's a lot of practical info to learn at Earth Week — like where to find "safe" car pooling buddies to cut down on the number of cars on the road. But there's tons of fun stuff happening, too. We're looking forward to the creative artist who makes new outfits from discarded clothing and plastic grocery bags. And we'd really love to take a spin around the Square in the "Charge Car," a Honda Civic transformed to an all-electric vehicle by some innovative CMU students. We bet they got a lot of green credit for this gas-saving, class project.

These days Pittsburgh is deservedly earning all sorts of accolades for being a great place to live, work and visit. And if you've been paying attention, we're also one of the greenest cities around. In fact, when you stand in the middle of the Square, all you have to do is turn your head a little to the northeast to see the glimmering green glass facade of Three PNC Plaza, one of the biggest, LEED-certified, mixed-use building in the United States. So join us in the Square all next week for the greenest celebration since St. Patrick's Day.


Majors Makeovers in the Square

Seriously, sometimes even we need a scorecard to keep up with all the changes going on in Market Square. So just in case you haven't visited the Square for a week or two, you might be surprised to discover a "new" cozy little restaurant with the great big name of Sienna Sulla Piazza. Located in between Nicholas Coffee Co. and La Cucina Flegrea, Sienna is such a fresh face on the Square that a temporary banner hangs over its entrance (at the former Bella Sera Trattoria). Even if the location is familiar, Sienna offers a fresh take on everything from the menu to the decor.

We've got plenty of dining choices on the Square.  So what's Sienna Sulla Piazza's specialty? Chef Matt Porco — Pittsburgh Magazine's 2010 Chef of the Year — tells us that Sienna looks to create an atmosphere that's "upscale" but "inviting" to just about anyone who ventures into the Square looking for a bite to eat anytime of the day. During lunch, the menu features a large selection of sandwiches, flat breads made on the premises and plenty of pasta dishes. At dinner, the selections expand with meat and fish entrees, plus mac and cheese and other sides. And since prices and portions tend to be moderate, Matt says many diners sample an extra course or two.

After operating Mio in Aspinwall and doing a star turn at the Big Apple's award-winning Veritas, Matt returns to his roots in the Square, where his father and uncle operated bars and restaurants in the 1970s and ’80s. "I spent a lot of time here as a kid chasing pigeons," he says with a laugh. But he also earned his kitchen chops — and learned how to grill them, too — in the family-owned businesses.

With Sienna, Matt comes full circle in the Square and is excited to be part of the Downtown restaurant renaissance. He's even moved Downtown to be part of the action 24/7. A major Pirates fan, Matt welcomes Bucco Boosters to stop in for a pre-game meal and rub elbows with the Symphony-goers and Downtown residents — all part of the crowd Matt expects to become regulars at Sienna. Barely a week old, Sienna is growing up fast. Sometime in May, new windows will be installed that will open the entire front of the building to create an al fresco atmosphere inside and out.  Also, look for the wine list to continue to evolve and change in the weeks ahead. Open Monday-Saturday, Sienna accepts reservations by phone or online.

On the other side of the Square, an old favorite is getting a cosmetic touch up with a twist. Instead of modernizing its exterior, the Original Oyster House will transform part of its facade to match the older building's historic exterior on the corner of McMasters Way. The new "old" look will match and complement the age-appropriate appearance of the "original" Original Oyster House, the city's oldest dining establishment. Even though scaffolding already covers the makeover area, the Oyster House will be open for business until the project wraps up sometime in May. Lent may be over but grabbing a lunch of fried oysters like Dad, Grandad, and Great-Grandad did, is something we love all year long.

This is one of the things that makes our city unique, and one of the best places to in the world to visit in 2012 — where old and new traditions live side by side — in Market Square!


Take Us Out To the Ballgame!

Hey, we don't need an excuse from the boss to show up at PNC Park this Thursday to root for the Pirates on Opening Day 2012. After all, it's sort of our job to attend important events around town. Still, if you're looking for a reason to watch the Buccos start the season: 1. America's best ball park, 2. some really gorgeous spring weather, and 3. those Phillies deserve a lesson! But before you cross the Allegheny to buy some peanuts and Cracker Jack, we want to make sure you touch all the bases with a little Opening Day primer.

Okay, this much you should already know: PNC Park will be packed with fans, which means parking spaces and rates on the North Shore will be at a premium. We'll talk a little inside baseball and suggest that public transportation might be the best bet for getting to first base, so to speak. Now, if you do decide to drive, here's a tip that we're only sharing with our faithful followers...park on the outskirts of Downtown. That's where spaces will be more plentiful and sometimes cheaper than garages and lots in the heart of the Golden Triangle. To locate a space on the fringes — or in the thick of it all — just click here.

Since Pittsburgh's such a compact city, most Downtown garages are a leisurely stroll away from PNC Park. But if you're looking for a sweet ride to the field, then jump on the T at any of the four Downtown stations for a free trip to the new North Side station (it's a short fly ball away from the home plate entrance of the ball park!). On your way into the stadium, take a short detour over to Gold Lot #4 for a family-friendly tail-gate, courtesy of Market Square's own DiBella's Subs. When you're done cheering on the Pirates, hop on the train for a return trip under the Allegheny and back to Downtown. Whatever the outcome of the game, there's plenty of reasons to stick around the city, especially if you're heading to Market Square.

If you're a fan of the game, you might want to think of the Square as your club house. After all, it's the place where you can prep for the big day with a pre-game warm-up sweet treat from Prantl's, Mattiniero (a nifty takeout spot at Vallozzi's) or your choice of coffee shop. And, if the Bucs don't win— it's a shame. But when you return to the Square — with the free T service, of course — you can enjoy a post-game wrap-up over a burger, gyro, enchilada, bowl of noodles, or a perennial Pittsburgh grand-slam sandwich at Primanti's. It's an all-star dining lineup, worthy of the hall of fame.

Just remember, everyone starts in first place on Opening Day. And here's hoping it stays that way as the Pirates "Raise the Jolly Roger" over PNC Park many times during 2012.