A New “Whiskey Trail” From DC-to-Pittsburgh Is Just One Reason to Visit Steel City
Where to eat, stay and play in "The Food City of the Year" for 2019
Stipulated: the perfect travel time for a three-day weekend getaway is four hours. More, and you waste your vacation. Less, and you’re still near home. Hence our series, The 4-Hour Rule, dedicated to revealing the best destinations that are far away, yet still close to home.
In this installment we’ve got our sights set on Steel City for a long weekend of whiskey drinking, river fishing and art appreciating.
Sometimes living in Washington, DC, can be … overwhelming. Whether it’s the hordes of photo-snapping tourists, constant political turbulence or off-the-chart humidity levels that have you stressed, frequent escapes are necessary.
Enter stage left: Pittsburgh. Known as both The City of Bridges and Steel City, it sits on the junction of three rivers, at the point where the Monongahela and Alleghany Rivers meet to form the Ohio River, which is why the city lays claim to a whopping 446 bridges.
Pittsburgh is more than just bridges, steel and the birthplace of Heinz Ketchup, though — it’s a city well on its way to a culinary and cultural renaissance, as young artists and restaurateurs flood into the city to take advantage of low rent prices and increasingly good company. Not to mention it was recently named the 2019 Food City of the Year by af&co, an SF-based restaurant and hospitality consulting firm.
So pack your bags, grab some snacks and throw on a good playlist—you’re almost ready for the four-hour-long drive northeast to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Just make sure to read this guide first.
THE WHISKEY REBELLION TRAIL
July 12th marked the launch of the brand new Whiskey Rebellion Trail, a four-city trek through distilleries and cultural institutions in the Mid-Atlantic. Aimed at being more than just a guided distillery path, the trail also serves as the best history class possibly ever, educating participants on an overlooked but essential part of U.S. history.
InsideHook’s Managing Editor Kirk Miller experienced a half-dozen tasting rooms within the city limits during the Trail’s opening weekend, and he recommends spending a fair amount of time at Wigle — the whiskey brand that pretty much masterminded the new tour, and the distillery with the best and most unique lineup (two words: Oaxacan rye), along with the picturesque Kingfly Distillery and the science-forward Quantum Spirits. Read more about Kirk’s experience on the trail here.
The Oaklander Hotel is a part of Marriott’s boutique-style Autograph Collection and new to the city as of March. Built from the ground up just across from the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in the neighborhood of North Oakland, it’s also spitting distance from landmarks such as the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, as well as a short walk away from the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. The sleek, industrial design definitely does it for us, and the ability to check in through your smartphone using Marriott’s mobile check-in (no human contact necessary!) is always convenient.
Inside guestrooms, expect upscale amenities like floor-to-ceiling windows, Nespresso coffee machines and rain-style shower heads. The Oaklander’s posh design features continue upstairs at the hotel’s Spirits & Tales bar and restaurant and into the library area — both of which are accented with hand-forged industrial brass, leather and wood. For those who want to keep up with their fitness routine while traveling, there’s a gym on the first floor.
Another solid choice is the hip and trendy Ace Hotel in East Liberty, now occupying a historic space that was formerly a YMCA. If a stay at the Ace isn’t in the cards this time, we at least recommend giving their restaurant, Whitfield, a visit for brunch (and ordering the warm donut holes).
Our top dinner rec is Butcher and the Rye, and not only because we were caught gawking at their wall of more than 600 varietals of whiskey. Located just a few blocks away from the river in Downtown Pittsburgh, Butcher and the Rye has captured the perfect balance of lively and upscale with a cozy space lit by chandeliers and oil lanterns. The food is hearty and flavorful and the drinks are strong. What more do you want?
Make sure to leave room for round two at Round Corner Cantina in Lawrenceville, our pick for the always-hopping neighborhood you’ll want to stick around all night long. Round Corner is an unpretentious joint serving up insane tacos (pro tip: try the carnitas) and a large outdoor patio, aka the perfect place to get your night started the right way: by double-fisting a taco and a margarita.
Bar Marco, a Euro-style restaurant and bar located in an old firehouse in the Strip District, is known for having some of the best bartenders in the city. Put them to the test by simply letting them know what spirit and flavor profile you’re in the mood for and then let them work their magic. Another unique aspect of Bar Marco? They don’t allow tipping, which means their staff is always appropriately compensated — a definite win in our book.
Bridges & Bourbon in Downtown Pittsburgh is also worth a visit. This modern cocktail bar just opened in late June, bringing a new kind of alcoholic artistry to the city. From dry ice to mini bonfires, every drink order at Bridges & Bourbon is an experience before the liquor even hits your lips.
You can’t visit Pittsburgh without being exposed to the city’s infectious love of sports, even if you don’t get yourself to a game. We definitely advise that you do though — whether you’re a fan of football, baseball or hockey, there’s truly a game for everyone. If you decide to catch a ballgame at PNC Park you’ll also be rewarded with an incredible view of the city. There’s a reason why it was chosen by Travel & Leisure as one of the best baseball stadiums in America.
For the outdoorsy among us, we suggest getting up close and personal with the Allegheny River via either boat or kayak. Either way, you’ll be able to experience the city and its many bridges from a totally different, and beautiful, perspective. Don’t forget to bring or rent a fishing pole and keep an eye out for walleye, sauger, catfish and bass to bring home with you.
Art aficionados can take their pick between avant garde concepts like the Mattress Factory and the eccentric Randyland, or more classic spaces such as the Warhol, a museum dedicated to Pittsburgh native and pop art icon Andy Warhol.
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