So, you Google’d Pittsburgh lists and found Randyland. Nice! They say it’s the most painted house in the world. They say Randy is also one of the happiest people in America. As Han Solo put it best: It’s true. All of it.
You’ve chosen wisely to visit Randyland and Northside. Now you’re wondering what else to see. Whether you’re from out of town or just a yinzer that accidentally crossed a bridge, don’t worry. I got you. Here’s a list of 22 things to do in Northside before (or after) you visit Randyland.
How many have you been to?
City of Asylum
City of Asylum is a few blocks away from Randyland. The series of houses are home to writers who fled their countries fearing assassination. They’re given a new home to work on their writing in Sampsonia Way. The houses are statements anyone can visit that reflect the artists as much as the community they’re in. Every Wednesday night in the summer, legendary musician Roger Humphries performs a free BYOB concert. Which is perfect meditation for your mind in the middle of the work week.
Bicycle Heaven is a dream for anyone who has fallen in love with cycling. It is the Smithsonian of Bikes containing Pee-wee Herman’s Bike, Bowden Spacelanders, and thousands of other pieces of bicycle lore. The museum is alive. Buying, selling, trading, Bicycle Heaven doubles as one of the Best Bike Shops in Pittsburgh. Craig Morrow, the founder, takes photos with everyone that comes through. His heart is as big as Randy’s. He is living the Dream and kindly shares it with you. Bike fanatics even rent Bicycle Heaven out for events making it one of the most colorful venues in Pittsburgh.
Photo Antiquities Museum
Photo Antiquities Museum is hidden in plain sight on East Ohio Street above Bernie’s Photos. The first room you’ll enter contains original photos of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and the Civil War. The second room is rare photo equipment including “Big Burtha” a 700mm Zeiss Lens salvaged from Forbes Field. (It shot the 1960 World Series.) Founder Bruce Klein is often generous with his time and will often direct tours himself. The stories are memorable even for those of us in the selfie generation.
Olde Allegheny Community Gardens
Pittsburgh’s Northside has a long history of activist gardening. You’ll find secret gardens all over the neighborhood when you wander around. Characters like Ms. Becky and Randy (of Randyland) have devoted thousands of hours spanning decades to beautifying the area. And since 1982 the Olde Allegheny Community Gardens have held small plots for the community. It’s a perfect place to visit after a refreshing spring shower.
Banjo Night at the Elks
The Pittsburgh Banjo Club is the place to discover the Americana. Like a drive in movie, it feels like the 1950’s. Banjo players converge at the Allegheny Elks every Wednesday and play for the love of music. Songs are often dedicated to our military’s servicemen that fight for us at home. You’ll find people from all walks of life here. Even Mayor Bill Peduto attends. Why? Because politics are strictly prohibited at the Elks. Buy a pitcher, grab a seat, and enjoy the show.
Gus and Yia Yia’s
Gus and Yaiyai’s has been slingin’ shaved ice since 1934. Each one is made by hand. The distinctly orange cart can be found in the summer months at West Park (by the National Aviary). Want selection? They also have popcorn and peanuts. Look no further for Pittsburgh authenticity. Gus was once asked to serve Ice Balls at a friends wedding. He declined by saying, “I can’t. It would break my heart if a kid came out looking for us and we weren’t there.” My heart… All the feels.
Commonplace Coffeehouse recently opened in North Side, but it’s already filled the role of neighborhood coffee shop in the Mexican War Streets. They’re part of a micro-chain that roasts their own beans in Indiana, PA. They brew one of the best cups of coffee in Pittsburgh, but it’s the community they’ve developed that make this a wonderful destination.
Arnold’s Tea is an immaculate experience and wonderful place to socialize with friends. Throughout the day you’ll find students studying, quiet business meetings off to the side, and enjoyable conversations to drop into over lunch. A lot of it can be attributed to Verna Arnold’s thirty-five years as an educator. That expertise helps her run a tight ship so you can focus on the tea in front of you.
Penn Brewery has managed to keep its character and charm since 1986. They keep Pittsburgh weird with events like being the final stop on the Underwear Bike Ride. The staff there produces a tasteful beer that breaks through the noise of the current brewing renaissance. If you’re in town for a few days, this is the place you should eat/drink.
Riggs Lounge is virtually a movie set you can drink at. This ain’t no dive bar. The owners take pride in this bar. The inside was recently redone and the bathrooms look better than Oakland student housing. There is a vintage mini-bowling machine. Pints are reasonably priced too. All of this is why Riggs is the most underappreciated bar in Pittsburgh.
Layer Cake Music Festival
Layer Cake Music Festival is one of the best ways to discover live new music in Pittsburgh. If you missed it, don’t worry. Ziggy Sawdust puts on Layer Cake Showcases throughout the year at venues like James Street Gastropub (In North Side as well). Everyone working on the show loves their craft. It shows. Each showcase is filmed at multiple angles. The Commonheart – Cannonball video is good example of what to expect when you attend the next one.
Deutschtown Music Festival
Deutschtown Music Festival is an out of control block party where every musician in town plays at least one song. This is the grassroots music festival that creates memories to meaningful music. By the same token, this is one of the best events to discover the North Side and make those friends. You should pencil it in next July.
Before the morning sun takes they sky, Wilson’s BBQ tosses the dry wood into their smoker. For fifty years, the family behind the business have served high quality ribs. Change has invaded almost every conversation in Pittsburgh, but Wilson’s BBQ says, “You don’t have to change what you do right.” The best time to go is around dinner. Grab a slab for takeout and enjoy with a friend.
Subba’s Asian Restaurant
Subba’s Asian Restaurant is the secret dinner plan your North Side friends make without you. The place creates high-quality meals at stunning prices. Even your artist friends will tag along. When you go looking for it, you’ll notice it has little-to-no markings. A simple doorway will lead you to the second-floor restaurant tucked away by the park.
Lola Bistro is one of the hidden gems of Pittsburgh food scene. The humble restaurant is located a few streets off of Western Ave. Chef Michael Barnhouse and his wife Yalena are unsung heroes who helped re-establish Pittsburgh’s reputation as a food destination. Locally grown seasonal ingredients are the foundation of their artisanal plates. They prepare everything themselves, even the art on the walls. All of this paired with the casual atmosphere makes Lola Bistro a great place to take your date.
Benjamin’s Burger Bar
Benjamin’s is a perfect bro-lunch. Hearty shot of bourbon, a domestic beer, and a solid burger for twelve bucks. (Tuesday Special) This is an amazing find you might accidentally overlook. The service is quick and the bar has quite the selection. One word of caution: Avoid the place during Pirate and Steeler games. It can get kind of dicey.
Artist Image Resources
Artist Image Resource is an open print shop with a focus on education. The screen print section is wonderful to browse during an open house. There are traditional printmakers mashed in with veteran artists experimenting. In fact, it’s one of my favorite ways to discover creative posters. For the most part, if you see something you like you can buy it. It is a print shop after all.
Neu Kirche is an art gallery hosting dazzling spectacles for the eye to eat. They have turned a German Church in East Deutschtown to a mecca everyone should attend once. A quick sampling of their events would be open critiques, community potlucks, artist lectures, and of course, light shows in a church! Needless to say, in the past twelve months, Neu Kirche has done more to put Pittsburgh on the map than most galleries have achieved in ten years.
Now for the “Professionals” with marketing departments:
The Mattress Factory
The Mattress Factory is known for captivating light exhibitions that dance with our imagination. You’ve probably seen the Polka-dot room or Urban Garden Party. Instead, I’d like to highlight something different. 1. You can just go to the MF Cafe. The coffee is really superb. They use La Prima Espresso beans that are roasted just down the street. 2. 1414 Monterey Street is a secondary gallery they have catering more towards emerging artists. 3. The co-directors Barbara and Michael actually live there. They’re an active part of the community and their loft is collection all to itself. Photo: Write Away the Stigma put on by Creative Non-Fiction.
The Warhol Museum
You can travel around the world to see art… or you can live in Pittsburgh. The Warhol Museum is one of four Carnegie Museums located in Pittsburgh. This one just so happens to be on North Side. Two interesting facts about the Warhol I like are: 1. The recent director Eric Shiner started there as an intern and became the director year later. 2. There’s a naked photo of Jackie Kennedy in the archive.
The National Aviary
Okay. The National Aviary might have a new sloth and adorable penguins, but check out this #SuperbOwl. The Burrowing Owl is by far my favorite as his cage allows him to watch all the events the Aviary hosts. #PartyAnimal. The aviary is a great place to visit, but if you’re local there is a secret. A volunteer told me the best time at the Aviary is thirty minutes before opening. The birds are full of life. The only way to see this is to volunteer. All in all, if you really love birds you should consider volunteering. Their next orientation starts Sept 6th.
Oh, and one more thing…
The Life Changing Non-Profit You Haven’t Heard Of
Off the Floor is the most impressive non-profit in Pittsburgh I’ve interviewed. They fight extreme poverty by providing furniture to families in need. Not just one piece, but an entire set. Every donated bed, chair, dresser, etc is refurbished to showroom quality before it is sent out. It is one of the few overnight transformations in the fight against poverty today. They’ve helped 155 families so far this year, but they need volunteers to help more families. Alternatively, you can shop at their infrequent Saturday furniture sales and deck out your place. All money from that goes to fuel their mission.
I want to thank every person and business who let me in and shared. Randy, Mac, and Josh of Randyland fame. Matthew Conboy founder of Start with Art. He was the primary reason I moved to Northside. In no particular order Cody, Ziggy, Craig, Henry, Barbara, Michael, Chef Michael, Bruce, Gus, Verna, Frank, Lee, Henry, Diane, Silvia, Robert, Willy Jessica, Heather, Eric, Sam, Ned, ‘Ms. Becky’, the Burrowing Owl, and others. You make Northside a great place to live.
A very special thanks goes out to Bicycle Heaven who lent me a sturdier bicycle this season. Craig’s generosity saved me time (No Flat Tires Yet!) which helped me cover more Pittsburgh events. He is a huge reason this article exists. I can’t thank him enough.