Sometimes gritty, always hilly, Steel City’s charms are often hidden below the surface. While the revitalization of downtown Pittsburgh has earned lots of attention, lately much of the action is found farther out, in once-overlooked neighborhoods like Lawrenceville and East Liberty. Here, old-school stalwarts mingle with artsy young people, helping to create a city that serves as a canvas for the kind of urban dreams that more crowded and expensive cities can’t foster. It’s a place where abandoned buildings reveal art museums in the making, where decaying industrial sites prove ripe for urban exploration, where residential streets hide kitchens turning out remarkably fresh, local food. Best of all, if you aren’t afraid of a few slopes, it can be easily explored by bike or even on foot.
1. Writers’ Way | 4 p.m.
From industrial eyesores to ultramodern lofts, Pittsburgh has no shortage of architectural styles — but only one building is covered by giant poetry written in Chinese calligraphy. House Poem is one of four houses-turned-public-art-projects along Sampsonia Way between Monterey Street and Sherman Avenue, a quiet stretch of North Side also home to the much-loved Mattress Factory art museum. House Poem is a project by City of Asylum, a grass-roots organization that provides exiled writers from around the world with housing — and turns those formerly derelict homes into giant works of art. Their website offers audio tours explaining the artwork gracing each house and introducing the authors who have lived there. It’s just one of many inventive outposts in a city that has an overflow of cheap real estate and eager artists.
2. Back to the Land | 6 p.m.
If the space next to a muffler shop on Penn Avenue seems a likelier spot for a Harley-Davidson dealership than a trendy restaurant, that’s because it once was. Salt of the Earth has oversize windows looking out on the busy boulevard, while a giant chalkboard menu takes up an entire wall, listing seasonal farm-to-table fare that recently included farro-risotto with salt-roasted celeriac, Meyer lemon and brown-butter-fried capers. Dinner for two runs $100. Grab a bite at one of the communal tables, then head over to the Livermore for craft cocktails with locally made Wigle whiskey ($12) and a side of house-made marshmallows in flavors like lavender, lemon zest and chartreuse ($3). The bar’s next-door Cloakroom space has rollicking D.J. nights on Fridays and live jazz on Saturdays.
3. The App Store | 8 p.m.
Pittsburgh may be known as a beer-drinking town, but at Arsenal Cider House it’s all about the apples. Set on a residential street, this Civil War-themed space pays homage to the Union Army’s Allegheny Arsenal that was once nearby, while the rotating roster of cider ($6 to $7) ranges from the off-dry Fighting Elleck to a semisweet chocolate cider. If you’re partial to grape-based booze, a few blocks away the new Grapperia spotlights the city’s Italian heritage with a lineup of several dozen grappa brandies, plus less burn-inducing cocktails like the LaVanda, lavender-infused grappa with green pepper, honey and lemon juice ($10).
4. Bread Alone | 9 a.m.
The Bloomfield neighborhood’s Little Italy strip is a bit of a sleepy area these days, but just around the corner a former slaughterhouse is now home to the aromatic Bread and Salt Bakery. The baker Rick Easton turns out perfect versions of classic Italian breads like pane antico, made with locally grown wheat. You can have it spread with butter and blood orange marmalade ($5), or opt for Roman-style pizza taglio — long and flat loaves topped with delectable options like radicchio and Gorgonzola. The pizza is priced per pound (at $17 a pound), so measure your hunger and point out how big a slice you’d like cut off and heated up.
5. Makers’ Mart | 11 a.m.
Local artisans show off their wares at Pageboy, a Lawrenceville storefront with a boutique in front and hair salon in back. Browse for goods like the Ardent Forager’s flannel cowboy shirts ($24) or RagTrader’s tie tacks made from typewriter keys ($17). Stroll up Butler Street and pop into an assortment of indie boutiques, with offerings that include reclaimed finds at Pittsburgh Furniture Company and local souvenirs like a tote ($21) and a Pittsburgh-proud black-and-gold knit scarf ($35) at Wildcard.
6. Go Wild | 3 p.m.
A pair of local brothers who provide many Pittsburgh restaurants with found food items opened Wild Purveyors Kitchen and Market. The edible items on sale may include pickled wild chicken mushrooms ($7.25), whole rabbits ($8.99 a pound), finishing salts amped up with locally foraged wild ramps ($9) or whatever else is currently blooming in the Pennsylvania wilderness. Pop into the adjoining Wild Side Pub, a collaboration with Full Pint Brewing, for a taste of creative brews like their Cherry Berliner Weisse.
7. Good for What Ails You | 6 p.m.
From the boar’s head mounted on a wall to the wood-carved pigs on a ledge, it’s clear that Cure is serious about pork. The chef, Justin Severino, works with nearby farms to create a daily changing meat-centric menu. Charcuterie plates venture far beyond your typical prosciutto trio; instead, you might find nduja — a creamy Calabrian spreadable sausage — along with smoky duck speck and salami cured in Fernet and olive oil. Just as delightful are fresh pastas like a gentle gnudi made with squid ink and powdered leek tops, swimming in a lamb heart Bolognese with a pillow of smoked goat cheese and mint on top. Dinner for two is about $120.
8. Movie Madness | 9 p.m.
A quirky lineup of films is shown at the single-screen Row House Cinema while brews from Pittsburgh and beyond are stocked at the adjoining Atlas Bottle Works, a beer shop featuring over 500 selections that you can buy and bring into the theater. Recent screenings have ranged from a Mel Brooks retrospective to “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” and singalong screenings of “Chicago” and the “South Park” movie.
9. French Kiss | 9 a.m.
There are just four seats and a few simple display cases at La Gourmandine, but the fragrant smells emanating from the shop reliably usher in a crowd of regulars that often snakes out the front door. There’s good reason: The husband-and-wife team Fabien and Lisanne Moreau turn out pastries that could easily draw a line in Le Marais. A soft whole apricot sits amid flaky crust and cream in the aprocotine ($1.65). The light and airy chouquettes (35 cents) are delicate spheres dusted with coarse sugar, like the tastiest doughnut holes ever made. With sweet-and-savory pain au raisin ($2.20) and even fruit-and-cream stuffed macarons ($4), you’ll be spoiled for choice — and will probably spoil your lunch.
10. Wonder Wheels | 12 p.m.
What’s a self-proclaimed “bike hoarder” to do when his overflowing collection gets too large for any abode? If you’re Craig Morrow, you fill part of an industrial park with your assemblage and bill it as the world’s largest bicycle museum. Navigate through the working repair shop and up the stairs to the museum portion of Bicycle Heaven where a packed-to-the-brim space features a sprawling exhibition with thousands of vintage bikes. There’s everything from a rare Beatles “Yellow Submarine” bike to a colossal 1863 boneshaker. The handwritten, oft-misspelled Post-it Notes offering explanations of each bike’s provenance only add to the charm.
11. Iron Allure | 2.p.m.
Head out on two wheels (try Golden Triangle Bike Rental; from $8 per hour) or two feet to explore Pittsburgh’s expansive networks of urban trails. Among the best is the South Side section of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. As it cuts through South Shore Riverfront Park, the trail is lined with industrial relics like a giant slag pot once used for collecting molten metal, plus “The Workers” — two 20-foot-tall figures made out of original girders from the nearby Hot Metal Bridge. If that has you hankering for a closer look at Pittsburgh’s industrial era, venture farther afield to Carrie Furnaces, rare remaining examples of pre-World War II iron-making technology that tower over the Pittsburgh landscape. The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area runs periodic tours of the facility from May to October ($19.15), taking in the furnaces themselves as well as a 45-foot deer sculpture enterprising artists constructed out of materials found here.
If You Go
The first of a slew of new boutique hotels planned for Pittsburgh over the next few years, Downtown’s chic Hotel Monaco (620 William Penn Place; 412-471-1170; monaco-pittsburgh.com; from $251) has a yoga mat in every room and New American fare at the on-site Commoner restaurant.
Hotel Indigo Pittsburgh East Liberty (123 North Highland Avenue; 412-665-0555; ihg.com; from $181) is set to debut later this summer. The 135-room facility is near many of the city’s hip new restaurants and nightspots in the East Liberty neighborhood, where it will soon be joined be the city’s first Ace Hotel (120 South Whitfield Street, acehotel.com), slated to open in a former YMCA building later this year.