I’m a sucker for bodegas.

The little corner markets with the juice guy and the guys that make your favorite sandwich and the ladies behind the counter that may or may not judge your ice cream, mango, and beer purchase. That’s the New Yorker in me.

Last April, I surprised quite a few people by choosing to leave New York for Pittsburgh. Then I surprised quite a few others by renting an apartment in downtown Pittsburgh. Yeah, Dahntahn, with all the Western PA skyscrapers and Stiller fans.

I didn’t relocate for a job or follow a man. I’m from around here. Well, I’m from a bit north—up Mercer County way. I’ve been in love with this steel city since I was a kid, so I had the extra pressure of wanting to love where I lived. I thought I’d end up in some industrial-looking loft space in The Strip. Or maybe I’d get a place in Shadyside with tons of character and charm. My mom was certain I’d end up in Deutschtown on the North Shore, meanwhile every Internet search pointed to the Brooklyn-like Lawrenceville.

Yet, here I am on Stanwix Street, ten stories up in an apartment that used to be an office in the Bell Telephone building. I have a long hallway and three giant windows that frame the PPG Building, The Mon, and Mount Washington. It’s apartment bliss and the neighborhood is not so bad either. Ten months in, and I’m still discovering things about living downtown.

Who knew you could mix and match beans at Nicholas Coffee (the oldest coffee roaster and retailer in all of Pennsylvania) and buy chocolates in the shape of cheetahs? This place is no longer the somewhat desolate Golden Triangle. There is a new brand downtown community on the rise. It’s growing bigger. It’s growing greener.  It includes the very impressive Cultural District and it’s got so much more to offer than sports fans and corporate culture. Such as:

Apartments—that’s the big draw down at the three rivers. The abundant amount of rental properties, many of which are new apartments crafted from old office buildings, (the Clark Building or the Penn Garrison) offer ample square feet, original fixtures, and rooms with a view. Seriously, you can see the whole baseball diamond from the Clark Building.

Or take the more modern dwellings, like Market Square Lofts, which are spacious with concrete floors and the opportunity to watch the rapidly climbing construction of The Tower at PNC Plaza. But if you really want a view, it’s the folks that live closer to the rivers—like me—who can look out over the cityscape from their living rooms.

Among all these apartments and offices, this chunk of the city offers more than one reason to stick around and stay active. Now that it’s summer, paddleboards and kayaks are taking over the waters down at The Point. Year round there is the PNC YMCA on Fifth Avenue, a workout oasis that which has everything from pool time to Pump classes.

Want to get your yoga on? Head to Bend Yoga on Penn Avenue. It’s the only yoga studio downtown, and it just got new floors, a new look and new classes. You can even do yoga with weights there. But who needs a studio? There’s yoga in Market Square every Sunday morning through the summer and into September.

A block down the street is Verve 360 where you can get any salon service, take a Barre fitness class or try out Ariel Yoga. And you runners can run to your heart’s content—across bridges, along side the water, around the fountain.

What we’re looking forward to: The city promises actual bike lanes for bikers. Not just lines on the pavement—a real bike path!

Eats and Drinks Downtown:

I have a soft spot for long and lazy breakfast inspired meals on weekends, also known as brunch. Meat & Potatoes has a Bloody Mary bar (a playground for the cocktail enthusiast) and a Chicken & Waffle dish that rivals others. In good weather, my friends and I get a table on the roof deck of Six Penn where eggs benedict and a mimosa under one of the cabanas feels almost ocean-side.

Nothing quite beats a table for lunch in Market Square. Make it a work lunch, where you can bond with coworkers or woo a potential client, at Il Pizzaiolo (just like the one in Mt. Lebo). The prosciutto plate and a chilled Rose make for a nice start.

Wingharts has an eclectic burger menu. Further afield, hit up Nicky’s Thai for the lunch special or snag some mid-day rolls or broiled fish at the downtown Penn Avenue Fish Company spot.

Butcher & the Rye, one of the the newest restaurants (chef Richard Deshantz), decked out in chandeliers, taxidermy and your grandma’s wallpaper, has a wall of bourbon, good tunes and a delicious dinner menu. Don’t let the gun-toting armadillo or the strangely designed Ladies Room take away from the culinary experience.

Further down Penn Avenue is Sienna’s new location, a three-tier restaurant space where the first floor (Emporio) revolves around a DIY meatball dish menu, the second floor (Mezzo) is all about wine and pasta, and the third (Il Tetto) is rooftop beer garden.

On Liberty, there is Grit & Grace (the same owners as Spoon), which is the spot for dim sum and ramen bowls. Love pizza? Proper Brick Oven and Tap Room is your place, paired with a vast selection of craft beers.

What we’re looking forward to: Richard Deshantz is promising a taco and tequila joint with a dive bar feel to it. Open up already!

The newly renovated Mellon Square in downtown Pittsburgh. Brian Cohen photo

Doing stuff Downtown:

It’s Pittsburgh’s theatre district, so there is always a show or some live jazz (at Andy’s at The Fairmont among other places), and local organizations (like The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership) keep the sidewalks busy with gallery crawls and cool events such as Urban Supper, where dinner is set up in an alley strewn with lights and brought to you by local chefs.

But there is no neglecting the Pittsburgh pride that still makes this neighborhood’s heart beat. On any given Sunday, or all days that end in Pirates or Pens or Steelers, downtown is the place to sport your game-day gear. Or in my case (yes, I’m most definitely an all-around Pittsburgh fan), the latest tee purchased in The Strip—Absobucnlutely.

Downtown you can get anywhere on foot that you need to go—and out-of-downtowners can take the T to get here. You can walk to the river. Walk over the bridge to the incline. Walk from one end (Market Square) to the other (Consol Energy Center). Or walk to the newly renovated Mellon Park. And while you’re over in that direction, stop in at the Omni William Penn Hotel. Go downstairs to the Speakeasy, order a Pimm’s Cup, and listen to the bartender tell old Pittsburgh stories.

Janna Leyde photo by Brian Cohen

I’m now smitten with this neighborhood. I have friends here, a yoga studio, a coffee shop, sidewalks and river trails, and a bevy of places to eat, drink and be merry. Perhaps the only thing that is missing is a bodega. But for now, it’s Farmer’s Market season, and Market Square has one of the best. I think it’s even better than the rumbling of a potential downtown grocery store.

Note: Janna hasn’t run out of surprises. Keep an eye out for her next article about what she’s up to. Coming soon.

Janna Leyde

Janna is happily rediscovering Pittsburgh after spending nearly a decade living New York City. She’s a writer by trade—magazines, blogs and a book called He Never Liked Cake. And she’s also a yoga...