When Chris Bisaillon first visited Pittsburgh it was a beautiful day and there were people everywhere. “There was a great energy,” he says, especially at PPG Place and Market Square. His restaurant group, Bottleneck Management, wanted to open new locations and had checked out Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore, among other cities. What sold them on Pittsburgh was “that really strong urban work ethic and energy and excitement that we’re familiar with from our Chicago roots. The motto of Chicago is ‘the city that works,’ and I felt the same kind of feeling in Pittsburgh,” he says.
His group ultimately chose Pittsburgh—and 2 PPG—for their new restaurant location, City Works, which will be one of several new additions to the evolving PPG landscape.
City Works, a 300-seat restaurant slated to open in summer 2016, will feature an “extremely robust beverage program with 120 draft beers, most on the micro side of things,” says Bisaillon. “We want to spend a lot of time with Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania brands, which will represent 20-25% of the menu.”
The 10,500-square-foot space “is really unique with its six-floor atrium. It has open air all the way up to the skylights, so it really creates some design challenges and opportunities,” says Bisaillon.
It is that unique architecture that attracted Highwoods Properties, which bought PPG in 2011 with an eye to upgrade the five-acre, six-building complex built in 1981. “The conversion was extremely important to us—we took our time to do it right,” says Andy Wisniewski, vice president at Highwoods. “We visited and entertained a number of proposals. We wanted the right mix and feel that we’ve achieved that.”
One of the groups Highwoods approached to take root in PPG 2 was locally-based Big Y Restaurant Group. “We already have a presence in Market Square with Nola (a New Orleans brasserie) and Perle (a champagne and tapas lounge),” says Nicholas Rizzo, director of operations for the Big Y Restaurant Group. The space—which fronts Market Square—sat empty for several years.
A goal of Big Y was “to find a concept to match the space,” says Rizzo. “We felt there was a void of Greek-inspired restaurants in downtown.” Their executive chef and owners had fallen in love with the more refined approach to Greek cuisine they had tasted in other cities and wanted to bring this to Pittsburgh.
And thus, Poros—also called Estiatorio Poros—was born. With an expected opening of October 19th, a key element to Poros is the 100-seat outdoor space, which Wisniewski says will be the largest patio in downtown. “There is a louvered roof that allows sunlight and air to get through but will close to keep out the bad weather. Heaters will extend the patio season in the late fall and early spring,” says Rizzo.
Poros will offer a mezze or small plates along with an iced seafood display presenting Mediterranean selections such as exotic shellfish and crustaceans flown in daily. An expert chef focused solely on seafood, aka an in-house Poissonier, will recommend selections to diners including guidance on preparations (grilled, a la plancha, and Tandoor roasted) and presentations (fish may be filleted in the kitchen or served whole).
Lamb from local purveyors Jamison Farms and Elysian Fields as well as from Colorado will also be available, chosen as “the finest quality lamb in the country.”
The bar will feature a wide variety of Ouzo along with the specialty cocktail called the Ouzito, as well as Raki, an anise-flavored liquor popular in Turkey and the Middle East. The wine cellar will reflect “the Big Y emphasis on excellence, including indigenous varietals from Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Morocco, as well as Italy, Spain, and Southern France.”
Highwoods is also working to overhaul its outdoor space. Over the past few months, the water features were upgraded with new jets and LED lights that “shine up though the water,” says Wisniewski. The grand opening will be in Spring 2016. The water feature passed its test run and was then turned off to make way for an upgrade of the ice rink.
The rink will be expanded by some 20%, says Wisniewski, to more than 12,000 square feet. “We used to say the ice rink was larger than Rockefeller Center—now we will be able to say that it’s quite a bit larger than Rockefeller Center.”
The expanded rink will open to the public on Light Up Night, November 20th. If you want to be first on the ice, you can buy tickets to the American Cancer Society First Skate event on November 19th. Construction of the water feature and rink expansion will total $2 million, says Wisniewski.
Last year, the rink saw 68,000 skaters.