The year 1988 saw the publication of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a coming-of-age tale penned by award-winning author Michael Chabon, who attended both Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh.

Fast forward nearly two decades, and the evocative title of Chabon’s debut novel is now being used for a feature story on Pittsburgh in Travel + Leisure magazine.

Pop-up flea market at the Ace Hotel. Photo: Christopher Testani.

For her article, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, writer Jody Rosen begins by stating:

“Its comeback from postindustrial malaise was already one of the best stories in the annals of American urbanism. Now something even more unlikely is happening: the Steel City is turning into Cool Town, U.S.A.”

Rosen aptly kicks off his visit at Lawrenceville’s so-called Concrete Beach—located at the end of 43rd St. above the banks of the Allegheny River—where he takes in “spectacular” views:

“If you’re looking for an ideal vantage point from which to contemplate the oddity that is 21st-century Pittsburgh, head for a patch of waterfront in Lawrenceville, a picturesquely postindustrial neighborhood northeast of downtown . . . Like many spots in today’s Pittsburgh, it is a place of scruffy beauty, half-hidden, vaguely illicit, a great secret that you feel lucky to be in on.”

While exploring the city, Rosen talks with several Pittsburghers, ranging from young transplants to Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

One woman, 28-year-old Bonnie Drake, who moved to Pittsburgh to work on her Ph.D. and previously lived in Portland, OR states:

“Housing here is still pretty cheap, the craft beer is great, the dining is great . . . plus, Pittsburgh is weird. It has a weirdness to it.”

Looking at current data, Rosen writes about Carnegie Mellon and Pitt students remaining here after graduation, the influx of “boomerangers” and new waves of transplants who are “lured by a quality of life that consistently earns Pittsburgh a perch in the upper reaches of the Economist’s annual Global Liveability Ranking.”

Storefronts on Penn Avenue. Photo: Christopher Testani.

Describing Pittsburgh’s benefits, Rosen writes:

“The selling points are considerable: affordable housing, a robust job market anchored by a thriving tech sector, those redoubtable educational and health-care institutions, and an arts community awash in foundation money . . . Meanwhile, a style-savvy new generation has brought amenities familiar from other urban hot spots: fair-trade coffee, fixed-gear bicycles, music clubs, galleries, and a restaurant scene that Zagat recently deemed the country’s best.”

Even Mayor Peduto weighs in:

“We’re seeing young people arriving in Lawrenceville, in East Liberty, areas that they haven’t been moving into for fifty years . . . It’s real hard for some people to comprehend that Pittsburgh has become a hip place.”

Rosen also discusses Pittsburgh’s many diverse ethnic enclaves and neighborhoods, as well as complex issues such as the collapse of the steel industry, shrinking population, gentrification and segregation.

The article looks at redevelopments in East Liberty, with Rosen reporting on Google’s Bakery Square presence, new businesses such as Zeke’s Coffee and the Livermore, long-time fixtures like Kelly’s Bar, and the city’s trendiest new boutique hotel, the Ace.

Left: Curiosity Shop. Right: Whitfield. Photo: Christopher Testani.

While in East Liberty, Rosen talks with Matthew Ciccone, a 36-year-old real estate developer who moved back to Pittsburgh after living in Chicago and NYC, and 43-year-old art historian, cultural producer and writer Kilolo Luckett, who is active in Pittsburgh’s arts scene and black community and worked as a cultural attaché for the Ace.

Heading to Lawrenceville, Rosen opines:

“If East Liberty is the city’s up-and-coming area, Lawrenceville is Cool Pittsburgh in full flower, a see-and-be-seen zone for creative twenty- and thirtysomethings. Its buoyant real estate market, postindustrial ambience, and concentration of young men with Old Testament beards have earned it a moniker that some relish and others resent: ‘Pittsburgh’s Williamsburg.’”

Rosen makes the rounds to Spirit, Bierport, Row House Cinema, Curiosity Shop, Ice House, Nied’s Hotel Bar, and more—where she talks with local business owners, artists, residents and developers.

“For the moment, Lawrenceville has arrived at an evolutionary sweet spot, infused with energy and novelty but still idiosyncratic, authentic, a touch gritty.”

The article concludes with a list titled, “The Details: What to Do in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” featuring recommended restaurants, cafés, bars, and arts and cultural activities.

See who made the list, and read the entire article here.

Jennifer Baron

Jennifer has worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art and is co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania. She also is co-coordinator...