East Liberty is fully recharged. Nestled in Pittsburgh’s East End about 5 miles outside of downtown, the neighborhood’s energy is fueled by huge investments from the technology industry and grounded in a resilient community. East Liberty once rivaled downtown as a booming retail, transportation and culture center where the area’s elites and industrialists built grand homes and public buildings in the early 1900s to escape the city. But when suburbs began to lure residents away in the 1950s, failed attempts to retain population ended up crippling East Liberty’s economy and vibrancy. The neighborhood’s pride remained intact, and progressive steps were taken to support small businesses and rebuilding efforts. These days the indie spirit is alive and well, and it’s attracted countless startups as well as tech powerhouses like Google and Autodesk, who set up shop in the Bakery Square development, named for the former Nabisco bakery that’s the campus’ cornerstone. Plug into East Liberty’s exciting scene for a powerful meeting or event.
Where to Stay
The walls of the guest rooms and public spaces at the Hotel Indigo Pittsburgh East Liberty are adorned with murals depicting movie reels, staging, theater seats, director’s chairs and other symbols of showbiz, paying homage to the glory days of East Liberty’s dazzling theater scene in the 1920s and ‘30s. (Fun fact: Gene Kelly was born in East Liberty in 1912.) The décor glitters (literally, in places) with glamorous accents and a teal, yellow and platinum palette. The 135-room, six-story hotel is a blend of several restored buildings— including the former Governor’s Hotel—and new construction. “Sustainable building and development practices were incorporated into the design, construction and operation of the hotel, ushering history into the modern era,” says Garry Mintz, director of sales at the property, which opened in September 2015.
Wallace’s TapRoom is the hotel’s Prohibition-inspired tavern. It features patio seating and a number of locally sourced ingredients, like a custom blend of Zeke’s Coffee, an East Liberty-based roaster. The front desk staff is styled by local designer Kiya Tomlin, whose Uptown Sweats boutique is across the street from the hotel.
Since opening in a century-old former YMCA building in December 2015, Ace Hotel Pittsburgh has embraced East Liberty’s roots and supported its sense of community. “When we opened Ace Hotel Pittsburgh, we dreamt that people would return to the halls of the East Liberty YMCA to find its doors open to the neighborhood again,” says Kelly Sawdon, partner/chief brand officer at Ace Hotel Group/ Atelier Ace. “Community meetings, wedding receptions, workshops and panel discussions are now held in the gym and ballroom, and the restaurant, Whitfield, welcomes families and friends of all ages and walks of life—a number of whom have lived in, and loved, Pittsburgh for a long time.”
Sunlight beams through the tall, handsome windows in the hotel’s 63 rooms, lobby and event spaces to highlight original wainscoting and terrazzo floors that blend with fixtures and furnishings by local artisans. Guest rooms are minimalist but thoughtful, with blankets patterned with designs found in the nearby Amish communities, recycled furnishings crafted by local woodworkers Bones and All, and, in some rooms, turntables with a record collection curated by local tastemakers. There’s elegance in the second-floor ballroom, and grit in the three-story gymnasium, where peeledpaint murals are still intact, and old running tracks circle the room as two balcony levels.
The lobby is somewhat of a living room for the neighborhood, where locals and guests gather in a space that’s equal parts cozy coffee shop and hip bar scene. Rounding out the lobby is Whitfield, helmed by native Pittsburgher Brent Young, who co-founded The Meat Hook, a whole animal butcher shop in Brooklyn, New York. Expect hearty, indulgent and sharable fare that’s seasonal and locally sourced, with inspiration from the culinary traditions of the region’s immigrant culture. A private chef’s table provides a specially curated experience for up to 12 guests. Don’t skip dessert: The restaurant’s Casey Renee was nominated in the category of outstanding pastry chef in the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards.
Guests are welcomed to the independent Shadyside Inn All Suites Hotel by residential surroundings and a family-owned passion for hospitality. The hotel was originally an apartment building, and each of the 106 spacious and unique suites includes a full kitchen and was recently renovated with modern appliances and a bright, clean, contemporary style. There’s meeting and event space on-site, plus in-suite dining and a secure dog park at the animal-friendly property. The staff at Shadyside Inn focuses on creating a customized experience for every guest, earning the hotel a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2016. “We would like to see ourselves … as providing a ‘home away from home’ feel for our guests,” says General Manager Sourav Bandy. That home is in the picturesque neighborhood of Shadyside, adjacent to East Liberty. Stroll the tree-lined streets and explore highend and quirky shops, restaurants and galleries in the area, or borrow a bike from the Inn for an easy ride to East Liberty and other spots around the East End.
Where to Eat
Spoon opened in 2010 on what is now one of the liveliest corners of East Liberty. The restaurant’s dynamic dishes and outstanding bar program have drawn so many diners over the years that a crowd of other buzzed-about eateries have opened at nearby addresses in recent years. To reinforce its footing as one of Pittsburgh’s best restaurants, Spoon welcomed Jamilka Borges as its executive chef in 2016. The 2015 James Beard Foundation Rising Star semifinalist is known in Pittsburgh as the force behind some of the city’s most-hyped restaurants, and the French, Italian and Latin influences in her cuisine feel right at home at Spoon. The restaurant recently redesigned its space to create an inviting and versatile dining room where those stopping in for a drink are just as comfortable as the groups dining family-style at communal tables. A full buyout can accommodate 72 seated guests or 115 in a reception setup. Spoon’s private dining area, which seats up to 32 guests, is an ideal place to host a wine session curated by sommelier John Wabeck, whose list of more than 500 wines was recognized with Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence in 2016.
Greeted by aqua blue walls and nosegays that seem to levitate above dinner tables, a sense of ethereal whimsy takes over when diners enter The Twisted Frenchman. That playfulness extends to the menu and chef/partner Andrew Garbarino’s modernist presentation of French techniques. He relishes in creating customized group experiences that range from bubbly and bites to multicourse tasting menus that take diners on “an upscale foodie adventure.” Some dishes are finished tableside with puffs of liquid nitrogen smoke, and all are delivered with engaging service. Restaurant buyouts are currently available on Mondays, and more group options will be available when the restaurant moves to a larger space around the block before the end of 2017.
Casbah has been a consistent and inviting East End staple for more than 20 years. The menu is filled with familiar dishes and Mediterranean flavors with a focus on farmfresh ingredients; the restaurant was a pioneer of the city’s locally sourced food scene when it opened in 1995. Warm terracotta hues create a convivial atmosphere where groups have a number of dining choices, including the wine cellar, bar and year-round garden patio. As many as 150 can dine together in a full buyout of the restaurant, and for smaller groups there’s the bar and lounge (30), the main dining room (40), the wine cellar (50), and a year-round garden patio (50), and learn about organic gardening techniques in a number of workshops. There are always extra gardening gloves for groups who’d like to lend a hand.