Wow, 2020 is getting off to a fast start. It’s hard to believe that PyCon (April 15 -23) is less than two months away. If you’ve been on the fence about coming, get off it now and register today. I’m serious. The last four conferences have sold out and we expect this one to sell out even faster this year.
Because in addition to all the pithy Pythony talks, development sprints, summits, job fair and the chance to mix and mingle with your fellow Pythonistas, the Pittsburgh venue is so cool. I’m really excited about it – and you should be too. If you’ve never been to the city or haven’t visited in a while, get ready.
The David Lawrence Convention Center is located in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District which is crammed full of theaters, art galleries and cultural venues that feature dance, film and music and more. Within a 15-minute walking distance, you’ll find more than 90 great places to eat and drink including gastropubs, brasseries and tapas spots, and martini and jazz bars. One of my favorites was Sienna Mercato – which has three floors of yum including a “meatball joint”, wine, charcuterie, and wood fire pizza “mezzo”, and a rooftop beer garden.
The convention center is right in the middle of what locals call “Dahn Tahn”. Aside from the drive in, the first good look I had of Pittsburgh was through the convention center’s amazing glass wall of floor to soaring ceiling windows that covers the entire north wall of the building. You look out and everything -- the rivers, the bridges, the buildings -- are right in front of you. You really feel like you’re part of the city. But as dramatic as the view is, I’ve got to tell you, it isn’t the thing I was most impressed with.
The best thing about the David Lawrence Convention Center? It's incredibly easy on the environment!
When it was built in 2003, it was the first and largest LEED® Gold Certified convention center. After it was renovated in 2012, it upped its game to Platinum Certification. Aside from things like greywater recycling, donating leftover food, composting and using biodegradable plates and flatware, they do something that really blew me away. You know those plastic ID badges that you pitch after every convention? The David Lawrence Convention Center has a partner that upcycles them into art. Boom.
And speaking of art, the convention center features no fewer than 18 public art installations created by local artists which are located on all four floors of the facility. Even if you stay at the center all day and never go out, there’s more than enough eye candy to fascinate you until you head back to your hotel.
If you’re staying at the Omni William Penn Hotel, it’s only a 0.4-mile walk from the center to the chandelier-lit lobby of this historic 1916 hotel that lets you step back into the over-the-top opulence of Pittsburgh’s grand steel-baron past. In addition to all the expected luxuries of a 4-star hotel, you’ll also find a 1920s Prohibition-themed Speakeasy that was named by Thrillist as one of "12 Most Essential Bars in Pittsburgh" as well as other in-hotel eating and drinking venues.
Other downtown hot spots you might want to check out are The Warren Bar and Burrow, a low-key neighborhood bar with a killer cocktail list that’s open until 2 AM. If you’re looking for live music head to Bridges and Bourbon on Wednesday and listen while enjoying modernist cocktails and tasty small plates. For something different try Liberty Magic, a BYOB live performance venue where magicians astound the audience with traditional close-up magic and stand-up comedy routines.
If you have a few hours – or want to spend an extra day or two – there are tons of things to see and do close by. There’s no shortage of well-known and well-worth visiting attractions like The Andy Warhol Museum, The Duquesne Incline, The Monongahela Incline, Fort Pitt Block House, Gateway Clipper Riverboats, Point State Park, and the Carnegie Science Center that are within walking distance or a short Lyft ride away. Other more offbeat options include:
Mexican War Streets
Developed in the 1840s, the Mexican War Streets historic district on the north side of the city features streets named for the people and places of the Mexican-American War. Here you’ll find Randyland, an insanely colorful outdoor outsider-art installation featuring a block-long riot of amazing murals, towering found-stuff-sculpture, and even a sandy “beach” to dig your toes into. Admission is free.
Next, take a short walk to The Poet Houses which are located on the north side of an alley called Sampsonian Way between Sherman Avenue and Monterey Street. Here you’ll find a row of homes that are artfully painted and inscribed with poems to honor exiled foreign writers and poets who have found refuge in them as part of Pittsburgh’s “City of Asylum” project. Admission is free and since they are on a public street, you can go anytime.
A little farther down the alley at 500 Sampsonia Way, you’ll find the contemporary art museum and experimental lab known as The Mattress Factory which features edgy site-specific installations created by artists in residence from around the world. Admission is $20. I hear the gift shop is awesome. If you’re hungry or thirsty, stop in at Riggs Lounge & Restaurant, a cool local dive bar that offers good craft and domestic beers. You’ll find more upscale eats in an urban performance space and bookstore at Brugg on North. Get the Thai Mussels. Just want a quick bite? Grab it at MF Café at the Mattress Factory.
The Strip District
Wait. It’s not what you think. Located just upriver on the banks of the Allegheny River, “The Strip” is an old industrial neighborhood that was once home to foundries, mills, and other production shops as well as produce merchants who had their wares brought in via train. Today you’ll find cool specialty stores, incredible Italian and other ethnic markets, international retailers, and critically acclaimed restaurants in interesting urban-industrial buildings. Go during the week to avoid the crowds.
Although there are too many restaurants to name them all, a few of the iconic ones are Primante Bros (where you get French fries ON your sandwiches AND your salads), DeLuca’s Diner (so old school they don’t have their own website for their Strip location), and for those looking for something trendy, there’s the “first-of-its-kind restaurant incubator” Smallman Galley which features four restaurant concepts.
For those into small-batch whiskey, there’s Wigel Whiskey Distillery that offers tours, tastings, and more that you can book through the Omni William Penn Hotel. Got a sweet tooth? Pop into Klavon’s authentically retro ice cream parlor. If you’ve got a taste for local history, stop by the Heinz History Center and explore six floors of permanent and rotating exhibits. Admission is $18.
A little bit dark. A little bit dirty, and until recently, mostly undiscovered. The Allentown neighborhood is a gritty treasure that you can unwrap in an afternoon and savor into the night.
Start by jolting yourself into a darker reality at the heavy metal Black Forge Coffee Shop, which The Pittsburgh City Paper voted Best Coffee House, Best Art Gallery for Local Artists, and Best Music Venue. Stay with the punk-metal vibe by lunching at The Onion Maiden that bills itself as an entirely vegan restaurant specializing in plant-based American and Asian comfort food.
Then stroll down to Skull Records to browse a selection of used "punk, heavy metal, and '60s psych rock" vinyl records as well as vintage t-shirts, VHS tapes, rock and heavy metal magazines, as well as anything strange and unusual that relates to rock music and horror movies.
Afterward, get your weird on at The Weeping Glass a marvelously morbid and macabre oddities shop and performance space that sells everything from odd art, strangely scented candles, antiques, taxidermy, and more. And don’t miss Dr. Tumblety’s Apothecary and Tasting Lounge where you can shop a selection of hats, fragrances, cosmetics tonics, trinkets and novelties, works by local artisans, vintage stuff, and gifts. At this point you may be thirsty enough to have a drink at the speakeasy in the back.
Getting around Pittsburgh and to any of these attractions is easy by Lyft but if you want to go the public transit route, you can go by bus, light rail, and (of course) incline. Check out the routes and schedules at the PortAuthority.
Thanks in part to its Pittsburgh location, PyCon 2020 is going to be epic! Don’t miss out. Make plans and register today, and I look forward to seeing you in April!