The Strip District, or simply "The Strip," is an eclectic area of
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Historically known as an area of warehouses
and industry, thousands flock to The Strip for more upscale reasons.
The Strip is located just east of Downtown Pittsburgh. It is bordered
to the north by the Allegheny River, to the south by Grant's Hill and
Polish Hill, and to the east by Lawrenceville.
The Strip got its name from its shape: it incorporates only three major
roads (Liberty Avenue, Penn Avenue, and Smallman Street) but spans
some 22 blocks from 11th to 33rd Street.
(Courtesy Neighbors in the Strip:
The Strip originally existed only between 11th and 15th Streets, as
established in 1814 by James O'Hara and George Bayard. Originally
knwon as Northern Liberties or Bayardstown, the Strip served as a hub for
industrial development during the early 19th century. It joined the city
as its own ward in 1837, the first addition to Pittsburgh since its
The earliest businesses in the Strip as it expanded outward included
iron mills, foundries, and many factories.
Andrew Carnegie himself ran iron and steel mills at Smallman & 33rd
As railroad cars were rerouted out of the downtown area, the Strip became
the new terminal for many food shipments, notably fish, fruit, and meats.
Starting in the early 20th century, produce markets moved their hub to
Smallman & 21st Street, a building which still exists but is no longer
the hub of produce trade. Warehouses and offices moved into the Strip until
the Great Depression and the St. Patrick's Day Flood of 1936 caused
catastrophic losses. Merchants continued to suffer as a result of war
rationing during World War II. According to the Historical Society of
Western Pennsylvania, in the 1950s
"there were 71 wholesale produce dealers in the
Strip district. By the 1970s there were about two dozen dealers left in the
produce terminal." It was only in the late 20th century that small businesses
started to make their mark in the Strip.
Today, the Strip is a thriving community of small businesses. Tax
incentives mean that much of the development in the Strip is taxed at a
low to zero rate. Mayor Tom Murphy of Pittsburgh has extended these
incentives in order to encourage further growth.
The Strip is part of Pittsburgh's Second Ward, which also includes
Downtown. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, only 266 people lived in the Strip as of 2002 (http://www.post-gazette.com/neigh_city/20030730crimedatapart1p9.asp). That represents a tiny sliver of Pittsburgh's total urban
about 280,000 people. Recent housing developments aim to bring more people
to the Strip. I live in the Brake House Lofts, a three-story apartment
building that opened in 2002. The Brake House is so named because starting
in the early 20th century, it was a factory for the Westinghouse
Air Brake Company and manufactured brakes for trains. Every year,
there is seemingly a new plan to renovate the Armstrong Cork building into
lofts. The Armstrong Cork Building is located right on the Allegheny River,
but has fallen into disrepair and has been unused (except for the occasional
rave or murder) for decades.
Due to the low population, you won't find any pharmacies,
general-purpose grocery stores, or doctors offices (although there is
an animal hospital) in the Strip. Instead, you will find a number of
specialty markets including many ethnic grocers. The Strip has also been
known for its nightlife, including many bars and clubs that go out of
business disappointingly often.
Getting to the Strip
The Strip District extends from 11th Street to 33rd Street, but most of
the tourist/yuppie traffic heads for the markets between 16th and 24th.
If you're planning on visiting the Strip, park on Penn between 24th and 27th
and walk for a bit, or prepare to be gouged severely by
parking lot attendants near the markets. Beyond 28th Street, most of the
buildings are used for factories, warehouses, trucking
facilities, and of course the city's auto pound.
PATransit also runs a few bus routes such as the 54C, 86B, and 91S
that travel to Liberty Avenue or Penn Avenue in the Strip. Party-goers
can take the Ultraviolet Loop on Fridays and Saturdays from 7:00 PM to
3:00 AM, operating on a half-hourly schedule.
When the weather is good, Pittsburghers and folks from the suburbs flock
to the Strip. Greeting them are many street performers, panhandlers, and
street vendors. A friend of mine who is also from Long Island said
that it reminded her of Canal Street in New York City, only "less crappy."
You can buy flowers, knives, blankets, handbags, DVDs, trinkeys, and other
objets d'crap outside.
My picks for what's fun in the Strip:
- Mullaney's Harp & Fiddle - 24th & Penn - An enjoyable
Irish pub, complete with wall-fuls of Guinness memorabilia. The food
is good, and local Irish/Celtic music acts come through frequently.
Unless you enjoy packed houses, don't come here within a week of
St. Patrick's Day. (www.harpandfiddle.com)
- Roland's Seafood Grill - 19th & Penn - A very good seafood
bar & grill that features an outdoor patio and occasional live
- Sushi Kim - 13th & Penn - Excellent Korean and Japanese food,
including a large selection of sushi (hence the name). Also features an all-you-can-eat sushi night on the first Monday of every month.
- Aussom Aussie Boomerang BBQ - 27th & Penn - It's far from the
other markets, but this place (part of a small chain) serves up excellent
barbecue and authentic imported Australian beers like Cooper's.
- Primanti Brothers - 18th & Smallman - The original Primanti's will
make you a Pittsburgh-style sammich with french fries and cole slaw
on top, all for about $5. Open 24 hours a day! (www.primantibrothers.com)
- DeLuca's - Penn between 21st and 20th - A greasy spoon serving
good breakfasts between 6:00 AM and 3:00 PM Monday-Saturday, and
7-3 on Sunday. All smoking. Does not take credit cards. About
$6 per person. Often crowded on weekends.
- Pamela's P&G Diner - 21st between Penn and Smallman - Right around the corner from DeLuca's is the latest location of local chain Pamela's. This location, which opened in June 2004, features a retro '50s look with lots of blue and pink throughout. Among its "high-carb" offerings are Pamela's famous crêpe-like hotcakes. Smoking seating available outside during warm weather. Does not take credit cards. About $7 per person.
- Smallman Street Deli - Smallman between 28th and 29th - Just one block from my office is this young delicatessen, located next to Weiss Provisions. This synergy produces a shop that will sell you high-quality meats and cheeses by the pound or in a sandwich. Most sandwiches are $5-7. Great New York City Kosher deli food from a shop started in the late '90s by an Irish family.
Grocers and Fruit Stands
- Wholey's - 17th & Penn - The closest thing to a full-service
grocery store in the Strip, Wholey's was originally a fish market. It has
expanded over the decades to include a prepared foods section (where you can
get a fried fish sandwich up to 1 pound in size), a sushi bar
(Andy's Sushi Bar), a cookware department (Balcony Cookware, now its
own store next door), a butcher shop, a deli department, and a produce
- Benkovitz Seafoods - 23th & Smallman - A fish market attached to a receiving depot for Nordic Seafoods, Benkovitz sells a large variety of fresh and frozen seafood. It also has a sushi bar and a prepared foods section, which leads to extraordinarily long lines during Lenten Fridays. Another Benkovitz location is inside PNC Park.
- Stan's Market - 19th & Penn - A mostly-indoor market
featuring lots of fruits and vegetables reasonably priced.
- Bill's Produce - 18th & Smallman - An indoor produce market
about the total size of Stan's, sometimes with a better selection. If I have
time, I visit both.
- Lotus Food Market - 17th & Penn - One of many Asian grocers in
the Strip, Lotus features a full assortment of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese
goods including the ever-important Pocky and Pretz.
Bars and Clubs
- Mixx Lounge (formerly Voodoo Lounge) - Sometimes throws big biker bashes with live music
and thousands of bikers all along Penn Avenue. Long after it's over, the
bikers remain, guaranteeing that residents like me won't be able to sleep.
Also gained notoriety in 2003 for introducing "adult cabaret acts" much to
the chagrin of local business owners.
- Metropol, formerly M, formerly Metropol has gone through many
owners and could close at any time. While open, they host many musical acts
from the past and present.
- The 31st Street Pub (31st & Penn) also hosts many rock artists, but they caused a
stir in the early 2000s by adding exotic dancers to make happy hour
much happier. (www.31stpub.com)
Many more bars and clubs exist in the Strip, but they disappear too
frequently to Node for the Ages.
More Stores of Interest
- Mitro's Specialty Store - Smallman between 21st and 20th - This store makes keys and
sells -- among other things -- candy, martial arts uniforms, swords,
knives, hip flasks, and assorted ninja gear.
- Mon Aimee Chocolat - 21st & Penn - A candy store for grown-ups,
of sorts: you can buy all sorts of imported and fancy chocolate here,
including some Nestle and Cadbury treats like Coffee Crisp and
Aero Bars that I hadn't seen outside of Canada or the United Kingdom.
They also sell hot chocolate and gelato, for those cold or hot Pittsburgh
- Art of Steel - Penn between 21st and 22nd - A store featuring all sorts of steel objets d'art including wine racks, sculptures, and a remarkable selection of weaponry.
- Klavon's Ice Cream - 28th & Penn - Far away from the hustle and
bustle of the Strip markets lies this treasure of an ice cream shop,
originally incorporated as a pharmacy in 1925. Today, you can go there
to get an old-fashioned egg cream, sundae, waffle cone, or any other
confection you can imagine.
- Eide's Entertainment - 12th & Penn - Virtually downtown, this
three-story entertainment warehouse sells music, movies, lots of
comic books, and assorted collectibles.
Putting the "strip" back in the Strip
A long-running controversy among local residents and business owners is
the slow rise and fall of adult businesses in the Strip. Some bars, like the
aforementioned Voodoo Lounge and 31st Street Pub, have tried to increase
business by adding adult acts. They have met with fierce opposition from
neighborhood groups like Neighbors in the Strip
In the last few years, a strip club called Bare Elegance took over a 12,000
square foot warehouse at 31st and Liberty, and was hit with fines of $1,000
per day due to violations of city ordinances governing adult clubs.
Happily paying the fines, they stayed in business until early 2003, when they
were suddenly seized by the Feds for dealing cocaine and ecstacy.
Another club beneath Bare Elegance and not featuring adult acts remained
open during court proceedings. In late summer 2003, Bare Elegance sported a new sign "Still bare, still elegant, still open," once again triumphing over legal threats.
The Strip District continues to grow into the 21st Century. As a proud non-native Pittsburgher, I am excited to live and work in this fascinating, diverse neighborhood.