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Lawrenceville: You Can't Keep a Good Community Down

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Streetwise fashions at Pavement - PHOTO: HEATHER MULL
You'd expect perseverance from a neighborhood named for Capt. James Lawrence, the War of 1812 hero best remembered for his inspirational final words: "Don't give up the ship!"

Established in 1814 along the southern bank of the Allegheny River, Lawrenceville grew quickly during the late 19th century, providing a home to steel mills, railroads, and the immigrants who manned them.

But even as heavy industry left the region a century later, the neighborhood held on. Today, with an infusion of young progressives drawn by the neighborhood's proximity to Downtown and its affordable housing, Lawrenceville is busily reinventing itself while still keeping its blue-collar roots.

Among the city's largest neighborhoods, Lawrenceville runs from 33rd Street to 57th Its Butler Street corridor is flanked on the riverward side by small, densely set rowhouses. Larger homes -- many with fine, preserved architectural details -- line the hillside above.

While vestiges of the neighborhood's industrial past remain, former warehouses and factories have been converted to lofts and artists' spaces. New technologies draw today's workers to places like the National Robotics Engineering Consortium and the hilltop Children's Hospital complex, set to open soon.

Lawrenceville also comprises the heart of the 16:62 Design Zone, the commercial corridor between 16th and 62nd streets. The zone offers a variety of firms specializing in home design, architecture and interior furnishings. Among them: Who New? (5156 Butler St., 412-781-0588), which offers retro and mod décor from the '50s, '60s and '70s. Bridging art and décor are Greater Pittsburgh Neon (4409 Butler St., 412-687-6777), for all your tube-of-light needs, and Prism Stained Glass (5234 Butler St., 412-781-8828), easily distinguished by its sparkly tile mosaic outside.

But the easiest way to appreciate Lawrenceville is to stroll along Butler Street, a retail corridor comprised of handsome two- and three-story 19th-century buildings. Along Butler you're as likely to spy a tattooed twentysomething on a bike as an old-timer's Rascal parked outside a bar. And for all the beautifully restored venues, there are still empty storefronts just waiting for the touch of the revitalizer's wand.

Nied's: Home of the "Famous Fish Sandwich" - PHOTO: HEATHER MULL

Start the day with breakfast at either end of Butler, each dining spot a testament to Lawrenceville's mix of old and new. At Sunrise Café (5336 Butler St., 412-781-5452), "home of the $3.99 breakfast," it's stick-to-your-ribs fare, while down in the 3800 block, at the Coca Café (412-621-3171), hip young things gather to brunch on herbed-goat-cheese French toast.

Foodies gather at River Moon Café (108 43rd St., 412-683-4004) for inventive bistro dishes, and La Filipiniana and Sweet Basil (5321 Butler St., 412-781-8724) offers the exotic flavors of Filipino and Thai cuisine. Conversely, there's nothing exotic about Frankie's Hot Dogs (3535 Butler St., 412-687-5220), where a well-balanced meal includes relish and beer. A few blocks up is Hambone's (4207 Butler St., 412-681-4318), where the pig reigns supreme. And "Nied's Famous Fish Sandwich," at Butler and 54th (412-781-9853), boldly challenges all in the city's ongoing fish-sammich wars.

Fashionistas who value quirkiness will find treasures new and old: Pavement (3629 Butler St., 412-621-6400) has the latest in women's shoes; one-of-a-kind accoutrements can be found at Accezzorize (3613 Butler St., 412-621-3808) and Divertido (3701 Butler St., 412-687-3701); Sugar, at 3703 Butler St. (412-681-5100), is the spot for clever, hip handmade clothes; and Elements (3816 Butler St., 412-681-7627) offers two floors of vintage fashion and housewares. For the more discriminating who need "everything rubber," the ER Room (5151 Butler St., 412-782-6133) is the one-stop shop for bondage and fetish gear.

The passerby will note the sweet smells wafting out of Jay's Design Soap and Gifts (4603 Butler St., 412-683-1184): Among the handmade soaps and toiletries is a bar for men named for local welterweight champ Fritzie "The Croat Comet" Zivic ("Fight dirt!" the label suggests).

Art galleries have been popping up like wildflowers throughout the area. Along Butler, scope the scene at Digging Pitt (4417 Butler St., 412-605-0450) and Slaughterhouse Gallery (5136 Butler St., 412-782-6858). There's also a new cluster of art venues along the 4700 block of Hatfield Street, in the flats below Butler.

One of Lawrenceville's native sons was Stephen Foster, now recognized as the founder of American popular music. Appropriately, a couple of live-music bars hope they'll spawn a pop-music legend: Belvedere's (4016 Butler St., 412-687-2555) and Thunderbird Café (4023 Butler St., 412-682-0177).

Even the local beer is a mix of old and new. Established in the mid-1800s, the Pittsburgh Brewing Company (3340 Liberty Ave.) has slaked the thirsts of several generations, with its flagship beer Iron City. Virtually across the street, in the former St. John the Baptist Church, the Church Brew Works (3525 Liberty Ave., 412-688-8200) has been producing hand-crafted ales, stouts and seasonal brews since 1996.

Watering holes range from a scenester hangout like the three-level Remedy (5121 Butler St., 412-781-6771) to an assortment of theme-free bars that always have a $1-beer special and an accompanying basket of fried shapes. AJ's Tavern (412-682-6414), at 45th and Butler, still boasts a ladies' entrance, and the recently renovated Sufak's Round Corner Bar (3720 Butler St., 412-683-2279) is just that: a rare round-corner bar.

Amidst Lawrenceville's urban landscape sits a real historical and pastoral jewel, Allegheny Cemetery (4734 Butler St., 412-682-1624), whose 300 acres spill down the hillside. The 163-year-old "rural" cemetery was landscaped with ponds, wooded dells and ornate statuary, so that a visitor might contemplate both mortality and the grandeur of nature. The cemetery remains a fine place for a walk: an oasis of shade during summer, and, as expected, quite peaceful.

All along Butler Street are ample doses of Americana -- whether it's a tonsorial throwback like Jim the Barber (5112 Butler St.) or Arsenal Lanes, a second-floor, 22-lane bowling alley at 212 44th St. (412-683-5992).

Lawrenceville remains a tight-knit community. It's where crossing guards help the kiddies (and everybody else) cross the street, where a hastily taped sign on the auto-parts store reads "down at Nied's." Resilience pays off, and so too, does welcoming new and revitalizing forces.

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