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North Side: Making Connections

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Enjoying the North Shore's "water steps" - PHOTO: HEATHER MULL

When you cross one of the bridges linking Downtown to the North Side, you're connecting to a neighborhood some say was "stolen" by Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh's North Side, originally known as the city of Allegheny, was annexed -- largely against its will -- by the bigger city in 1907. The next hundred years were hard on the North Side, thanks to urban blight and less-than-successful redevelopment projects. Even so, the neighborhood hasn't given up: Now that a notorious adult theater, the Garden, has been closed, a redevelopment plan that might actually work is underway, near the intersection of Federal and North avenues. And you can still see reasons why Pittsburgh used strong-arm tactics to acquire its neighbor.

The North Side is actually composed of several neighborhoods: East Allegheny, Allegheny Center, North Shore, Allegheny West, Central North Side and Fineview. Combined, those neighborhoods total about 10,000 residents. The bulk of the area, however, runs from Allegheny West, near the Community College of Allegheny County to East Allegheny, near Allegheny General Hospital and I-279.

Many of the changes taking place in the area are happening along the "North Shore," a name that refers to the sliver of land that runs alongside the Allegheny River. The name is also, obviously, a commercial tool, hoping to encourage visitors and investment by distancing the area from the rest of the more hardscrabble neighborhood.

The sales tactic seems to be working, judging from the Lincoln at the North Shore (100 Anderson St., 412-321-2300) apartment complex. The apartments are just a few yards away from a walking trail along the North Side's riverfront ... and just across the Ninth Street Bridge from Downtown's Cultural District.

But for most Pittsburghers, the North Shore is home to Heinz Field (100 Art Rooney Ave.) and Pittsburgh's beloved "Stillers." Flocks of fans clad in black and gold gather at Heinz Field for each home game -- an experience often substituted for church on Sundays. Nearby stands PNC Park (115 Federal St., 412-323-5000), one of Major League Baseball's most beautiful ballparks, and home to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Even if baseball's not your game, the atmosphere and views of the city skyline are worth the price of a ticket.

The historic Penn Brewery - PHOTO: HEATHER MULL

On the other side of Heinz Field is the Carnegie Science Center (One Allegheny Ave., 412-237-3400), where visitors explore the world of science and technology.

A handful of bars and restaurants catering to sports fans -- and office workers willing to hike from Downtown -- has sprung up nearby. Finnegan's Wake (20 E. General Robinson St., 412-325-2601) is a corporatized rendition of an Irish pub, but it's comfortable as hell and the beer is fine. The same building houses New Moon Fusion Restaurant (412-321-3525), one of the best locations for Pan-Asian cuisine.

Other establishments, meanwhile, are being added so quickly we haven't had time to visit them yet: Calico Jack's Cantina (353 North Shore Drive, 412-322-7380) is a Tex-Mex joint just opening as this issue went to press; Jerome Bettis' Grille 36 (393 North Shore Drive, 412-224-6287) lets Pittsburgh bask in nostalgia for the most popular Steeler running back since Franco Harris.

Many North Shore visitors never see the rest of the neighborhood, sadly. But the rest of the North Side has plenty for those willing to explore.

The Andy Warhol Museum (117 Sandusky St., 412-237-8300) displays native son Andy Warhol's creative insights into the world of pop culture. The museum features more than 8,000 pieces of art, making it the most comprehensive single-artist museum in the world. And The Mattress Factory (500 Sampsonia Way, 412-231-3169) is a world-renowned exhibition space for installation art. Artists sometimes live in the museum's satellite facility, 1414 Monterey, while completing the site-specific works.

For families, there's The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh (10 Children's Way, 412-322-5058). Kids can travel through a replica of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, among other things. Originally housed in the Old Allegheny Post Office, the museum has recently expanded to include the former Buhl Planetarium across the street. A few blocks away, The National Aviary (Allegheny Commons West, 412-323-7235) houses more than 600 exotic birds from all over the world.

But for historic gems, there is no better place than the Mexican War Streets. The district -- whose streets are named after the Mexican-American War's battles and generals -- was saved from demolition in the 1960s, and today is still lined with row homes in a variety of 19th-century styles, including Italianate, Richardson Romanesque and Queen Anne.

Good eats are nearby. Monterey Pub (1227 Monterey St., 412-322-6535) offers Irish favorites such as shepherd's pie and fish 'n' chips. And locals hail Wilson's Bar-B-Q (700 N. Taylor Ave., 412-322-7427) as having the best barbecue in the city -- the slow-cooked meat is said to fall from the bones.

The main business district in the North Side runs along East Ohio Street. The street is home to a scattered handful of smaller businesses, including Stedeford's Record Shop (417 E. Ohio St., 412-321-8333), where the rare gem hides amidst the disarray. Be ready to haggle.

For a bite and a beer, try the Park House (403 E. Ohio St., 412-231-0551). Don't be afraid to dispose of your peanut shells on the floor: Eating them here is no different than at PNC Park -- except people here tend to know more about baseball than Pirates management. On tap is plenty of Penn Pilsner, brewed at the Penn Brewery (800 Vinial St., 412-237-9400) a few blocks away. The Brewery is a bar/restaurant in its own right, with outdoor seating, a huge dining room and German cuisine.

Given Pittsburgh's knack for bridge-building, it was inevitable Pittsburgh and Allegheny would merge. After 100 years the partnership is only just ironing itself out, but even so, it's hard to imagine either place without the other.

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