Science Center; the other two are in Oakland, Pa. Imagination also takes flight at
the National Aviary, home to some 600 rare
and exotic birds.
Crossing into downtown’s Central Business District, my first check-in was at the
Kimpton Monaco Pittsburgh. Following the
brand’s adaptive reuse model, this artful
update of a 1903 Beaux-Arts building features 248 guest rooms, 13 suites and 11,300
square feet of meeting space.
With black steel columns and etched
glasswork accentuating the industrial chic
atmosphere, the 120-seat The Commoner
restaurant commands the hotel’s cavernous basement. Raised in Pennsylvania’s
Amish Country, Executive Chef Wyatt Lash
delivers farm-fresh American fare, with
whimsical cocktails from youthful lead bartender Alex Dando. Herbs and vegetables
grow on the ninth-floor rooftop, adjacent to
the outdoor Biergarten.
Art in Motion
Hats off to the engineers who conquered
Pittsburgh’s mountain-bounded valleys
and hills, creating a beguiling connective weave of tunnels, viaducts and, most
famously, 446 bridges for the city’s 90
neighborhoods and districts.
Circling back to the North Shore, I
passed by the event-capable Penn Brewery
and H.J. Heinz plant smokestacks before
ascending historic Troy Hill, where guided
tours of Saint Anthony Cathedral reveal the
world’s largest collection of public Christian relics outside of the Vatican.
Edging down Rialto Street’s 24 percent
grade (Pittsburgh has some of the nation’s
steepest streets) onto the landmark 31st
Street Bridge, I wound into Polish Hill and
Lower Lawrenceville, where Church Brew
Works is the brewpub update of a 1902
Industry and philanthropy merge in
Oakland, Pa., where the Carnegie Museum
of Art and Carnegie Museum of Natural
History, founded in 1896 by steel magnate
Andrew Carnegie, are musts for tours
and events. Highlights include the Hall of
Architecture, featuring 140 plaster casts of
ancient architectural masterpieces, and a
preeminent dinosaur collection.
Opened in 1893, nearby Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the “Green
Heart of Pittsburgh,” offers tours, classes
and memorable private events.
Above downtown along the Allegheny
River, the mile-long Strip District is a reclaimed industrial neighborhood bustling
with restaurants, nightclubs, shops and
food vendors. Near the David L. Lawrence
Convention Center at the Strip’s western
end, the Smithsonian-affiliated Senator
John Heinz History Center, from 1834, is
the home of the Pennsylvania story, and
can host receptions.
Crossing to the South Side, it was up
Mount Washington (riding the historic
Duquesne and Monongahela inclines are
also memorable options) for spectacular
city views before relocating to the LEED
Gold-certified Fairmont Pittsburgh.
Offering 185 rooms (including a
presidential suite and 19 one-bedroom
suites) and 12,000 square feet of meeting
space, distinctive touches at the property
include artful displays of the glass bottles,
dishware, doll heads and numerous other
artifacts unearthed during the glass tower’s
excavation. Programmable for events, the
sleek lobby features casual dining at Andys
(named after Msrs. Carnegie and Warhol),
while Executive Chef Jean-Paul Lourdes is
scheduled to introduce a new restaurant
concept this fall.
Close to Cultural District performing
arts anchors Heinz Hall and the Benedum
Center, as well as iconic PPG Place—
Pittsburgh’s magnificent glass castle—the
Fairmont is an easy walk from Allegheny
Riverfront Park. Enjoying a farewell evening stroll here, by the artfully illuminated
“Three Sisters” bridges (Roberto Clemente,
Andy Warhol and Rachel Carson) and
sail-like roof of the LEED Gold- and Platinum-certified David L. Lawrence Convention Center, I watched a nighttime kayaking
group (Kayak Pittsburgh, from Venture
Outdoors) paddling on the river.
The name of the meetings game in Pittsburgh? Come for business, stay to play.
From Pittsburgh’s scenic surrounding
regions and beyond to Erie’s sandy shores,
people projects power the group scene in
artful, elevating and playful ways.
Winning their fifth Stanley Cup this
year, the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins are
one trophy shy of the six-time Super Bowl
champion Pittsburgh Steelers. In Butler
County, covering 800 square miles north
of Pittsburgh, groups can ice the agenda at
the multiuse UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, the Penguins’ training facility.
Opened in 1914 as a vaudeville and
silent-film palace, the Strand Theater in
picturesque Zelienople was a Main Street
mainstay before being shuttered in the
early 1980s. That’s when a local citizen,
Ron Carter, formed the non-profit Strand
Theater Initiative and galvanized friends,
family and other locals into restoring the
venue. Reopened in 2009, the 287-seat
Strand is once again North Pittsburgh’s premiere cultural and social center, presenting
live programming and films, and offering
private event space.
Butler, the county seat, is the birthplace
of the Jeep; thousands of enthusiasts come
here each June for the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival. At the North Country Brewing
Company in downtown Slippery Rock,
groups can sample 100-plus beers at the
on-site brewpub, take guided facility tours
and hold events at the 1856 Harmony Inn.
Other Butler County group lures include
historic Armstrong Farms; Succop Nature
Park for outdoor receptions; the Regional
Learning Alliance Center; and Saxonburg
Museum, offering tours by appointment
of the 1840 workshop where suspension
bridge pioneer John Roebling, of Brooklyn
Bridge fame, made his first wire cable.
“Location is everything!” said Jack
Cohen, president of the Butler County
Tourism & Convention Bureau. “Butler
ROBERTO CLEMENTE BRIDGE, PITTSBURGH
KAYAKING ON THE ALLEGHENY RIVER, PITTSBURGH