Tuesday, April 28, 2009

26.2 miles to Good Beer in Pittsburgh, PA

This will be my last substantive posting until I return from the Pittsburgh Marathon next week. I'll have some filler material to keep you and your RSS feeder/reader occupied until then, so it won't be like I'm really MIA!

I had a lot of fun putting together my marathon of D.C. beer back in 2007 to coincide with my running of the Marine Corps Marathon. I laid out a map with some descriptions of beer-worthy landmarks along the way. The idea didn't dawn on me three years ago for my first in NYC and for some reason I skipped doing one back in the fall when I ran Philly.

Now, I'm heading to da 'Burgh this coming weekend for the return of the Pittsburgh Marathon...26.2 miles starting and ending downtown by the Convention Center. Along the way, my running will take me and almost 10,000 other runners through the North Shore, South Side, Oakland (PittU), Shadyside, and Lawrenceville.

Some of you already know of the places that I'll pass along the way. For those others, read along below to get a good representation of what makes up a pretty decent beer scene in the city of Pittsburgh. And, for those of you in and around the City on Sunday, 5/3...feel free to come out and witness the return (from hiatus) of the Pittsburgh Marathon. Believe it or not, the only significant hill (uphill that it is) is Forbes Avenue through Oakland. Find me, and I may even buy a beer for you afterwards. Oh, by the way, does anyone have a good recommendation for a place to "carb up" on Saturday night in the City?

Runners, beer drinkers take your mark... The route begins on Smallman Street just outside the Convention Center and heads off on a short loop through downtown of approximately 4 miles before heading to the North Side. There is (or at least used to be) a smattering of half-decent places to grab a good beer downtown, but not like in other neighborhoods, particularly South Side, which we'll get to in, oh, an hour or so.

The only place downtown where I've dabbled in good beer has been the small-ish Penn Taproom inside the William Penn Hotel where you'll find a couple of beers from Penn on permanent taps. Unfortunately, Market Street Ale House has recently closed and left Market Square (just a few blocks from the Convention Center start of the Marathon) a bit more empty. I'll leave it up to some of you to chime with any worthy downtown beer joints that should be checked out.

I suppose the homebrewing scene must be across the rivers, because all I could find on Beer Advocate for homebrewing in the City was in the Strip District a half mile from the starting line in the form of Triangle Homebrewing Supply. Though, if the user reviews are accurate, it may not be the place that many of us would want to buy supplies from. But, as always check it out for yourself and decide. Or, if you homebrew in Allegheny County, I ask you: Where do you buy homebrew supplies?

Here a bridge, there a bridge Of the most vital components in Pittsburgh's aesthetically-pleasing landscape, none perhaps is more identifiable than the bridges. Somewhere in the past, I'd recalled hearing that Pittsburgh has more bridges within the city boundaries than any other city outside of Venice. I'll have to look around to see if that can be confirmed.

In any case, this marathon will go across three bridges. The first leaves downtown around mile 4 and crosses the Allegheny river at 16th Street. Although, the route veers west, just a handful of blocks to the east after crossing the bridge is the home (past home, and soon to be home again) of Penn Brewery. Penn is the wonderful Pittsburgh landmark on Vinial Street. They'd just recently celebrated their 20th anniversary and got a very large rent increase bill in the mail. After some backing-and-forthing, Penn is heading back to the brew kettles. Though, if I understood the chain of events correctly, the equipment had been sold. So, what this all means, I'll need to look into...but not during the run!

A bit of tooling around the North Side, then to the West End Bridge, where at roughly mile 8.5 we'll cross over into the neighborhood where the joint is always jumpin': South Side. As we make our way down Carson Street, Mt. Washington will be up the hill above us (home to some of the most breathtaking views of the city)...take one of the Inclines/Funiculars, either Duquesne or Monongahela, for a quick peek.

Where do all the Hippies Meet? The mood of Carson Street will change a few times over as we go from one end almost the other. But, one thing that won't is the energy level. We'll be on there from mile 8.5 to almost mile 12. Along the way, the scenery will include tattoo parlors and tea houses, ethnic eateries and esoteric bookstores, bohemians and babes, and yes, of course, Fat Head's. Let's work our way from west to east along Carson.

First up will be Fat Head's on the left (north) side of the street. Fat Head's is equal parts restaurant, bar, takeout bottle shop, sports bar, and party scene that is on the short list of many a beer traveler when in Pittsburgh. During one of our annual guys trip to Pittsburgh, we went in for lunch, watched some games, drank some great beer, and stayed long enough to be hungry for dinner. On Carson Street, Fat Head's is usually in the middle of most parties and celebrations that take place in the South Side neighborhood. That they are one of the best beer bars in the city and region of Pittsburgh doesn't hurt either.

Within spittin' distance on the other side of the street is Piper's Pub. If I could count the number of times that I've been told to visit Piper's, I'd also then be able to tell you the number of times that I didn't go. Based on their reputation, I'd say the punchline to the joke of "Why didn't Bryan cross the road from Fat Head's to Piper's?" would be "Because he's an idiot." Perhaps you, too, can tell me what a great place Piper's is?

Back to the north side of the street at 20th is where you'll find Smokin' Joe's. Smokin' Joe's used to truly be smoking. I've only been once to this bar and, man, smoke-filled just about describes what it used to be like before the state-wide smoking ban was enacted. With that out of the way now, the pool, darts, food, and beer have never been better.

I'll be making a left across the Birmingham Bridge from Carson Street at 23rd Street. This left comes just a few blocks before South Side Works, home of the recently unveiled Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh. Schnitzel, steins, and sausage prevail (as do dirndls, dudes, and dunkels...and...beer, babes, and bratwurst...someone, please stop me) at this new German-style Beer Hall overlooking the Monongahela River. Since I was last there, the outside deck and biergarten may be well on their way to completion.

Back to School After weaving our way around the interstate tangle, we runners will head up Forbes Avenue toward the University of Pittsburgh. In addition to the venerable institution of coleslaw and fries on the sandwich (that'd be, of course, Primanti Bros.), the Oakland section of the city around the university campus also is home to a location of the Mad Mex family and Fuel and Fuddle, a couple of the better beer bars near campus.

In addition to a decent beer lineup, Mad Mex will also help sate your thirst with their Big Azz Margaritas. Specialties at Fuel and Fuddle include Tröegs-brewed Fire Brick Brown Ale and Pumphouse Pale Ale, pizzas done a dozen different ways, and foods that are flavored ten ways 'til next Tuesday.

The trip up Forbes Avenue contains an incline approximately two miles in length at an average incline of 2-3%. This represents the most significant hill of the course. It seems counter-intuitive in a city known for hills almost as much as bridges. After cresting Oakland at almost mile 14, the tony neighborhood of Shadyside will provide tree-lined streets, exclusive residential addresses, and high-end shopping. Unfortunately, not much in the way of notable beer bars or breweries.

Heading east on Penn Avenue to then make a left on Braddock, where a right on Braddock would instead take you south to Regent Square and D's Six Pax and Dogz where those with a little hunger and thirst will leave with neither. Home to one of the area's best take out beer caves, D's completed a renovation a couple of years ago that now allows them to stock close to 1000 brands of beer. The menu of frankfurters and sausages is like icing on the cake, or head on the beer.

As the neighborhoods become a bit quieter and bleaker, two more first-class beer joints will pop up and try to lure me in for some liquid refreshment...only if they were open at the time on a Sunday. Point Brugge and Sharp Edge Beer Emporium have both been around for a while and are establishing themselves and their beer lineups as among the city's best. This is Sharp Edge's original location of a 4-location local quad of great beer bars. The only location of theirs that I've been to is the Creekhouse just on the city's westerly limit. Based on reputation and word-of-mouth, these are the kind of places that most beer geeks would be happy to find themselves stranded at.

It won't take long to leave behind the civilized tone of Shadyside for the more rough-and-tumble, other side of the tracks neighborhoods of Point Breeze and Homewood. Actually, it is the other side of the tracks where East End Brewing resides. I'm still trying to coax owner/brewer, Scott Smith out of bed early on Marathon Sunday to set up a beer refreshment stand for me and the runners to get us through the neighborhood at miles 19 and 20...let's see how that goes. Y'know just a little dixie cup of Gose or Kvass...it's the mythical "wall" you know? I don't want to hit it!

It's all Downhill from Here With just one significant hill (albeit 2 mile hill), the course does not seem to overly intimidate me from afar. But, no matter, when it comes to the last almost 4 miles, I'm thinking they might be a just reward for putting in a few hours of running on this lovely upcoming Sunday morning!

Around mile 23, I'll be already into a mild downhill that will take me directly in front of and by Church Brew Works. CBW is another one of those Pittsburgh institutions that is on the very short list of many a beer traveler to Pittsburgh. Housed in a desanctified church, CBW is celebrating 13 years in business in 2009. The ambiance alone is enough reason to visit, not to mention the food and beer menus as well. In the nice weather, they have a patio that might just be open by the time I arrive for the marathon, we shall see.

Across Liberty Ave. from Church Brew Works is the larger-than-life Pittsburgh Brewing Company. I guess you might have to be from Pittsburgh to have some sentimental feelings about I.C. Light. I once had an Iron City can of beer with the 1970s Steelers team on it. That's probably the closest I'll ever come to have a can of I.C. Light in my paws.

I'm going to go ahead and throw this out here in the public domain, because I feel like being optimistic and letting the world (or at least the 3 of you that have made it this far) know my finishing time goal for Sunday. After running almost 600 miles during this training plan and feeling like I just may be in the best running shape of my life, I believe I'm ready to go for the magical 4 hour finish on Sunday. For many "average" runners such as myself, 4 hours is a threshold that becomes a mission to achieve.

After that, qualifying for Boston Marathon would be the next. But, first let's get to 4 hours. With a previous best of 4:21:31, this may be a stretch, but I'm feeling good enough to state it and go for it!

Remember: "You either Do or you Do Not, There is No Try"

Other Brew Lounge Links to Pittburgh's Beer Scene
The Steelers in 2006 Super Bowl
A review of Church Brew Works
A review of Fat Head's
A review of North Country Brewing
A 2006 trip through Pittsburgh
A quick 2008 trip to Pittsburgh
Bottling Gratitude at East End Brewing in 2008
2009 Flyers/Penguins hockey trip

Triangle Homebrewing Supply 2100 Smallman Street Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Penn Brewing Co. 800 Vinial Street Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15212
Fat Head's 1805 East Carson Street Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15203
Piper's Pub 1828 East Carson Street Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15203
Smokin' Joe's 2001 East Carson Street Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15203
Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh 2705 South Water Street SouthSide Works Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15203
Mad Mex Oakland 370 Atwood Street Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213
Fuel And Fuddle 212 Oakland Avenue Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213
D's Six Pax & Dogz 1118 South Braddock Avenue Swissvale, Pennsylvania 15218
Point Brugge Cafe 401 Hastings Street Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15206
Sharp Edge Beer Emporium 302 South Saint Clair Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15206
East End Brewing Co. 6923 Susquehanna Street Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15208
Church Brew Works 3525 Liberty Avenue Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15201
Pittsburgh Brewing Co. 3340 Liberty Avenue Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15201


Brian P said...

Pittsburgh tends to be underrated as a beer city. You've pointed out some fantastic stops that any craft beer fanatic hitting the town should experience.

Continue to stay away from the I.C. Light and good luck in the marathon.

Here's to smashing 4 hours!!!

kmudrick said...

Dude best of luck :)

Chris L said...

Say hey to my friend Gene at the church. I always tell you that but you never do it!

Bryan Kolesar said...

Thanks to you guys for your words of encouragement.

Oh, and Mr. SmartyLance, on March 21st at around 11pm I asked for Gene (the bartender) and was told that he wasn't working that evening. so there :-p Tell him to have something tasty waiting for me afterwards!

Bryan Kolesar said...

Speaking of afterwards, after NYC my first beer was at Virgil's and was a Brooklyn Pilsner.

In D.C. it was a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale at Southside 815.

And, in Philly, it was General Lafayette's Escape chased by a Brune at The Tiedhouse.

What should it be in Pittsburgh? I'm thinking either Penn Pilsner or East End's Fat Gary Ale.