Pittsburgh: A 26.2 mile marathon of beers, bridges, and hills

Pittsburgh has a deep-rooted history in brewing beer and is gaining ground with a stellar selection of breweries and bars. Photo: Pittsburgh Brewing Company

PITTSBURGH, May 13, 2011 — By the end of this weekend, I’ll either be licking my wounds from the running of the Pittsburgh Marathon, or I’ll be relishing new success.

Marathons and the requisite training are always a mix of highs and lows, of discovering things about yourself that can only be brought about by traversing the physical and emotional swings.

One thing, however, that will not be in question is the ability to find great food and beer in Pittsburgh. I won’t personally have much time to imbibe during the course of marathon weekend. My greatest indulgence of the weekend may come after the race with a pierogi pizza and beer at Church Brew Works to refuel before making the drive home.

Church Brew Works, Pittsburgh

Church Brew Works, Pittsburgh

Along the marathon and half-marathon course, over 10,000 runners will cross through the North Shore, South Side, Oakland, Shadyside, Bloomfield, and Lawrenceville neighborhoods. There are some landmark restaurants and bars that runners will pass along the way. There are others that may not be as well-known.

Continue reading to get a mile-by-mile representation of what makes up a pretty decent beer scene in the City of Pittsburgh.

Runners and beer drinkers take your mark

The 26.2 Marathon route begins in the heart of downtown on Liberty Avenue, and takes a short loop past the Convention Center and through the Strip District for nearly 4 miles before heading off to the North Side.

Unlike other neighborhoods, particularly South Side which comes farther below, in about an hour or so, the Downtown District is not overflowing with options for finding great beer. A recent entry on to the craft beer scene in the past few years has been August Henry’s, which brings together a great list of current craft brews and solid tavern food, in an old saloon-style setting. The restaurant is located one block off the marathon course on Penn Avenue and adjacent to the Convention Center, but is unfortunately closed on Sundays. Runners, though, can get their pre-race meal Saturday night, with plenty of carb-rich and protein-filled plates.

August Henry's, Pittsburgh

August Henry’s, Pittsburgh

Another spot downtown worth mentioning is the rather small hotel bar Penn Taproom, inside the William Penn Hotel, where you’ll find a couple of beers from the city-based Penn Brewery on permanent taps.

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. Reportedly, the ‘City of Bridges’ has more bridges than any other city outside of Venice. And, the marathon course planners make sure that runners experience no less than four of the nearly 500 bridges in the City.

The first bridge crossing 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 of Penn Brewery. Penn is a wonderful Pittsburgh landmark on Vinial Street. They’d just recently celebrated their 20th anniversary, and are under new management in the historic former home of Eberhardt and Ober Brewery.

The runners will tool around the North Side for a couple of miles before heading off to the West End Bridge. At roughly mile 7.5, they will come into the neighborhood where the joint is always jumpin’: South Side. Along Carson Street, either the Duquesne or Monongahela Incline can transport riders to the top of Mt. Washington for some of the most breathtaking views of the city.

Meet me on Carson Street

The mood of Carson Street will change a few times over as the runners go from one end to almost the other. But, one thing that won’t is the energy level. The runners will traverse nearly 3 miles of Carson Street from mile 7.5 to almost mile 10.5. Along the way, the scenery will include tattoo parlors and tea houses, ethnic eateries and esoteric bookstores, bohemians and babes, and a few beer destinations.

Running 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 near the top of many beer traveler lists when in Pittsburgh. 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 doesn’t hurt either.

Diagonally across the street is Piper’s Pub. Don’t let the proximity to Fat Head’s deter you from stopping in at Piper’s for a ‘taste of the British Isles’. A Scotch Egg, Fish and Chips, and a pint of English ale from the cask engine is the perfect way to take in a game of football/soccer on the television and share good times with friends.

Piper's Pub, Pittsburgh

Piper’s Pub, Pittsburgh

Back to the north side of the street at 20th sits Smokin’ Joe’s. Smokin’ Joe’s used to truly be smoking. With the state-wide ban removing that from the equation, the pool, darts, food, and beer have never been better.

Runners will leave the South Side neighborhoods across the Birmingham Bridge from Carson Street at 23rd Street. This left comes just a few blocks before South Side Works, home of Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh. Schnitzel, steins, and sausage prevail (as do dirndls, dudes, and dunkels…and…beer, babes, and bratwurst) at this new German-style Beer Hall, complete with an outside deck and biergarten overlooking the Monongahela River. They brew traditional German beers under watchful eyes from Germany to retain as much authenticity as possible. Prosit!

Back to school

After weaving around the interstate tangle, runners will head up Forbes Avenue toward the University of Pittsburgh. In addition to the venerable Primanti Bros., and their sandwiches bedecked in coleslaw and fries, 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 Smuttynose-brewed Fire Brick Brown Ale and Pumphouse Pale Ale, pizzas done a dozen different ways, and foods that span culinary and ethnic spectrums.

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 counterintuitive in a city known for hills almost as much as bridges.

Nothing shady about Shadyside

After cresting Oakland at almost mile 13, the tony neighborhood of Shadyside will provide tree-lined streets, exclusive residential addresses, and high-end shopping. Unfortunately, there’s not much in the way of notable beer bars or breweries.

Heading east on Penn Avenue, runners will make a left on to Braddock Avenue; a right turn 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 few years ago that now allows them to stock close to 1,000 brands of beer. The menu of frankfurters and sausages is like icing on the cake, or head on the beer, if you prefer.

Hitting the Wall

It will not 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. At this point, runners will begin to feel the effects of hitting the notorious “wall” and could probably use a small dose of liquid carbohydrates in the form of East End’s Gose or Kvass beers.

As the neighborhoods become a bit quieter and bleaker, two more first-class beer joints will pop up and try to lure runners in for some liquid refreshment. They won’t be open at the early morning hour of the marathon, so the runners should be safe in this regard.

Pittsburgh Brewing Company

Pittsburgh Brewing Company

Point Brugge and Sharp Edge Beer Emporium have both been around for quite some time and have established themselves and their beer lineups among the city’s best. This is Sharp Edge’s original site of a local foursome of their great beer bars. These are the kind of places that most beer lovers would be happy to find themselves stranded.

It’s all downhill from here

With just one significant hill (albeit a 2 mile hill), the course is not overly intimidating, particularly given Pittsburgh’s reputation for hilly terrain. While miles 18 through 21 contain a series of rolling hills, the just reward for putting in a few hours of running on an early Sunday morning comes around mile 22. As runners are breaking into a mild downhill pace, they will be passing directly in front of Church Brew Works. CBW is another Pittsburgh institution that is on the very short list of many Pittsburgh beer travelers.

Housed in a de-sanctified church, CBW is celebrating 15 years in business in 2011. The ambiance alone is enough reason to visit, not to mention the food and beer menus. In nice weather, an outdoor patio satisfies customers’ thirst for al fresco drinking and dining.

On a much larger scale, across Liberty Avenue from Church Brew Works, is the former site of Pittsburgh Brewing Company. You might have to be from Pittsburgh to have sentimental feelings about the brewery’s I.C. Light, but the history of brewing in Pittsburgh is often tied to this iconic 150-year-old brewery.

“You either Do or you Do Not, There is No Try”

Marathons can be very trying on the mind, body, and soul. Marathons of the running kind, that is. Fortunately, eating and drinking your way around Pittsburgh is not as daunting. With just a few of these suggestions discussed earlier, in addition to a bevy of other excellent eating and drinking places, Pittsburgh has come a long way to break the old stereotype of a post-industrial Rust Belt town.

Read more of Bryan’s work at After Hours in the Communities at the Washington Times.

-cl- 5/13/11

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Bryan Kolesar

Bryan Kolesar has been tracking down great beer for over twenty years. From the most hard-to-find delicately balanced low alcohol beer to the big monsters weighing in at over 10% ABV, he has yet to find a style that does not have a story to tell and a taste to share. Though, when pushed, Kolesar has historically staked a claim to the Saison style as one of the most versatile and his favorite.

In 2005, Bryan co-founded The Brew Lounge blog/website as a canvas to illustrate the best of the craft brewing industry and to document his own travels within it. Though he has lived in Philadelphia and is currently headquartered in the city's western suburbs, Kolesar shares a wealth of information and images that he collects from his travels around the world and some of the best beers that he has tasted along the way.

In 2010, Kolesar came aboard the Communities section of The Washington Times to contribute stories from across the craft brewing industry as it continues more than ever its explosive growth amongst increasingly more of the mainstream alcohol-consuming public. 

While the beer - its tastes, aromas, and incredible pairing opportunities with food - is often the beginning of a story, he often finds it more interesting to dive into the stories behind the people, places, and events associated with the final product. 

Locally around Philadelphia, he has been named a Beer Writer of the Year finalist multiple times, hosted beer/running events during each annual Philly Beer Week, served as a Philly Beer Geek judge, paneled local beers for submission into the Great American Beer Festival competition, judged beer and food competitions, been featured in local publications chronicling the beer scene, and been named the "Best Beer Guy" of 2008. 

In addition to his beer-y pursuits, Kolesar works a professional career in the business world by day and dabbles in distance running, cooking, homebrewing, gardening, photography, and is a staunch advocate for animal rescue/adoption. He lives with his wife, Patty, of fifteen years and has been a long time, mostly suffering, supporter of local Philadelphia sports.

Contact Bryan Kolesar


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