Let’s Take a Day Trip to: Pittsburgh’s Bookstores

The evolution of books is a long and beautiful history. Did you know the first book—as we know them today—was published in the 1830s when book jackets were added and “cheap” novels were born? To the working class, these “penny dreadfuls” were just mass-marketed British paperback novels that cost a penny. As these books migrated to America, the term “dime novel” was coined, which roughly means a sensationalized yet superficial piece of written work. Over the next hundred years, books evolved from print to e-book versions.

Did you also know that in 1995, Amazon launched the first-ever platform for online books? Or that Stephen King’s “Riding the Bullet” is credited as the first mass-marketed online book? Or even that the launch of Amazon’s Kindle sold out in 5.5 hours and remained out of stock for almost five months?

Books are my favorite things in the world! Since I can remember, I have always had a book with me. Whether it was a trip to the mall, an overnight stay at the grandparents or a family vacation, I never left home without a book. While I will admit to having an extensive Kindle library, I do still prefer to read a physical book.

Following are a few of the well-known bookstores in the Pittsburgh area. I have not visited any of them, but after researching for this article, I plan to rectify that. Maybe I will see you there. 

City Books – image taken from Google

City Books

908 Galveston Ave. (in the North Side) 

Hours: Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tuesday by appointment only

Website: http://www.citybookspgh.com

City Books, Pittsburgh’s oldest bookstore, was established in 1984 under the ownership of Arlan Hess. City Books is a used bookstore, with most book prices under $10. Collectible and first editions are available around the $30 price point. Limited book sales happen online via the store’s Instagram account. Since City Books is predominately a used bookstore, it does not often carry newer titles. However, City Books offers a Bookshop.org storefront where readers can purchase new books from the distributor for direct home delivery. City Books also has a trade-in program, offering store credit for previously read books. The bookstore is very selective about its inventory, so if you wish to participate in the trade-in program, please email photos of your books to citybookspgh@gmail.com.

White Whale Bookstore front – image taken from Google

White Whale Bookstore 

4754 Liberty Ave.

Hours: Daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Website: whitewhalebookstore.com

White Whale Bookstore is a family-owned, general-interest bookstore that opened in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville area in 2016. Its selection of books includes contemporary and literary fiction and nonfiction, poetry, history, philosophy, local authors, independent presses, children’s books and much more. When the pandemic hit, White Whale expanded to include an online book inventory. Today, you can either visit in person or shop online from the comfort of your own home. 

Amazing Books and Records – image taken from Google

Amazing Books and Records 

929 Liberty Ave. (downtown Pittsburgh)

Hours: Monday through Thursday 12-6 p.m., Friday and Sunday  12–4 p.m.

5858 Forbes Ave. (Squirrel Hill) 

Hours: Sunday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m  

Website: amazingbooksandrecords.com

Amazing Books and Records is known for its free book or record deal: a free book or record with the purchase of three items (free item not to exceed $10). The company’s Liberty Avenue location first opened in 2013, and its Squirrel Hill location opened the following year. Both locations buy used books and records, so the company’s inventory is constantly growing. The company will purchase any books or records, but it’s best to check the website to see what genres are needed. While on the website, you can also browse the online inventory or use a link to preorder any new book at a discount. Amazing Books and Records also offer Book & (free) Beer Nights! — every Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Squirrel Hill store and every Saturday about an hour after sunset until midnight so that you can drink while you browse. ID is required, and nonalcoholic beverages are available, so all ages are permitted. 

Caliban Book Shop – image taken from their website

Caliban Book Shop 

410 S Craig St.

Hours: Daily from 12-5:30 p.m.

Website: CalibanBooks.com

Caliban Book Shop is a used bookstore in the heart of Oakland near the Carnegie Museum of Art. The shop buys and sells used and rare books. They have a wide variety of books but tend to avoid purchasing bestsellers, romance novels, and the like. Their prices are about 25% less than online retailers. While they offer in-store shopping only, you can visit the website and preview some of the store’s inventory, including Caliban Book’s selection of rare books. The store also carries a mix of indie rock, ’60s pop, punk, Americana, folk, blues, and jazz albums. 

Shadyside Books – image taken from Google

Shadyside Books 

5900 Ellsworth Ave. 

Hours: Daily from 12-7 p.m.

Website: ShadysideBooks.com

Shadyside Books carries over 5,000 books in all fields, with specialties in history, arts, and the sciences. It is located on the second floor of the Caboodle Trading Post store in Shadyside. Books are available for purchase books both in-store and online. The store’s inventory is available online via their website, and new items are added frequently under the New Arrivals website tab. 

Whether you decide to visit these bookstores in person or online, I do hope you at least check them out or refer a friend. Print books are a dying art, so let’s do our part by shopping local and keeping books around for future generations. There’s no better feeling than the satisfaction one gets after finishing the last page of a hardcover novel.

Let’s Take a Day Trip to a Winter Wonderland: Pittsburgh Edition

I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more I appreciate all different kinds of Christmas celebrations. From Light Up Night to skating at PPG Place, Pittsburgh really knows how to ring in the holiday cheer.

Last year, Pittsburgh’s holiday spirit was lacking, with most big events canceled due to COVID-19. Thankfully, this year, we are seeing the return of most of the main events. So, if you are looking to get out of the house, here are some of my favorite events for you to check out this holiday season:

Trans-Siberian Orchestra: Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021, at PPG Paints Arena.

Tickets: Prices vary depending on seat selection. Tickets can be purchased via third-party services, such as Ticketmaster.

Hours: Showtimes at 3 p.m. or 8 p.m.

Perhaps one of the most well-known orchestras, Trans-Siberian brings its Christmas concert to Pittsburgh for one of the season’s best shows. This year marks the 25th year of their Christmas Eve & Other Stories show, which combines the orchestra’s rock sound with powerful Christmas ballads. PPG Paints Arena is a cashless venue that prohibits bags larger than 8 inches by  5 inches x 1 inch. Masks are not required for fully vaccinated guests.

Highmark First Night (aka Pittsburgh’s 2022 New Year’s Eve Party): Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, at 120 Fifth Avenue Place and throughout the Cultural District.

Tickets: General admission is free. Tickets to select performances will be required. More information will be available via the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust website (trustarts.org) in early December.

Hours: 6 p.m. to 12 a.m.

There will be hundreds of things to see and do, including art shows, live music and delicious food-truck food. More information on the vendors will be available closer to the event date. Parking is always challenging for these kinds of events. If you don’t mind a bit of a walk, I recommend parking at the garages near the stadiums where it will be less crowded and cheaper to park.

The Peoples Gas Holiday Market (Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh): Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, through Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2021 (closed Thanksgiving).

Sky view of the market – Photo from the website

Tickets: No purchase is necessary.

Hours: Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Pittsburgh’s Market Square transforms into a winter wonderland for this month-long holiday market. Come check out locally made crafts, eat great foods and listen to live music all month long. Parking is available in the surrounding garages.

Ice Skating at PPG Place: Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, through Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, at 1 PPG Place.

Tickets: $12 for adults and $11 for children (through age 12) and seniors. Skate rental is $6, with a discount available to military and first responders who show a valid ID.

Hours: Holiday Hours (Nov. 19, 2021, to Jan. 9, 2022) are Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m./Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight. Winter Hours run from Jan. 10, 2022, to Feb. 27, 2022. See the website (www.ppgplace.com) for details.

The plaza between Third and Fourth avenues transforms into a 116-foot square ice rink (larger than the Rockefeller Center rink in New York City). Make sure to check out their website for information on skating sessions as well as some discount dates. The rink is open until the end of February. Tickets can be purchased online as well as in person. Masks are required for all visitors. Parking is available in nearby parking garages.

Phipps Conservatory Winter Flower Show: Nov. 19, 2021, through Jan. 9, 2022, at 1 Schenley Drive.

Phipps Conservatory Light and Flower Display – photo from their website

Tickets: $19.95 for adults, $17.95 for seniors and students, and $11.95 for children (2-18). Members and children under 2 are free. Please purchase tickets in advance via Phipps’ website (phipps.conservatory.org).

Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

With a theme of Sparkle and Shine, this year’s Winter Flower Show includes holiday trees, topiaries, Christmas-themed props, and, of course, flowers. It features amaryllis, orchids, and more than 1,600 poinsettias. The event is both indoors and outdoors and features a Victorian holiday display, a 9-foot-tall Christmas tree and ice palaces. Make sure you check out Phipps’ website for an aerial view of the light display. Parking is available in nearby lots.

Zoo Lights Drive-Thru at Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium: Select days from Nov. 26 through Dec. 30 at 7370 Baker Street.

Penguin Lights – From Pittsburgh Zoo’s Website

Tickets: Zoo members: $40 per vehicle. Nonmembers: $50 per vehicle. Please purchase tickets online via the zoo’s website (pittsburghzoo.org), as you must choose a timeslot for entry.

Hours: Select nights from Friday, Nov. 26 through Thursday, Dec. 30 from 5:15 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. Estimated drive-thru time: 45-60 minutes.

Grab your ticket to see the lights at the Pittsburgh Zoo. You can listen to a special podcast while you drive through the zoo at night. While the animals may be hard to see, the 80 animal lights and 30 new displays will make up for it. Feel free to plan a day visit to see the animals and then reserve your slot for a night view with lights. Vehicle size is limited to 20 feet long and 6 1/2 feet wide. The zoo recommends that guests drive their smallest vehicle due to the limited pathway size.

Let’s Take a Trip to Pittsburgh: Gastropub Stops

Once the weather turns cold, I find myself turning to comfort foods and a nice drink to pair it with. As someone who loves food, I am constantly on the hunt for new places to try out. Over the past few years, I heard about something called a gastropub. 

Gastropub or gastrobar is a hybrid type of bar known for both its libations and food menu. True, most places fit this definition, but to me, gastropubs also offer the perfect atmosphere: a place that is cozy and relaxed, crowded but not packed, and quiet enough that I can have a conversation without having to scream across the table. Doesn’t this sound like the perfect way to spend a chilly Saturday? 

Here are some of my all-time favorites. 

Image from Sienna Mercado’s Instagram page

Sienna Mercado (942 Penn Ave) is a three-in-one all evening fun with meatballs, charcuterie, and rooftop cocktails. Emporio: The meatball joint features gourmet meatballs, salads, snacks, fry bowls, and desserts made from scratch, daily.  As perhaps the most well-known part of Sienna Mercado chain, Emporio certainly offers a unique cuisine.  Mezzo: houses the fine wine, charcuterie boards, and wood fire pizza. Reservations are available through Open Table for Mezzo only. This is the perfect atmosphere for a girl’s night out or a casual group function. IlTetto: A Rooftop Beer Garden offers 32 drafts, cocktails, wine, and light fare while showcasing one of the best views of downtown Pittsburgh. The retractable glass roof allows for year-round fun with and open-air in warmer months.

Wigle Whiskey

Wigle Whiskey (2401 Smallman Street) you might guess, is known for their whiskey, but did you also know that it is milled, fermented, distilled, aged, bottled, and labeled all in Pittsburgh? Their whiskey is smooth and the perfect based for an old fashioned. Whiskey flights are available for those who want to try more than one kind of their whiskey. If you are looking for something other than whiskey, their Tom Sawyer, which is a mix of Dutch style gin, threadbare strawberry rhubarb cider, seltzer, cherry syrup, and orange bitters, is very refreshing. Did you also know that it is more than just a whiskey bar? While they have a larger variety of foods, my favorites are their burgers, which come on pretzels buns and their pulled pork mac and cheese made with threadbare cider and Wigle bourbon BBQ sauce. Their handheld sandwiches are baked on the Mediterra Café bread which is from a local forage market and bakery in Mt Lebanon and worth checking out if you are ever over there! Street parking is available within a short walking distance. It is better to park in the Strip District and walk the two blocks to Wigle. 

The Yard (736 Bellefonte Street or 100 Fifth Ave) is its own unique place where you come for the huge draft list but stay for the gourmet grilled cheese. The grilled cheese sandwiches are served with a cup of tomato soup and fries. If you want to carbo-load, I recommend upgrading for the mac n cheese. There are many great ones to choose from, but I recommend either the Smack yo Mama made with beer cheese, cheddar, onion straws, sweet and tangy BBQ pulled chicken or the Perogies n’at made with cheddar, smoked gouda, beer cheese, fried perogies, caramelized onions, sauerkraut, kielbasa. There are over 30 rotating drafts available to enjoy with your sandwiches as well! The Yard is pretty good at keeping the lists up to date on their website for both locations. In Shady side, there is a parking garage directly next to The Yard and in Market Square there are a few garages withing a few blocks walking distance. 

CInderland’s Tartshake

Cinderlands Warehouse (2601 Smallman Street) is probably my favorite from this list. When I lived in Lawrenceville, I visited here once a month. There are a few locations now, but their Warehouse location is the best for dine in eating. Without fail, each time I go, I get the Crunch Wrap, a delicious wrap filled with shredded beef, Fritos, beer cheese, hot sauce, and Aleppo sour cream, and their tartshakes. To be frank, I come here for the tartshake, which is basically a fruited sour with a flavored puree. Right now, they have a blueberry one that is made from blueberry puree, PA maple syrup, Ceylon cinnamon, milk sugar, and Madagascar vanilla bean. These are on the sweeter side but so good. Cinderlands draft list rotates frequently so be sure to check the website to view their draft list before you head down to visit. If you love the beer as much as I do, 6 packs are available for in-store pickup and delivery. Street parking is available nearby on the adjacent streets. 

Urban Tap (1209 East Carson St or 216 South Highland Ave) is a gastropub that specializes in alcohol and appetizers. With over 140 taps between the two locations plus an extensive wine and mixed drink menu, Urban Tap is the perfect place to try out a new favorite drink. They have Happy Hour specials as well as game day specials as well. For the food, their appetizers are the way to go here. You can’t go wrong with a giant pretzels pair great with an ice-cold beer, the smoked gouda mac and cheese washed down with a stiff drink, or the fried Brussel sprouts paired with a nice glass of wine. Reservations are available on their website for either location. Street parking is available for both the South Side and Shady Side locations. 

Are you hungry yet? I know I am now. Which one do you want to go to first? Drop a comment below.

Let’s Take a Trip to Lawrenceville

About a mile away from the Strip District, starts my second favorite area of Pittsburgh, which is Lawrenceville! Lawrenceville is an up-and-coming area with entertainment for all ages. Located predominately on Penn Ave and Butler Street, Lawrenceville has quickly grown into the perfect little village.  

Lawrenceville is broken up into three sections: Lower, Central, and Upper Lawrenceville. Lower Lawrenceville starts right outside of The Strip District which turns into Central Lawrenceville (where most of the popular businesses are), and finally reaches Upper Lawrenceville as you get closer to Highland Park. 

Allegheny Cemetery and Arsenal Park are two of the most well-known attractions in Lawrenceville, but it is also home to Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Consortium and Children’s Hospital UPMC Campus. 

One of my favorite draws of Lawrenceville are all of the locally owned small businesses. Whether you are looking for coffee shops, bakeries, a place for a happy hour, or a family dining experience, almost all of your choices will be from the mind of a small business owner. 

There are almost 200 business located in the Lawrenceville area and while all of them are worth checking out, I went ahead and planned out a day for you that highlights a few of the unique stops on the Lawrenceville tour. 

Important note! Parking in Lawrenceville is 99% street parking. I recommend parking in the residential areas near the 40th Street Bridge off of Butler Street or in the public parking lot by Condado Tacos. It is better to park in one place and walk rather than try to find street parking. Parking on Butler Street will be at a cost, but if you can find a spot of the side streets off of Butler, those are free to park! 

9am: Start with a nice cold brew or iced chai at Espresso a Mano (3623 Butler St). If you didn’t already know, I do not function without coffee. When I lived in Lawrenceville, one of my morning routines on a Saturday included starting my day at this coffee and espresso bar. They feature a garage door that is always open during the nice, sunny days. With the welcoming environment and exceptional customer service, Espresso a Mano is the perfect place for coffee. 

Espresso A Mano

9:30am: Grab a traditional French bakery breakfast from La Gourmandine (4605 Butler St). La Gourmandine opened in 2010 and has been a staple to Lawrenceville life since they opened their doors. While you have to enjoy your pastries to go, the menu to choose from is worth standing while eating! With selections ranging from bread to danishes, pastries, and tartes, there is a little bit of everything for each person’s taste! It is important to note, that from the time they open at 9am there will be a line! Stay and wait it out though, you will not find a better traditional French bakery around! 

11am: Browse the local shops of Central Lawrenceville. Start with Wildcard (4209 Butler Street) a one-of-a-kind store where you can find anything from a homemade craft to a Pittsburgh shirt, or a gag gift for a friend! Fun fact, most items are locally made from a Pittsburgh artist! From there, you can check out some of my favorite boutiques like No 14 (4601 Butler) or Pavement (3629 Butler St) who specialize in trendy teen to middle-aged women’s clothing. 

Not feeling like shopping? Then check out the Roberto Clemente Museum (3339 Penn Ave) located in historic Engine House 25. Make sure to take your photo in front of Clemente’s mural. If you are visiting the museum, be sure to book your tour in advance! Tours are not available to those who have not booked their tour in advance. An added bonus, parking is available onsite! 

Roberto Clemente Museum

1:30pm: If you are not full yet from breakfast, grab a sandwich to fuel your afternoon from The Deli on Butler (4110 Butler St). Deli on Butler is your traditional local, family-run sandwich shop. When my husband worked in Lawrenceville, Deli on Butler was a in his weekly lunch rotation. If you were to ask him, he would tell you to get their Pasquale sandwich:  a roast beef, ham, turkey, cheese, with a house “special sauce” delicious sandwich! 

3pm: Take some time to relax and take a float at Victory Float Lounge (3345 Penn Ave). Yes, go take a float! Floating is a new hype designed to help relax, destress, and soothe your mind and body. You, and a partner if you wish, can book a time slot to float in a chamber filled with 12” of water and a ton of Epson salt. For those that are claustrophobic like me, I can promise you that while you are technically enclosed, it does not feel like it! This sensory deprivation chamber feels as spacious as floating in a pool. I highly recommend checking out Victory Float’s website to learn more about floating and to book your appointment! 

Victory Float Lounge

4:30pm: After your hour relaxing in an Epsom salt bath, have some fun at Mix Candle Co. formally known as The Candle Lab (4409 Butler St)! Mix Candle Co is a great place for those who love all things candles! Create your own unique scent with a Scent Stylist or dip your own candle! Reservations are encouraged, but walk-ins are allowed when available. The whole process takes roughly 30 minutes but takes an additional 90 for the candle to dry. During that time, you can visit some of the local stores nearby or visit Kickback Pinball just across the street for some old school arcade fun! Arsenal Bowling is also nearby for those who want to try the luck on the lanes!

6pm: Have a nice, sit down dinner at Merchant Oyster Co (4129 Butler St). For those looking for the perfect seafood restaurant, look no further! Merchant Oyster Co is a Northeast Style Oyster Bar and Chowder House who also specializes in lobster rolls and crab cakes. No reservations are needed; however, you can book a seat using the OpenTable app through Merchant Oyster’s website. I will forever recommend their clam chowder or the Clam Stuffies, as seen pictured here, as I have yet to find another place that even comes close to the taste! 

8pm: Wind down your night sitting outside in the beer garden at Arsenal Cider House – Original Urban Cider House location (300 39th Street – closer to Penn Ave side). Stop inside and ask the bartender for a nice cider before retiring to the spacious beer garden complete with outdoor tables, a firepit, and live entertainment. 

There are so many other great places to visit in Lawrenceville! I hope you can fall in love with it as much as I have and maybe then you can plan your Lawrenceville day trip!

The New and Improved KTWrites

Allstar Beerfest held at PNC Park June 2020

Back in May of 2021, I applied to be an editor for my husband’s hometown magazine, Somerset Magazine. I didn’t get that job, but I was offered a position as a contributing writer instead YAY! Every month since June, my stories about a day trip to Pittsburgh have been featured (and mentioned on the cover – how COOL is that?).

Thanks to this job, I have decided that I want to rebrand KTWrites. Don’t worry, I am still going to keep up with short pieces on the books I have read, but I think that writing about my city would be more interesting to a larger audience.

With that being said, welcome to KTWrites 2.0 where we find new and exciting things to do around the city of Pittsburgh, PA. Together we can fall back in love with the city and all it has to offer whether it is through the events you can attend or the food you can eat, I promise it’s going to be a fun ride.

Drop any recommendations or places you want me to visit in the comments!