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Pirates Where do you want to go after the game?

Saturday, March 31, 2001

By John Hayes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

If only beer stains could talk. There are blemishes on the bar at Rosa Villa that are older than most Pittsburghers. Those mug-sized crescents of hops and barley at the corner of Sixth and General Robinson streets on the North Side will witness a new era of change when PNC Park and the new Steelers stadium open for business.

Unlike Three Rivers Stadium, which was surrounded by an asphalt ocean of parking spaces, PNC Park and the still-unnamed Steelers stadium are designed to attract crowds even when there's no game. Some new restaurants and pubs are set to open and space for others are included in the designs buildings which will go up nearby.

Existing entertainment businesses as well are dreaming up ways to capitalize on the crowds. From the North Side to Downtown, the Strip District to Station Square, club and restaurant owners are hoping to become hot destinations before and after games and they're spending money to improve their businesses.

"We've made a few changes," said Rosa Villa bartender Jimmy Zwick. "We put in new windows and we'll expand the menu and put in a new kitchen. We're trying to blend in with the other establishments."

A few doors away at the corner of Federal and General Robinson streets, Chicago restaurateurs are turning a vacant three-story into Hi-Tops, a sports bar they say will have 73 TVs, a dance floor and private party rooms. Nearby, Firewaters is getting ready to party Pittsburgh-style with a shot-and-beer ambiance, and the new Triangle Bar and Grill is cruising in with ship-sized sandwiches sometime after the Pirates' home opener.

A North Side institution which will have more foot traffic around it than ever is the Andy Warhol museum. Many fans who park east of PNC Park will walk between the Rosa Villa and the Warhol. Tom Sokolowski, director of the museum, suspects that sports and arts crowds come from different planets. He doesn't expect much spill-over patronage on game days, but he's bullish on the ballparks.

"If the city allows a real community to grow around the stadiums -- not just a pink-light nightlife district -- you'll find a vibrant neighborhood around the North Shore," he said. "The tourism and restaurants will definitely help us and I think we'll help them, too."

The only programming changes Sokolowski foresees for the museum is a possible exhibition of Warhol's portraits of sports figures and the screening of avant-garde films on the side of the building.

On Ohio Street at the venerable Park House tavern, bartender Mike Fettis predicts that game days will continue to be elbow-to-elbow affairs, but the addition of restaurants will bring more people to the neighborhood when the field lights are turned off.

"People are always going to come here," he said. "It's a Pittsburgh thing. But more tourism [and increased pedestrian traffic] are going to make a better environment for all of us up here."

Owner Matt Hoss' recent purchase of the building will enable the tavern to expand upstairs, Fettis said, and there's talk of eventually adding an outside deck .

Craig Poole, owner of James Street Restaurant, is thrilled to be located just 10-minutes from where the action is. Along with his Cajun menu and two floors of live jazz, Poole said he may offer a "quick buffet" smorgasbord for pedestrians who don't have time for sit-down service.

Across the Allegheny, the new 286-room Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel has opened in the renovated Fulton Building with luxury and stadium crowds in mind. The $45 million development includes a bar just off the opulent lobby and a 140-seat Mediterranean restaurant.

One of the best Downtown views of the ballpark can be seen from the hotel's Presidential Suite on the top floor.

Strip District businesses are hoping to siphon off some of the pre- and post-game commerce. Floating on a barge at the western edge of the Strip, the multi-facility Boardwalk is best positioned to serve stadium customers. M (formerly Metropol) is considering a plan to offer free or cut-rate admission with Pirates or Steelers tickets.

Station Square is two rivers away from the ballparks -- some 20 minutes by water taxi or by trolley and foot. But owner Forest City Enterprises is preparing to welcome sports fans with the expansion of the Sheraton at Station Square. New restaurants, discos and retail shops are being considered for Bessemer Court.

Owners of the new Rock Jungle disco, east of the Smithfield Street Bridge, hope the opening of an outdoor deck in May will lure sports fans after the games.

Getting to the games could be half the fun. Two water-taxi companies and the larger Gateway Clipper Fleet will ferry customers from docks on the Mon, Allegheny and Ohio to the Carnegie Science Center dock. A new dock is planned for east of the Fort Duquesne Bridge.

"We're definitely going to put a priority on shuttling to Pirates and Steelers games this year," says the Fleet's Suzanne Gradisek. "Whether that means adding a boat, I don't know. We've been getting calls from people asking how to get to the stadiums, so I know they're already thinking of us."

Bar-hopping around town might not be a headache, despite game-day traffic. The Ultraviolet Loop, a six-bus shuttle funded by a grant from the PNC Foundation, will ferry passengers for free between East Liberty, Bloomfield, Lawrenceville, the Strip, North Shore, Downtown, South Side and Oakland. Times and drop points for the chaperoned shuttles are pending. The service was first described as a weekend service when announced by its sponsors, Ground Zero, the New Idea Factory and the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project.

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