Hockey Night in Pittsburgh

Nov 16, 2008

We had selected the Radisson Greentree as our home base for the Pittsburgh leg of our sports trip.  The hotel is not really close to downtown, in fact you have to cross the city through the crazy interchange and bridge systems, heading towards the airport.  But to compensate, the rates are cheap, and they had a free shuttle to the hockey game and back!

After checking in, we got ready for a Hockey Night in Pittsburgh.  We got lucky and hopped on the shuttle as soon as we got back to the lobby.  Arriving at the Mellon Arena, we decided to find a place nearby to quench our thirst.  At the doorstep of the arena though, the view is spectacular, as the Arena is built on a hill.  We stood there and looked at the Pittsburgh landscape from our vantage point – tall beaming skyscrapers with corporate logos at the tops, but we couldn’t see anything really obvious for our needs.  Bunch of hotels and their fancy bars, nothing interesting.

A group of Pittsburgh Police officers were at the corner of Washington and Center.  Strangely enough, they were all looking at their cell phones.  Apparently, they were looking for someone’s number. We interrupted their important work to ask them about a good place to get a beer before the game.  A big moustache-wearing sergeant directed us, with no hesitation, to the Souper Bowl, a couple of blocks away on 5th avenue.

We walked down as people were offering… errr… asking for tickets. The Souper Bowl looked promising, too promising in fact because there was a line-up.  I’m too old for line-ups, so we kept going and fortunately rapidly found another sports place, the Café Fifth Avenue.

As expected, the place was filled with Penguins’ fans, but also with Sabres’ fans.  It was bright.  It was loud.  Beer was flowing.  Standing room only, but not overpacked.  We found our way to the bar, where we witnessed the waiting staff’s dance.  I ordered a  Yuengling Traditional Lager. Yuengling is the oldest brewery in the United States, founded in 1829 in Pottsville, PA.  I like Yuengling, as far as cheap beer goes it is pretty tasty and different from the generic brands.You can read an opinionated review and history lesson here.

There was a lot of beer being drunk at the 5th.  Our barmaid, wearing a suggestive Jagermeister T-Shirt “Shot Happen”, was very effective in feeding customers said product.  I even suggested to Jerry that we should do one.  He declined, so I ordered another Yuengling.

We had a quick look at their menu.  Everything was under 10$, but we decided against ordering any chicken wings, provolone moons, stuffed banana peppers, Fifth Avenue Pockets or other american delicacies.  See, we were still full from the pizza.  So I ordered another Yuengling.

Then, we were off to the Mellon Arena. The Mellon, formerly the Civic, was named after the Mellon Financial, following a 10 year deal  signed in 1999.  But Pens’ fans are still calling it The Igloo.

The Igloo is the oldest arena in the NHL, having been completed in 1961. Funny enough, its shape has nothing to do with hockey and was meant to give better acoustics to its first occupant, the Pittsburgh Civil Light Opera.

At any rate, it is a neat arena that didn’t age very well, as there are electric problems, as well as with the roof.  So there will be a new arena in Pittsburgh in 2010, and you can watch the progress of its construction live.

The Mellon Arena is old, but it is kind of cool.  There is a corridor inside dedicated to the kids and every local team, with their jersey framed and hanged on the walls.  The concourse is cramped with stands of all sorts, though, and it creates some bottlenecks.  Obviously, the original design didn’t make enough room for food and beer stands, so carts are all around.

It was a very good game, Malkin played great and Crosby showed flahses of magic.  The Sabres were quick to counter-attack, but lacked the finishing touch, and seem to lose stamina in the third.  Anyway, the Penguins won 5-2 and you can read the game report here.  What I can tell you however is that in the third period, the Penguins were awarded a power play after Tallinder was caught tripping a Pens, who were incidentally wearing their old-fashionned powder blue for the first time since they switched to Pittsburgh’s black and gold colours.  That power play triggered the announcement of a Big Mac Attack, a promotion where all fans can get a free Big Mac the following day at a participating McDonald’s if the Penguins scores during the next two minutes.  Imagine the fans happiness when Goglioski scored to tie the game and give us a free Big Mac!  Awesome.

As every other sports’ stadium, beer is quite expensive.  $7 for a can of Blue or Bud.  The concessions
are easily accessible, as the line-ups are not very long.  Maybe the Pens’ fan know better. As for the food selection, quality and prices were not great. Hot dogs for $2.50, $5 for a slice of pizza from Pizza Hut, nachos, pretzels, pop corn, cotton candy. I ordered a Super dog for $4, and that was a mistake.  It looked barely bigger then a regular dog.  The sausage was not cooked evenly – not bad on the ends, but overcooked in the middle.  And it looked overcooked, too, as the sausage was almost caramelized.  All the condiments were available near the counters, including pickled jalapenos, which I freely added to my dog.  I engulfed it quickly, and chased it with a Blue. 

Apparently, the two best areas in Pittsburgh to go for food, nightlife and action are the Strip District, about a mile east of downtown, or Station Square, on the south shore across the river.  We decided to Square things properly and took the “T” to get there.  Funny thing about this light rail system: you pay when you arrive.  Not sure it is the most efficient system, but hey, the ride was fairly comfortable, even though we had to stand all the way.

We ended up at the Bar Louie, at the heart of Station Square.  Bar Louie is a chain with 50 locations across the United States of America and the Pittsburgh location is very nice. At the heart of Station Sqaure, under the shadow of the Fort Pitt Bridge, it is by the Monongahela river, almost at the point of convergence with  the Allegheny to form the Ohio river.  Right across is Point State Park, a strategic area during the French and Indian War which is now a National Historic Landmark.

The Station Square’s Bar Louie is quite big, lots of space, a stage for bands, a dance floor.  A great place to party, I am sure.  We ordered a couple of beers.  Jerry went for a Stella Artois, which he had to return because it actually tasted like Pabst.  But our friendly waiter obliged with no arguments and brought him something less offensive. For my part, I went with a Michelob AmberBock. Pretty smooth beer, clean finish.

I really did enjoy the fact that there was lots of space in between each tables.  Nobody is squeezed against their neighours, the waiting staff are not dangerously trying to serve while avoiding chairs and flying hands.
Their menu is quite eclectic.  Items can be inspired by Tex-Mex, Cajun, Italian, Asian, American traditional or even Bavarian cuisine. Burgers, pizza, salads and sandiwiches are composing the bulk of the menus, but you can also munch on sliders, a mini-burger shapped sandwich.  We however felt the need to go for a large order of their chicken wings, for $12.99.  Flavored offered are Buffalo, BBQ, Szechwan or En Fuego.  I tried to convince Jerry to go for the Fuego variation, but he would have none of it so we settled for their BBQ wings.  They were of a good size, fairly meaty and crispy.   Their large order was generous, and the two of us struggled to finish it.  We weren’t starving however, but there was over two dozen wings in the basket, and it came with sour cream.

For 4 beers and the wings, it costed us $40 before tip. I did enjoy Bar Louie.  I’d go back with no hesitation if I had a chance.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *