Pandemic in Pittsburgh

Great adaptations: a look back at a year of the pandemic in Pittsburgh

A not so brief look at some of the bright spots for the past year. From drive-thrus to to-go cocktails, here are some of the ways Pittsburghers have made the best of the situation and supported local businesses along the way. 

by Lindsay Patross | March 12, 2021

What a year it has been. We have officially been staying home and socially distancing for an entire year. The pandemic has forced a lot of change and this has been an incredibly difficult year for everyone. But Pittsburghers have been good sports about adapting to changes. (Remember when the Liberty Bridge caught on fire and created detours for weeks?)

So we thought we would take a look at some of the ways that local businesses and organizations have adapted over the past year.

[This past year was not the first time Pittsburgh faced a city shutdown. Check out our story on the Civil War shutdown back in 1863.]


Restaurants respond to community needs

Let’s start this list with the most important section. It should come as no surprise, but Pittsburghers and Pittsburgh businesses stepped up to support their neighbors over the past year.  A few of the highlights: The Warren offered free meals to local service industry workers. Volunteers delivered over 3,600 meals in the first 3 months of the pandemic and continued to offer free meals through the holidays. You can support this effort by making a donation on The Warren’s website or by ordering food/drinks. Baby Loves Tacos donated meals to the Women’s Shelter.


Collaborations help bring restaurant favorites to your home

Allegheny Eats is a local meal kit service. Ordering a meal kit supports local businesses and provides free meals for restaurant workers. And lots of local businesses teamed up to help each other out. The East End Survival Kit is a subscription service that is a collaboration of 5 East End businesses. The Independent Brewing Company has transformed its dining area into a local market featuring beer, cocktails, wine and gifts from local artists.


Pittsburghers & PPE

When masks became the policy, Pittsburghers volunteered to make masks. Lots of masks. From sewers to washers to delivery drivers, there has been an incredible response to making sure everyone has a mask to wear. Another interesting approach to personal protective equipment, a Pittsburgh foundation, helped fund a project that converted snorkel masks into a mask used in hospitals.


Volunteers & vaccines

In addition to mask making, thousands of people are volunteering to help their neighbors find a vaccine appointment. This Facebook group about COVID-19 vaccines in Pittsburgh has over 30,000 members.


Pittsburgh breweries now deliver beer

A year ago, we were told to stay home and bars and restaurants had to close to in-person drinking and dining a few times over the past 12 months. That did not mean we had to stop drinking local beer. Many local breweries now offer beer delivery to your door. Take a listen to our interview with Scott Smith from East End Brewing to learn more about how they were able to adapt and check out our guide to local beer delivery.


Do you like Pina Coladas? Now you can bring them home with you

Beer delivery isn’t the only upgrade to adult beverages from the past year. One of the responses to shutting down in-person dining was allowing restaurants and bars to sell cocktails to go. Just because you can’t go to your favorite restaurant doesn’t mean you can’t bring home your favorite drink. There are lots of options to bring class cocktails home. We were excited when St. Clair Social took over the old Sharp Edge location in Friendship. Two of Pittsburgh’s top bartenders are behind this new spot and the cocktail menu is worth a look. There were lots of options to bring home everything from Pina Coladas to egg nog. If you want to learn more about wine, Burghundy, a Pittsburgh wine school, is now offering virtual wine classes and Pittsburgh now has some natural wine shops.


Extra special takeout menus

During the first month of quarantine, we all needed some comfort food. Mad Mex brought back the Gobberito in March and offered deals on growler fills. This was a dream Valentine’s Day for everyone who hates making reservations. Pittsburgh restaurants responded with some delicious and creative takeout options. If you are looking to level up your takeout experience, check out our guide to breweries located near some of our favorite takeout spots.


Cooking, coffee & cocktails at home

Speaking of classes… The past year of pandemic meant that we were all cooking more. There are lots of options for local cooking classes offered online. And more options than ever for grocery delivery or check out how this Pittsburgh business uses technology to bring fresh vegetables from the farm to your doorstep. With lots of folks missing their local stop at the coffee shop, many Pittsburgh roasters now offer shipping/delivery of your favorite beans. We’ve got some pro tips on how to make better cocktails at home and a DIY beer flight so you can bring the brewery experience into your living room.


Goodbye vacation, hello quick escapes

In April 2020, the number of passengers at the Pittsburgh airport dropped by 96% from the previous year. Overall, passengers using the Pittsburgh airport in 2020 was down 62% from 2019. (Thanks to the Pittsburgh airport for publishing all of the data!)

Needless to say, Pittsburghers were not getting away by plane. But after so much time spent at home, we needed a little escape. We explored some of the vacation spots that are just a short drive from home. A day trip to the beaches of Lake Erie was just the fix for those missing the coast. Some options for those who like the idea of camping but not staying in a tent, take a look at these tiny house cabins and glamping options. And if you are looking for a budget option, this shed is available on Airbnb for $19/night.


Watching Pittsburgh on the big screen 

The past year gave us all a chance to watch a lot of tv shows and movies. We’ve put together several lists of filmed-in-Pittsburgh movies and discovered a few hidden gems. For romantic comedies filmed in Pittsburgh, before “Bill & Ted” and the “Matrix,” Keanu Reeves starred in “The Prince of Pennsylvania.” Hulu released a new holiday movie that was filmed locally — we took a look at the Pittsburgh places in “Happiest Season.” And if you are looking to learn some more local history, check out this list of Pittsburgh documentaries. “Debt Begins at 20” is a look at Pittsburgh’s punk scene in 1980. You can stream the documentary online for free.


The year of drive-in everything 

This was also a great year to visit local drive-in movie theaters. There are six drive-in movie theaters near Pittsburgh and the Dependable Drive-In stays open year-round. We also visited some of the remaining drive-in restaurants around town. You might want to take a drive to Jim’s, Vinny’s or Jerry’s this weekend. While this was not the year to sit on Santa’s lap, there were plenty of places to drive through to see holiday lights.


Great adaptations – film festivals, beer festivals, and more.

Local film festivals moved online and to the drive-in. Pittsburgh’s Reel Q Film Festival is the sixth oldest LGBTQ festival in the world. Movies were available to screen online and the big event was a drive-in screening. Can you host a beer festival online? Fresh Fest proved it could be done. Fresh Fest is the nation’s first beer festival that celebrates the accomplishments of people of color in the beer industry – threw its inaugural event during summer 2018. (Check out our video with the co-founders to learn about how Fresh Fest started here in Pittsburgh.) For 2020, the festival moved online as Fresh Fest Digi Fest. We caught up with organizer Day Bracey to find out how they moved a beer festival online. From conferences to drag shows, Pittsburghers found many creative ways to gather online.


Bringing the arts into your living room (and the circus to your front door)

It turns out that Pittsburgh area museums have many parts of their collections online. We checked in with the Pittsburgh Circus Collaborative, who found a creative way to bring a socially distanced circus to your home. With everyone sprucing up their spaces, there are many ways to buy local art online and support local artists.

Lindsay Patross

Lindsay Patross

Pittsburgh born and raised, Lindsay has been writing about the people who love Pittsburgh since 2008.

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