Today on 50 States of Style, Pittsburgh native Emily Slagel graciously shares all her favorite spots in town, accompanied with gorgeous photography by Laila Archuleta. Emily is the owner and creative director of Mid-Atlantic Mercantile (4415 Butler St.), a new shop in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood focusing on ethically manufactured, heirloom quality clothing and housewares by designers ranging from Tellason and Fischer Clothing to Dusen Dusen and Rogue Territory. "I sell modern keepsakes that are meant to be cherished," she says. "In an age of cheap convenience, that sentiment has been lost, so Mid-Atlantic is a push back against disposable fast fashion." Emily also organizes and co-hosts Trade Union, a biannual curated trunk show highlighting Pittsburgh's "best in design and brand direction," and, most recently, has been given the opportunity to collaborate on upcoming design projects for new and established businesses. Despite Emily's extraordinarily busy schedule, she generously opened up about all her favorite things to do in Pittsburgh, and even provided a bit of history, too. Enjoy!
What pulled you back to Pittsburgh after college?
My roots and the city's magnetic authenticity. Pittsburgh as a city and as a community is so accessible and supportive. It rallies behind innovation, hard work, and creativity. I couldn’t see myself living or starting my business anywhere else.
What inspired you to start up Mid-Atlantic Mercantile?
I’m inspired by history, nostalgia and the narratives that vintage clothing and antiques can tell. I became interested in global sourcing in college and discovered a real need for well-constructed and ethically manufactured clothing. I saw an opportunity to support like-minded indie designers by creating a retail platform to tell their stories.
What's your go-to shop in town?
Wildcard (4209 Butler St.). They are truly the best neighbors and I could spend my entire paycheck on letterpress stationary. Sometimes I come close. The last thing I bought from them was an Ogami notebook.
What's the best thing you've ever eaten in Pittsburgh?
We have a growing restaurant scene, so it’s so hard to narrow it down to a single dish, but seasonal menus aside, my year-round comfort food is the mac and cheese at Kelly’s (6012 Penn Cir. S.). It haunts me. I’ve tried to re-create it but it’s impossible.
What makes it so great?
It has to do with their cheese-to-noodle ratio, the amount of black pepper, and the temperature of the oven. I should also add that I have an emotional attachment. Kelly’s is the first bar that I began frequenting with old friends when I moved back to Pittsburgh. Their mac and cheese is the first thing I crave when I’ve had a bad day. It’s comforting.
Where would you grab a drink before dinner?
The Livermore (124 S. Highland Ave.) is such a great spot to start off your night. I order oysters and an old standard classic cocktail like a negroni or a vieux carre. The vibe is paired down, smart, and effortless. Aesthetically, it’s Ernest Hemingway’s absinthe cafe, but you can expect to hear loud 90’s hip hop.
Where can you get a really great cup of coffee?
We walk our dog, Mustard, to Espresso A Mano (3623 Butler St.) every morning. We order two cold brews and a croissant to share, sometimes a chai latte when I need the warmth. EAM is a convivial space, where the neighborhood’s chefs and local business owners grab coffee and meet before opening up shop. It’s a wonderful place to say hi to everyone you know and it’s a terrible place to be very quiet and get any work done.
What's your favorite music venue?
I really love some of our smaller venues, where you can grab a beer and catch a friend’s show. We got to see our friends, Saintseneca, at Brillobox (4104 Penn Ave.) while they were on tour a few weeks ago. They're one of my favorite bands. A little fun fact: Zac Little, their lead and songwriter, also designs jewelry. He made some of the first pieces that we ever sold at the shop.
Favorite museum in town?
The Warhol (117 Sandusky St., above) is extremely special and we’re incredibly lucky to have it as museum and educational resource. My father took me there for the first time in middle school and I proceeded to become obsessed with The Factory and everything Andy. It was really my gateway to art and music and influenced so much of my direction. Pittsburgh is unique in that, considering our smaller city size and population density, we do have a great emphasis on art and culture. We have access to some incredible museum and library collections.
Let's say I only had two hours to spend in Pittsburgh. How would you recommend I spend my time?
Park your car, walk through The Strip District, stop at Maggie’s Farm Rum (3212A Smallman St.) for a tasting, and eat as much street food as possible. The Strip District is our market district. Historically, it was an industrial neighborhood with many mills and foundries because it was ideal for transporting goods and raw materials due to it’s location on the Allegheny river. When that industry left, it primarily served as a neighborhood for produce and grocery wholesalers. Today, it hosts a variety of ethnic markets, grocers and street vendors. It’s loud, lively, and diverse; one of those places that reminds you that you live in the city and why you choose to live there over anywhere else.
What's the most impressive thing about Pittsburgh?
Its resilience, work ethic, and diligence. Pittsburgh’s steel mills built the great American cities. When the mills closed, the industry and economy collapsed and neighborhoods became blighted. Very young entrepreneurs, tech start ups, artists and community developers are finding opportunity in Pittsburgh and creating positive social and economic growth. It’s been incredible to experience the revival of a “rust belt city” and I am so proud and lucky to be a part of its resurgence.
I’m a really big fan of oddities and American roadside attractions. St. Anthony’s Chapel (1704 Harpster St.) has the largest collection of sacred relics outside of the Vatican. It’s very gold and gaudy and decorated with (apparently) real human bones! This also qualifies as a place that even the locals don’t know about. My father went to catholic school in the same neighborhood and never knew it existed.
The most surprising?
Our neighborhoods are quaint and proud of their heritage. We still have a lot of operating fraternal and ethnic social clubs that host events like amateur wrestling and banjo night.
What's the most touristy but "worth it" thing to do?
I have a Pittsburgher magazine from 1954 that says, “Don’t ever fail to take your guests up to Mt. Washington; it’s still one of the best views in the world.” I think a lot of Pittsburghers would count this as overrated, but the view of Pittsburgh from Mount Washington is iconic. Plus, Mr. Rogers had a tiny replica of the inclined trolley in his neighborhood. There’s something so charmingly Pittsburgh about that.
Touristy but overrated?
The North Shore. We do have great sports teams and even better fans, but we’re so much more than that.
I shouldn't leave Pittsburgh without buying:
Mid-Atlantic Mercantile's “Pittsburgh Souvenir” T-shirt, of course!
Turn on the radio. What song is playing?
Neko Case, followed by Joy Division, followed by Wye Oak on WYEP. Or some other eclectic public radio mix that understands the wave of all of your feelings at once.
If you had to leave tomorrow, what would you miss the most?
My community and the faces that I see everyday, the ones that I don’t even know.
It's Sunday, 3pm, and beautiful outside. This is where you want to be:
Frick Park. There's so much green space! As much as I like the Strip District to remind me that I live in a vibrant city, I like that Frick Park distracts me from my busy life. I’ve recently taken up trail running and I prefer the paths at Frick over any other park in the city. Plus, Frick has the potential for picnic culture, which is something my friend Michael and I would really like to see happen in Pittsburgh.