When real estate developer Anthony DiCio bought the Pennsylvania Building in the Strip District in March 2016, he envisioned a community hub for eating and drinking.
“I remembered when I was a kid that it was a building where people bought tomatoes,” says DiCio, whose family has owned White Oak Farm for three generations. “I knew I wanted it to be a place again where food mattered.”
Nearly two years later, his vision is close to becoming a reality. Inspired by the food hall-style markets he visited in Lisbon in 2014, DiCio expects to fill the 18,400-square-foot property with a food market and wine bar. Sometime this spring, an outdoor courtyard area will feature vendors selling coffee, organic produce, cheese and baked goods, and a blacksmith and crafters will sell their handmade wares. He’s dubbed the sprawling complex “Pennsylvania Market.”
Downstairs, a handful of tenants have already set up shop, including East End Brewing Company, Jonathan Moran Woodworks, The Olive Tap and Courtyard Winery. They flocked to the Pennsylvania Building after the Pittsburgh Public Market closed last February.
“Our selection of vendors stemmed from a philosophy that we wanted a mix of interesting businesses that folks won’t readily get in the suburbs,” says DiCio. “We’ll also have food by renowned and experienced chefs. Together, it’ll allow for some great meals that people might not be able to find in the neighborhoods where they live.”
With wide open spaces and century-old architectural details like exposed brick, the structure has what DiCio calls “strong bones,” consistent with other warehouse-style buildings nearby.
“The architecture of the Strip is not ornate. There are very few frills, but there is a very strong sense of solid, purposeful construction,” he says.
Though DiCio left the bones of the building intact to highlight the original brick, wood and steel, the renovation was still a major undertaking. DiCio and his lead designer, Anastassia Schlussel, added new flooring, lighting, air conditioning and heating to the property and made extensive improvements to the metalwork.
“The building was a mess when we took it over,” says DiCio. “The remnants of a nightclub were there right down to dirty dishes in the sinks, liquor behind a bar and customer orders on a computer screen.”
After pouring beer in the Strip for seven years, East End owner Scott Smith opened a taproom in the space this summer.
One of his first tasks — besides revamping a subpar draft system — was removing red crystal chandeliers.
“It looked like a brothel in there,” he says. “It was gross.”
Today, the space — with hop-cone light fixtures befitting a beer establishment — has seating for 30 and offers a rotating selection of East End’s 35 beers.
Smith is excited to see the upstairs fill, not least because his customers can indulge in his BYOF (“bring your own food”) policy without leaving the premises. He also looks forward to selling beer in the courtyard in the warmer months.
The taproom is different from his brewery in Larimer, he says, because the Strip’s walkability invites discovery.
“About 75 percent of our brewery customers have seen us before. When you compare that to the Strip, it’s almost completely the reverse,” says Smith. “It’s definitely a unique vibe in the Strip — people are shopping and drinking at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning.”
He adds, “And the Strip is unique not just in Pittsburgh, but anywhere.”