I shouldn’t be blabbing about Millvale so much. I ought to keep it a secret for as long as possible, encouraging the hungry hipsters of Lawrenceville to get priced out to another neighborhood. I shouldn’t sing Millvale’s praises to anyone who will listen, and I definitely shouldn’t write an article about it and post it on the Internet.
But I can’t help it: Millvale rocks.
I was first lured to the neighborhood, as I’m sure many Pittsburgh transplants are, by a concert at Mr. Smalls, that weird, wonderful venue/studio/who-knows-what that’s housed in a former church. I was living in Bloomfield at the time and only knew Millvale as that exit off of 28 that I never took. A leisurely stroll down a hill and over a bridge and we were there, yet it felt miles away from Pittsburgh proper.
Millvale had an energy all its own. It seemed like a Hollywood location scout’s dream—the iconic image of small-town America (and, as it happens, the upcoming film Let it Snow shot some scenes there in January). The quaint, quiet downtown was a refreshing change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Lawrenceville’s Butler Street.
As the months rolled by after that first visit, Millvale kept popping into my life in unexpected ways. Someone gave me a Kouign-amann from Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery, and the croissant-like pastry was one of the most addictively delicious things I’d ever tasted. A mission to track down a Stevie Wonder record brought me to Attic Record Store, where I found the album—and a whole lot more—among the store’s jam-packed shelves. Beer-loving friends spoke of a brewery called Draai Laag, praising its funky, sour beers in hushed tones usually reserved for religious epiphanies. And where was it? Millvale, of course.
So when my girlfriend and I needed a new place to live, Millvale seemed like a no-brainer. For one thing, it’s in a great location. Lawrenceville is just across the river, and you can hop on the bike trail that runs through Millvale Riverfront Park and be to the North Shore or Downtown in minutes. There are lots of cool things to do, but not so many that there’s any danger of it losing its residential charm. And it’s cheap. We now rent a beautiful two-bedroom house for half of what it might cost across the river.
We’ve lived in Millvale for about six months now. My relationship with the neighborhood has evolved as many relationships do, growing from a shallow crush into true love. I still like that I can walk to breweries (Grist House is here, too) and afford my rent, but my appreciation for the town runs deeper than that. I admire its resilience, bouncing back time and again after devastating floods and economic downturns.
I love the tight-knit community, and that I can be the only person in Pamela’s that everyone doesn’t (yet) know on a first name basis. And I especially love that although parts of Millvale, like Yetter’s Candies and Esther’s Hobby Shop, feel like a trip back in time, it’s readily embracing change. Millvale’s first ever library opened in 2013, and a food hub, which will include a market and office space, is currently under construction in the center of town.
And of course Millvale is the home of Maxo Vanka’s notable “Gift to America” murals, created in 1937 and 1941 by the Croatian immigrant for St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church. They are among Pittsburgh’s most outstanding (and hidden) cultural gems.
Millvale is the embodiment of everything that beckoned me to Pittsburgh in the first place. It’s quirky and a bit rough around the edges, but filled with good people (around 3,800) who want to see their town thrive. It’s got a working-class, industrial pedigree that I hope it never loses, but it’s also innovating and changing with the times. Millvale is affordable, accessible, and blessedly without pretension. And as much as I want it to stay a hidden gem, I’m pretty sure the secret’s already out: Millvale is the place to be.
For more on Millvale check out our neighborhood listings.
All photos by Brian Cohen.