Earlier this month I decided that since I wasn’t traveling anywhere imminently, a staycation was due. So I booked a night at the Omni William Penn, one of Pittsburgh’s most historic hotels. It actually celebrated its centennial last year so the whole building is literally oozing with history. It’s hosted numerous well-known guests over the years including John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. While I’ve done afternoon tea and had dinner at its Terrace Restaurant, staying here had always been on the “to do” list.
It’s located right in the city’s downtown, only a few blocks from the Cultural District restaurants and venues and the PPG Paints Arena, which is home to the Pittsburgh Penguins and also the site of numerous concerts and other entertainment events. Valet parking is available but considering you’re in Pittsburgh, just park your own vehicle, especially if you’re only staying the night. Numerous parking garages abound and on the weekends, there’s a flat rate of $5 if you’re there for 24 hours. Otherwise, valet parking at the hotel is $36 per night.
The hotel is big, 23 floors total and hundreds of guest rooms. As such it’s popular for wedding receptions as well as conventions. Thankfully there were no weddings taking place the weekend we stayed there (if I sound negative about wedding parties it’s because I’ve been a guest at other hotels where a wedding was taking place and guests from that wedding were anything but polite during the overnight hours-i.e. drunken antics in hallways). Unfortunately, though, there was a convention there that weekend, college students to be exact, and quiet indoor voices were not always exercised. Nothing as bad as my stay at the Hyatt Regency in Boston, however.
Our room (a deluxe room with king size bed) was wonderfully spacious and even offered a great view of the tops of one of the nearby churches (an entirely different perspective from street level). The room itself showed some signs of old age (i.e. the door frame and sections of the bathroom) but it is a Grande Dame after all.
There are numerous dining options at the hotel and an even greater number within close proximity. For your caffeine fix, there’s a Starbucks located in the lobby (and I can tell you this location is ALWAYS mobbed). Sadly, there aren’t many independent coffee shops in downtown Pittsburgh, and what’s more, few are open on the weekends (Pittsburgh’s downtown is still very much a ghost town on the weekends). In addition to afternoon tea at the Palm Court, there’s also typical bar-style food at the Tap Room and a very new addition to the hotel, a tasting room serving local Wigle Whiskey spirits (it literally just opened on April 21).
One of the main reasons I wanted to stay at the hotel was to visit the Speakeasy. As its name suggests, it was an illegal drinking establishment during Prohibition and today is the only one of its kind in Pittsburgh. I figured it would be a lot neater to have a drink (or two) and then simply take the elevator back to our room versus driving home. It’s located directly beneath the hotel’s lobby. So I’m not doing to lie-I was a tad disappointed with it. Considering how it bills itself, I was expecting something very 1920s. Well, even though there was a separate set of doors to go in, once inside, it still just felt like a bar. I was also disappointed with the lack of historical decor/memorabilia considering its very historic origins. Not quite an untouched speakeasy like I visited in Seattle last year. For drinks I had a Tom Collins ($12) and D a Bourbon Old Fashioned ($14).
Don’t get me wrong, I love the new, fancy sleek hotels just as much as the next person, but sometimes nothing beats staying in a place that has seen so much history. When you consider that when the Omni William Penn opened, it was only four years after the sinking of the Titanic and steel was still very much king here, well, that’s something, don’t you think?
If you’re looking for a Pittsburgh hotel with a central location and a healthy amount of charm and uniqueness, then definitely stay here. It may have the Omni chain name attached to it, but it’s still its own historical Grande Dame.
Omni William Penn
530 William Penn Place Pittsburgh, PA 15219