Coca Cafe is one of those places that was before its time, a predecessor to all things to come in Lawrenceville.
Long before it seemed the city, or its residents anyway, were ready for urban chic dining in what was considered a generally run down area of town, Coca Cafe bloomed up in the thick of it all with breakfasts like Arugula Pesto Chicken Omelets and vegetarian chili for lunch when Pittsburgh was still very much a cheap sandwich and hot wings kind of town. Today it remains as a beacon of what Lawrenceville, the neighborhood where it skirts along the southern edge, itself is.
I recall some close friends of mine living in Lawrenceville when I first moved back to the city in 2004. They were living in a massive loft, apparently quite affordably, and touting the up and coming potential of the not-so-much talked about neighborhood. Bowling alleys selling $1 PBRs and a three story bar with an S&M bondage chair on the top floor were some of the draws sucking hipsters in by the troves, along with cheap, very cheap rent. Pittsburgh itself is a very affordable place to live, so we’re talking sub-$500 prices for two bedrooms back then. But at night hookers walked the streets, in a city not exactly known for its red light district or availability of crack on any given corner.
Like all cheap neighborhoods, though, the artists moved in, payed their next to nothing rent and did their part to beautify their neighborhood. Prices began to rise, more mainstream establishments moved in, and while Lawrenceville is still probably one of the city’s coolest and still coming up neighborhoods, certainly quite a bit has changed.
For the young ones out there, you 20-something travelers looking for a great place to stay where you might even end waking up on a strange couch on a side street in a house you can’t remember falling asleep at, let alone walking home to, this just may be the place for you. From Coca Cafe, head north on Butler and allow your head to sway left and right. You’re sure to find the establishment with just the right blend of seedy turmoil and new rage art that will leave you feeling as cool as your skinny jeans and seven scarves would have others imagine you must be.