Pittsburgh’s hockey history begins way before the Penguins were born as for nearly 30 years, the Hornets of the AHL entertained fans first at Duquense Gardens and then at the Civic Arena. When the Steel City became part of the NHL’s first expansion in 1967, the new team began play in their relatively new Civic Arena, affectionately referred to as the " Igloo” for its domed retractable roof. The nickname was the inspiration for Pittsburgh to be known as the Penguins as the team and historical arena would be forever linked.
The Pens have an up and down history that have toyed with fans’ emotions. Generational talents define the most successful periods. The Mario Lemieux era, which peaked between the mid-1980s and mid-90s, led to a pair of Stanley Cups. Then there is this current stretch with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, which has produced a pair of Cup Finals appearances and one championship in 2009. Pittsburgh has also seen its share of troubles as the franchise has had to fight off financial and ownership problems multiple times, along with the real threat of folding or relocating. That uncertainty has since stabilized with Lemieux now a part owner and a 30-year lease signed with the city after the completion of the Consol Energy Center in 2010. The CEC is a fine building with great sightlines, open space and all the requisite bells and whistles. However, the arena misses the character and uniqueness that made the Igloo special.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
An impressive array of food options gives Penguins fans plenty of choices at the arena. Many items cost $10 - $15, however the filling amount of food provided somewhat offsets the high price. A trip to Pittsburgh is not complete without trying a Primanti Brothers sandwich and the local specialty is available in the 100 level concourse. It's best to find a standing table and not try this behemoth while in your seat. If stuffing your sandwich with French Fries and Coleslaw is not your thing, there are plenty of other choices, including some really good Smokehouse BBQ sandwiches. Other standouts include Nakama Express, specializing in Japanese cuisine and The Burgatory, which offers excellent burgers, a few of which with funky toppings.
Neither Coca-Cola nor Pepsi is available in the arena as the Consol Energy Center has a very rare partnership with the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, thus, RC Cola and 7-Up are the common drinks. It is such an unusual sight in a world dominated by Coke and Pepsi. There are several brewpubs around the concourse and they offer the standard selection of national macrobrews. For a true local taste, be sure to try Iron City Beer (or IC Light) from the Pittsburgh Brewing Company.
Consol Energy Center has an interesting exterior introduction as the entire west side of the building has a glass façade from ground to roof. However, the presence of the historic (and beautiful) Epiphany Catholic Church obstructs a complete view. The rest of the building is a light-colored brick that doesn't quite fit in with the surrounding neighborhood. Because the arena is built on a hill, fans entering from Fifth Ave need to take a long set of escalators to reach the main entrance and subsequent lower concourses. The inside of the arena features a two deck, oval seating bowl. Sightlines are very good, however the double stacking of luxury suites and club sections means that the upper deck is quite high. This is countered by each row set at a steep pitch. It is a fine arena, but where the Igloo had amazing acoustics and a distinctive look with the domed roof, the CEC fails to stand out among a sea of newer NHL rinks.
The game atmosphere is good as the Pens play to a mostly full house for each game and the crowd does its part through the motion of the game. The Consol Energy Center is not one of the loudest or most intimidating arenas in the NHL, but there is a good energy and atmosphere in the building. At center ice is an excellent scoreboard with superb quality and it is nice that the size of the board does not dominate the middle of the arena. Speakers generally blast pop music and arena rock, with the occasional organ mixed in too. That goes along with frequent "Let's Go Pens" chants that are proceeded by a thump of the drum held in the hands of the Pens' mascot, "Iceburgh."
Pittsburgh is a wonderful city that is an underrated destination for tourists. For those looking to make a weekend out of attending a Penguins game, there are plenty of reasons to stay an extra day. The Steel City has one of the finest skylines in the country and the best way to take in the spectacular views of downtown and all of its accompanying bridges and rivers is a trip up on Mount Washington. A historic cable car runway brings people up the incline to a spectacular view below. Other areas worth checking out include the Heinz Museum, Point State Park, the Carnegie Museum and the Strip District.
Consol Energy Center is located in the uptown section of the city, just across from Duquesne University on The Bluff. While this is right next to downtown and pretty close to most of Pittsburgh's attractions, this particular neighborhood is not exactly hopping. Aside from the urban school campus, the strip along the arena on Fifth Ave features generally unattractive storefronts including some small business and blue collar bars. While future development has been promised for years, the former site of The Igloo nearby sits untouched and is used as a parking lot. The area is not bad by any means, it's just a little grittier than the side of Pittsburgh that attracts visitors. As for food choices before the game, Fifth Ave does offer some options. Buford's Kitchen and Pizza Milano are a couple places worth trying. Definitely avoid The Souper Bowl, as I made the mistake of eating here before the game and was saddled with very slow service and luke-warm food.
Every game at the Consol Energy Center has been an official sellout, meaning that each seat has been paid for. A simple glance at the television during the game will tell you that not every seat is exactly filled. However, each regular season contest has a healthy turnstile attendance. The Steelers are certainly the #1 team in Pittsburgh, but this sports town has plenty of room for other loves and they support the Pens quite well. As with any team, seeing the black and gold in road arenas is a common sight too. While the support is overall good, there are a few other things to note that are not so good. The season before Crosby arrived, the team was dead last in league attendance. Secondly, I attended a game that featured the Pens down 3-2 with about six minutes to go. When the visitors made it 4-2, swarms of people headed for the exits. It never looks good when the fan base has a mass exodus during an important late-season game that was by no means over.
Pittsburgh is not the easiest city to drive around in. For non-locals, challenges come from the combination of bridges, tunnels, interchanges, confusing on/off ramps and multiple street intersections. There are several ways to reach the arena and though directions often point to using I-579, I think the best way is to get on the Parkway East/West (I-376) and then exit onto 71A for a better route to Fifth Ave. Parking is primarily found on the empty site of the old Civic Arena across the street and though it seems plentiful, surface lots only hold about 3,000 cars. There are other choices, which include five nearby garages. As for traffic, it is heavy and can really lead to some delays, especially if the game coincides with rush hour. The downtown and interstate grid just does not handle traffic well. Pittsburgh's Light Rail is a good alternative option to avoid the city headaches as the Steel Plaza station is a 5-10 minute walk away. It's certainly not the most all-inclusive public transit system, but this small service is a nice option.
Inside the arena, only the opening entryway seems too small as the rest of the concourse layout handles foot traffic well. There are inevitable jams onto escalators when leaving the arena, but delays and crowds don't last too long. One surprising problem is the curious design of the concession stands. An overhang above the stand is placed such that you can not read the concession menu unless you get right up to the register. This is certainly not fan friendly in trying to figure out what to eat or drink. Bathrooms, as expected for a new building, are plentiful.
Thanks to the likes of big stars and competitive teams, Penguins tickets are surprisingly expensive. With few seats available to the general public each game, the majority will have to turn to the secondary market for a game ticket. Most prices will range in the triple-digits, however there are deals to be had and unless it is a huge contest, the best bet is to wait a few days before the game and you'll find an adequate 200-level seat for $50 to $70. Other prices involved with the Pens are high as well with parking averaging $20 and most concession food items over $10. Despite an overall cost that is higher than the league average, visitors will enjoy a game here and those following their team on the road should check out a game in Pittsburgh.
Before the game, make sure to arrive early to check out the displays throughout the concourse. There is some terrific artwork including a wonderful mural of the city, which is right near a display of all the area's High School hockey jerseys. The most popular display is the All-Time Team Zone, which features interactive displays that highlight the greatest players and contributors in franchises history (side note: this section has a corporate sponsor attached to it, just like every single thing in the entire arena, which is quite annoying). It is a great section, though some kiosks did not properly work and need some maintenance.
While the upper concourse does not have the displays like down below, the view more than makes up for it. Windows to the outside allow for great views of the photogenic city, while inside there is an open view to the rink and fans can use the drink rails to stand and enjoy the game.
Finally, a nod to "Iceburgh," the mascot of the Pittsburgh Penguins. A mascot should be geared towards kids and Iceburgh has such a fun, goofy face that endears him to the young ones.
Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center is a relatively new building that is clean and fan friendly. It is close to the city's many attractions, has great food and decent concourses, but at the expense of luxury seating, the arena lacks the character and atmosphere that the Igloo used to have. Fans will still enjoy their visit to a Pens game and with some of the sport's best still suiting up in the black and gold, hockey remains a hot ticket in the Steel City.
Follow all of Sean's journeys at Stadium and Arena Visits.
The Consol Energy Center is the brand new home of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The inaugural game was hosted on October 9, 2010. Official seating capacity for hockey is 18,087. The center is located just across the street from the old Mellon Arena so any parking spots or local attractions that were of note before are still part of the new Penguins experience.
Just like a penguin, Consol Energy Center is dressed and ready to impress in every category. Mellon Arena lies close to the hearts of Penguins fans; however, after taking a few steps into their new palace, many probably had already forgotten about the Igloo. Although Consol and its Pittsburgh counterpart of PNC Park are both are great places to watch a game, only Consol also has a team to back up its arena.
Mostly because its a newer and very clean arena. No such thing as a bad seat and high quality product on the ice make it totally worth it. Neighborhood offerings were the worst I've seen (TGI Fridays. That's about it) but a 15 minute walk puts you in Market Square, which was a great place to spend some time. If only it were closer, this would rate up there with the Xcel Center in St Paul. Horribly priced concessions and beer, but the Yuengling could not be ignored!
The Consol Energy Center is one of the NHL’s newest buildings, opening in 2010 across the street from the beloved old Igloo in the eastern part of downtown Pittsburgh. With over fifteen years of Sports and Entertainment Centers in other cities to inspire the architects, the Consol Energy Center feels like a building that represents a synthesis of modern arena design. It’s a cavernous palace of a building that dominates the city block on which it sits, clad in yellow brick and glass, and seems to be both the archetype and culmination of fifteen years of arena-building.
Consol Energy Center was vital to the preservation of the Penguins in Pittsburgh. It is a great experience and the fans there are some of the best in the league. They are in their seats right away and are loud throughout. However, there is something to be said for the wonderful uniqueness that was Mellon Arena. Admittedly there were many issues with the Igloo, but in a league where all the new arenas seem to be copies of each other, the Mellon was a spot all to itself.
Nice building but doesn't have anything unique about it. Feels like you're in a shopping mall watching a game. At least the Pens are always decent.
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