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.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
I went into the main entrance of Consol Energy Center, and the very first concession stand was from the locally acclaimed Japanese restaurant Nakama, where you could get sushi or hibachi chicken with fried rice. That should give you an indication of the kind of variety that awaits you in the arena. Local favorites, including Primanti Bros. and a newcomer to Pittsburgh, Burgatory, are evident around the arena. To find a grilled burger in an arena is not a rarity, but to find one that is as good as you get in the actual restaurant certainly is worth more than a look. This will set you back a little, though, as a burger (that comes with a mix of homemade regular and sweet potato chips) and a shake (which was nothing short of great) will run $21.25! If you're a burger fan, however, it's definitely worth the costs.
This just starts the new variety that you can get in the arena. All the classic popcorn, hot dogs, Pizza Hut personal pan pizzas and nachos are there. To add to this, there is a BBQ stand (located right next to Burgatory on the upper-level), hot pastrami sandwiches, Rita's Italian Ice, a few carving stations, and oddities like cheesesteak dippers. Our seats happened to be in the Captain Morgan Club. Surprisingly, there was nothing in the club section that couldn't be found anywhere else. Normally the hefty price tag of a club section would bring a few perks.
The soft drink selection was also a little odd. Coke and Pepsi products are almost always the standard wherever you go, but RC was the choice of Consol Energy Center. With the odd selection comes greatness though, that is rarely seen in other arenas, such as Diet Dr. Pepper and Country Time Lemonade. A souvenir cup will set you back $7.50, and a draft beer will be almost the same at $7.75. Pennsylvania-made Iron City Beer and Yuengling can be found throughout the arena as well.
What kept Consol from getting the five-star rating was mainly the high prices for any kind of specialty food that you wouldn't normally find in an arena. If you wanted something that was run-of-the-mill , such as popcorn or a hot dog, you could probably make it out of the concession stand for less than $10 with a drink. If you wanted what ended up being a not so large amount of hibachi chicken ($9.75) or the burger and shake that was covered earlier, it will cost you. This is not something that is completely unexpected at an NHL arena, however. The previous report had also said that Consol had some of the hardest pretzels. As a result, I tested that theory and purchased a braided pretzel with nacho cheese dipping sauce in the club section, and the theory holds true.
The atmosphere in the arena was electric, despite the late season game having no meaning. A lot of the credit for this is due to the amazing Jumbotron, 360 degree video boards, and music. The Penguins scored four goals this night, each by a different player which in turn was met by a different video each time. The best of which was after Pascal Dupuis (his nickname is Duper, so a clip of the movie Anchorman man was shown with Ron Burgandy exclaiming "Super-duper! That's Nice!) and Evgeni Malkin (a video was shown of Hulk Hogan repeating his signature line but replacing Hulkamania with "Malkimania") both scored. Also featured on recorded Jumbotron videos were local fan icons, such as a gentleman that looked much like Hulk Hogan who is at almost every game.
To go along with video was a collection of items around the arena that did not let one forget about where the Penguins have been. There are many references to Mellon Arena, banners showing the three Stanley Cup winning years and even large murals dedicated to various Penguin teams in the stairwells that lead to the second level. Also in the club section were several pictures that showed various dedications of Consol Energy Center, such as Mario Lemieux's pouring the last remaining melted ice from Mellon Arena onto the ice at the new arena. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the newly-dedicated statue to owner and former Penguin great Mario Lemieux. No matter what direction you looked, you knew exactly what arena you were at and which team you were watching.
Consol is situated just beside downtown Pittsburgh. Unlike PNC Park and Heinz Field, though, there are not a lot of options that are within close walking distance. There a few hotels which also have restaurants and bars in them, but your best bet is to find a classic Pittsburgh restaurant before or after the game. This is, of course, if you're not going to eat in the arena. Also, tailgating in the parking lots is not extremely popular because of the cold winter months.
Aside from the hotels and the recently torn down Mellon Arena, there isn't a lot extremely close to the arena unless you take a several block stroll. However, a short drive away is not only downtown, but also the Strip District and the North Shore. The selection of bars, restaurants and entertainment in these three places is endless, and all are within a five-minute drive from the arena.
The game that this review is based on between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins was the last game of the regular season and meant absolutely nothing in the standings. The Penguins had wrapped up the number four seed for the playoffs, and the Flyers were set as the fifth seed. Even with all of this factored in, not only was this game the 251st straight sell-out for the Pens, but it was also the largest crowd ever for a hockey game at the Consol Energy Center (18,616). These facts alone warrant a five-star rating, but that's only the beginning for these fans.
Penguin hockey fans are some of the smartest and most passionate in the NHL. Being a hockey fan in Pittsburgh is easy with an owner like Mario Lemieux and players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the fans also back it up. Even with both teams essentially taking the third period off, the fans knew when to cheer and when to boo, and it was done in a fashion that was respectable to both themselves and the players. These facts combined with the overall knowledge that I heard from the fan base make this rating as easy as an empty netter.
The concourse level varies between tight and spacious; although, getting around between periods was a rough task no matter where you went. Another surprise about the club level was waiting in the extremely long lines in between periods for the bathrooms. Once again, there wasn't anything extremely special or large about the club bathrooms, which you would think you would get when shelling out that kind of money. The regular bathrooms were just as crowded, which was to be expected. All were very clean, though, which was surprising to me for such a big crowd.
Parking depends on how much time you have before and after the game and can cost the normal professional sports amount or cost much less than a burger at the game. If you want to park at one of the old Mellon Arena lots, it will be a minimum of $15. The top lot is the best to park in, and it is also the easiest from which to leave. If you have the time, however, and the weather is nice, park downtown and make the walk to the arena. There are a few garages that will only charge $5, and you can enjoy the downtown/skyscraper atmosphere.
To get to the first concourse level, you will most likely go up a set of escalators. Be sure to mark which section you enter, as you'll want to exit the same way. If you go out the opposite side of the building that you actually need, it will be a hike to get back to your vehicle. The signage within the arena could be much better in this aspect.
While maybe you could go ahead and skip the club seats, any other ticket is well worth the price. Like many newly built arenas, any seat is a good seat, and the atmosphere alone could make anyone a hockey fan. This game was proof that every game is a big game in the Consol Energy Center. You're not going to go to many hockey games for really cheap, but Consol embodies the phrase "you get what you pay for." This place is perfect for those that are Penguin fans, non-hockey fans, and fans of other teams that just need a road trip.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and their fans get "it." They cheer their regular national anthem singer, Jeff Jimerson, as loudly as they cheer Sidney Crosby. One lucky area junior hockey player gets to stand next to the game's starting lineup during the anthem. A free program is given to you when you enter, and it is not your run-of-the-mill program. Quite a few pages thick, if it is read cover to cover, you'd probably spend most of the first period with your nose in the book. This all happened before the drop of first puck!
The promotion at the game was one that should be done by every team in any sport. It was "the shirt off our back" night. You received a scratch off card when you walked in, and a number of lucky fans received a game-worn jersey of a player. Every fan won something, from a free dilly bar from Dairy Queen to a player's jersey. To see the look on some of the fans' faces when they received their jersey from each respective player was great. While this was going on, each player took a handful of balled up shirts and threw them to the remaining crowd. What better way to thank fans that have stuck with the team all throughout the year?
Consol Energy Center does a great job of linking the past with the present. If you walk in the main entrance, you see a set of interactive screens of all-time Penguin greats. As was mentioned before, there are photos and murals everywhere that show not only the rich history of the Penguins, but the history and current status of hockey in the Pittsburgh area. At one time the Penguins were in danger of leaving Pittsburgh, but after a trip to Consol Energy Center, you'll know there was really no way they were ever leaving.
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.
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!
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