Slovak Culture in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is no stranger to being number one- first in super bowl wins, rated “America’s Smartest City”, #1 Ballpark, and here’s a shocker-number one for most bars per capita in the nation. But did you know that our beloved ‘Burgh is the number one city in the world for people of Slovak heritage (outside of Slovakia itself)? Now why is that? Let’s shed some light on the relationship between Pittsburgh and its Slovak culture…Click Continue Reading for Full Post

The U.S industrial revolution in the 1800’s created huge employment opportunities. Around the same time, people in Slovakia were experiencing high unemployment and political/religious persecution. When World War I ended in 1918, a great migration from Slovakia to the States began. Approximately one million Slovaks came to America during this time. Of that massive group, about 100,000 Slovaks came to Western PA. Why? These immigrants were limited in transportation, so they lived where they worked- the steel and mining industries. Also, Western Pennsylvania’s rolling hills looked a lot like home-sweet-home for many Slovaks. So, the South Side became the new home for Slovaks from Spis, the Northside became the new home for Slovaks from Zemplin, and Braddock/Homestead became the new home for Slovaks from Sarisan. Consequently, the Slovak customs and traditions were continually practiced in the ‘Burgh because of these densely populated neighborhoods.

University of Pittsburgh

 Image by HoboJones


The University of Pittsburgh has classrooms in the Cathedral of Learning that are designed to represent the culture of various ethnics groups in Pittsburgh, named the Nationality Rooms. Each room is a functioning classroom that reflects the specific ethnic cultural period prior to 1787 (founding date of Pitt). The Czechoslovak room was completed in 1939. This museum quality room contains artifacts from the Slovak and Czech regions, and a copy of the Pittsburgh Agreement. The room’s ceiling has a hand painted and carved mountain villa typically found in the Tatra region of Slovakia. Also, there are paintings on the wall of famous historical and literary Slovaks, like Jan Kollar, Bishop Moyzes, and Ludovik Stur.

Andy Warhol Museum

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“I have social disease. I have to go out every night. If I stay home one night, I start spreading rumors to my dogs”-Andy Warhol. This famous Pop Artist was raised in a Slokavian household. Both of his parents were from Mikova, Eastern Slovakia. Andy attended Schenley High School and Carnegie Mellon University, both Pittsburgh schools. After his death in 1987, two museums were opened to display his brilliant works of art. One museum is in Medzilaborce, Slovakia, and the other is in the North Shore of Pittsburgh. This museum is incredibly unique because it is the only museum in the nation that is dedicated to only one artist. The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh has 900 paintings; approximately 100 sculptures, and more than 1,000 published and unique prints. Andy Warhol is buried in a family plot in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. If you need a break from the ordinary- go take a trip over to the Warhol museum. It may just inspire the inner artist in you.

I had the unique opportunity to work with the educational staff at the Warhol Museum a few summers ago for the Summer Dreamers Program. I was the behavioral therapist on board to assist with the “dreamers” and their interpersonal relations, if you will. Often, I found myself just as excited to start a project as the campers were; sometimes even a bit more. That summer, I learned to really appreciate Andy Warhol and his unbridled creativity. I left that summer knowing less about him, his complexities were twisted and tangled; left out in the open and locked up in boxes. Maybe, that’s why he and his work has been unparalleled for all these years. Pittsburgh undoubtedly shaped him, and he helped shape Pittsburgh, too.

Pittsburgh and Slovakia Today

We were very fortunate to interview the Slovak Honorary Consul for Pennsylvania, Joseph Senko. The responsibilities of the honorary consul include supporting the development of economic, cultural, scientific, academic, and trade relations between Slovakia and the United States. Joseph was born and raised here in Pittsburgh by Slovak immigrants. He is an amazing and dedicated man- and his commitment to Slovakia is truly evident. He presently serves on the board or advisory board for eleven nonprofit organizations. In 1997, he formed a non-profit organization, the Western Pennsylvania Slovak Cultural Association (WPSCA). Its goal is to bring diverse authentic Slovak cultural programs to Western Pennsylvania for both Slovak-Americans and Pittsburgher’s alike. Also, he participated in the collection, repair, and shipment of 250 computers to Slovakia, which were distributed to 45 schools. He helped with the shipment of 60,000 copies of American children’s magazines. These magazines were distributed to 830 schools to assist in learning English. Also, he assisted in the shipment of medical supplies to hospitals in Svidník, Bardejov and Bratislava. His resume is truly impressive, check out the rest of his accomplishments here. Mr. Senko painted a rich and lively picture of Slovak culture here in our melting pot of a town. We enjoyed hearing his stories and seeing the pride and passion he has for his Slovak heritage. Thank you Mr. Senko; Pittsburgh has been enriched by your dedication to upholding Slovak heritage.

Beer and Slovakia

When we were in contact with Honorary Consul Joe Senko about interviewing him for the blog- we mentioned the focus- beer, food, and Pittsburgh. When we met in Panera for our interview, he kindly surprised us with four Slovak beers, three of which are not available in the States. We were beyond thrilled! He told us that the President of Slovakia brought these beers over during one of his visits to the U.S. We were humbled that he shared this with us.

Slovak Beer Radler   Smadny Mnich Radler brewed by Pivovary Topvar – Pivovar Šariš. This refreshing beer is brewed with natural lemon juice. At 2.0 % ABV, this brew is perfect for those long sessions of summer drinking, or exercising-if you are in Europe. Radler literally means Cyclist. A Radler style of beer is a beer-based mixed drink typically mixed with a German soda or lemonade. During the sweltering summer months, Radlers are extremely popular because they are known to be thirst quenchers. Cheers to lemony soda beers!

urpiner beer slovak   Urpiner Premium °12 by Banskobystricky Brewery. This Bohemian Pilsner (5.0 % ABV) took home the silver medal in the European Beer Star Competition- the only Slovak beer to bring home an award that year.  It’s balanced well with prominent malt and hop taste.

Corgon beer   Corgoň 4-sladový by Heineken Slovensko Brewery. This is a Czech Pilsner (4.6 % ABV). Corgon means champion; therefore, it seamlessly has become the drink of choice for many Slovak sports fans. This highly carbonated beer would be the equivalent to a slightly more bitter Miller Light. It’s Miller Time but in Slovakia-that’s going to be 6 hours later.

golden pheasant beer   Golden Pheasant by Pivovar Zlaty Bazant. This Czech Pilsner (5.0  % ABV) is sold in the States! T spotted some at Dee’s 6-Packs and Dogs. This is a proper pilsner. It is light and easy to drink yet still very flavorful. Toward the end of this post, we shared our Beirogi recipe made with this brew!

Pittsburgh and Slovakian Food

Going into this culture piece, T and I knew very little about Slovak culture. We think one of the best ways to learn about one’s culture is to eat the foods. Luckily, it was the holiday season and Pittsburghers love to sit down with family and friends, and even strangers- to eat, drink and be merry. We found a church in the South Side that held a traditional Christmas Eve dinner and celebration called a Slovak Vilija. Right as we walked through the door, we were greeted by traditional crafts and art pieces that celebrated Slovak culture. We continued down the hallway to the large common room, filled wall to wall with tables and chairs for the dinner guests. We were escorted to our table, and we clumsily found our way into our chairs in the far right corner. We scanned the room to see if we knew anyone there, no luck. Since Pittsburghers have about 1 degree of separation between each other, we knew that if we chatted long enough, some how we would end up knowing that lady’s cousin’s sister’s best friend who is also our friend, too.

Known as Stredry Vecer or Bountiful Evening, this meal consisted of authentic, handmade Slovak delicacies. We started off the meal with oplatky and honey. Oplatky are wafer-thin slices of bread. Breaking and sharing of this bread is symbolic for charity, unity, and friendship. Next, we were given the traditional mushroom soup. It was made with tangy sauerkraut brine, which made it extraordinarily tart; yet delicious, nonetheless. The tartness symbolizes the bitterness of life without Jesus Christ.

Then, we were presented the bobalky or rolls made with poppy seeds, nuts, or sauerkraut. The use of the poppy seeds originates from the tradition of throwing the poppy seeds at the doors of the home in hopes of the evil spirits might be too occupied with picking up each little seed, and thus not enter the home. Could you imagine if this worked in today’s world? Not feeling like being bothered at home today? Just throw out a few handfuls of poppy seeds and you’ll be entertaining those uninvited guests for hours on end. Some days, I really wish this was an option. Ha.

Moving along (and already getting full), we were served a massively full plate of baked fish (Ryba), pierogies (pirohy), and mixed vegetables. To end this truly bountiful meal, we were served palachinky- a handmade crepe smothered with apricot preserves and rolled up into one simple, sweet dessert. For me, the Slovak food we enjoyed that evening was traditional, honest, and made with love. It nourished our bodies as well as our souls. There is something wholly satisfying about eating a homemade meal from recipes passed down from generation to generation. No fancy spices or cooking methods- just real, honest food. Every now and then, we all need to remember what that exactly tastes like.

vilija  palachinky

Check Out Our Bierogie Recipe

Cheers N’at

4 Responses

  • Kachinko on October 2, 2015, 13:52:14

    This is a fantastic post regarding hunkies (Slovaks) and Pittsburgh. I really enjoyed how you mentioned several neighborhoods and tied in the nationality rooms as well. However, there is one glaring omission from this post. Lower Greenfield, locally known as “The Run”, was home to one of the highest concentrations of Slovaks in Pittsburgh. Slovaks from the Run worked at the J&L mills in Hazelwood and Southside. The Run, which has also been called “Hunky Valley” and “Hunky Hallow” due to its proximity to Panther Hallow, is home to two Slovak churches. One of the churches, St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic, was Andy Warhol’s childhood church. The other, St. Joachim, was the parish for the Catholic Slovaks and supported its own grade school until the 1970s.

    Many “Run” residents are still Slovak and continue to cherish their ancestral roots. You can read more on wikipedia.

    Reply to Kachinko
    • D&T on October 2, 2015, 15:01:42

      Hey there! Thanks for the kind words and for the additional info. I’m looking forward to learning more about “The Run”. Thanks for the heads up! -Devon

      Reply to D&T
  • Rudolph Rusnak on August 18, 2016, 22:16:42

    Am visiting in October for a wedding, Have some Slovaks in our party and would like to find a Slovak/Czech restaurant in the area. I fell in love with Zlaty Bazant pevo and Slovak cooking when I visited my Svagr’s family near Piestany and would love to have some again. Even a good neighborhood tavern would be great.
    If there is a church gathering on October 9 we maybe could make that as well. Thank you in advance for your counsel.

    Reply to Rudolph


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