Last Updated on February 17, 2021 by Jeremy
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In general, we don't like to say that something is a complete miss, because odds are good if a business, experience, or event is not for us there may be reasons that others like it. So even in our most negative of reviews, we can often preface things as to why they're not for us.
We're going to try to do this for Little Italy Days in Bloomfield (which occurs each August), but we have to say, this one falls about as flat as it can get.
Why? This one misses out on both the Italy and Bloomfield connections that we hoped for.
Little Italy Days – Where Are You Italy? Where Are You Bloomfield?
At its core, the main reason Little Italy Days falls apart is that it was designed to celebrate Bloomfield's Italian roots, and ends up only barely delivering on either.
On the Bloomfield front, it felt like only 10-20% of all vendors participating in the festival were local to Bloomfield, and some, like Baby Loves Tacos and Bitter Ends Luncheonette, went as far as closing for summer vacation and improvement projects during the event (a good choice in our opinion).
For a festival that is in part to represent the neighborhood, well, it most certainly doesn't feel like that when you walk around. After publishing this article I was contacted by the event operator and informed that close to 70% of Bloomfield businesses do participate in Little Italy Days in some form, which, to me, is not readily apparent with the massive amounts of non-local businesses that come in as well. All things being equal, I am glad that it is such a high participation rate.
On the Italian front, the festival had a bit more of a boost.
Out of the vendors that took part, only a modest percentage were Italian in nature- just about 25% of all vendors in our estimation (and again, many not even from Bloomfield). In fact, it is worth noting that local pizza shop Caliente was also present with not one, not two, but at least three stalls located around the festival, making them one of the more prominent businesses in the event.
One of the problems in combining Italian heritage and Bloomfield proper is that the neighborhood isn't really a Little Italy like it once was. Yes, there are still great Italian stores and restaurants, but it isn't like you can find in other cities, and certainly not to the point where it could sustain a proper festival on its own.
Had the festival gone all-in on celebrating general Italian heritage, and invited every Italian business in the city to participate, that would be something else. Sadly, only a few like DiAnoia's in the Strip District joined in, which gave this one only a slight boost.
So, if less than half of all vendors are local and/or Italian (and my estimates are quite generous here), what all is there at Little Italy Days?
Well, to be honest, it felt like the vast majority of vendors were commercial in nature (like those selling home insurance, gutters, windows, CBD, etc.) or conventional carnival food like kettle chips, bloomin' onions, and Philly cheesesteaks- a far cry from anything having to do with the heritage of the neighborhood in the slightest.
Throw in the logistical nightmare of getting in and out of Bloomfield, especially on the weekend when Liberty Avenue is closed down, and you have the makings for a festival that is simply a disappointment.
There is no better way to say it.
The Highlights? The Bocce Court, Wine, and Live Music
Now, even though there are a lot of negatives to focus on with this event, we would be remiss if we didn't feature some of the highlights, namely in the large bocce court, copious wine vendors, and live music stages found throughout the event.
First, there is bocce– our favorite Italian game. Although no one was playing during our visit, the featured event for this one is a celebrity bocce tournament on the opening night (Thursday)- something we'd consider making a trip to seeing on its own in future years. In 2019 the courts were set up on Cedarville near Liberty and Groceria Italiana.
Second, there is wine. Lots of wine. In fact, so many local Pittsburgh wineries have booths at this one that we'd almost go as far as saying that they are more prevalent than Italian vendors (which is both sad and impressive at the same time). So if you are looking to sample wine, this one has some great options. (Be sure to also go inside Spill, Bloomfield's own wine bar, when you are there!)
Finally, there is live music. For those who brace the crowds during the day on Saturday and Sunday, a number of different musical acts perform on one of the three stages found at the festival.
But while the above three points are indeed highlights for the event, you'll notice that a small part of those are truly Italian and few are exclusive to Bloomfield as a neighborhood apart, and that is simply unfortunate.
So, it is with great sadness that we offer up the recommendation to skip this one, and instead visit Bloomfield any other week of the year to support the local businesses, restaurants, and shops that truly make the neighborhood a great spot in the city- Italian or otherwise.
Little Italy Days takes place in Bloomfield each August. Click here for a full event schedule.