Most fans do not get a chance to see the behind-the-scenes work the Penguins put in throughout an 82-game season. The practices, the drills, the video studies — all done with the expectation that the team will be 100 percent prepared before taking the ice. If they didn’t do all this work, they’d probably look as lost and confused as, well, a fan wandering aimlessly looking for their seat, while carrying three beers and a bag of popcorn.
The Pens don’t want to be that fan — and you shouldn’t, either.
A little bit of preparation can go a long way, just ask the Pens. That’s why it’s on us, as fans, to be better. You don’t want to miss the beginning of the game because you’re looking for parking, the same way you don’t want to miss the start of the third because you’re craving nachos.
PPG Paints Arena has its secrets, and smart fans know all about them. We’re about to let you in on those secrets. Here are all the PPG Paints Arena hacks you need to make your game day experience “a great day for hockey.”
What a nightmare, right? It isn’t entirely avoidable, but there are some shortcuts. Let’s put this out there first: Arena parking is not the way to go. There are much better options around the arena than trying to navigate through a handful of lots while 10,000 other people who have already parked are trying to get inside the arena. Pittsburgh dad and his family are willing to risk life and limb to walk in front of your vehicle. And it will happen every time, countless times. Trust me.
Downtown parking is — and will forever be — the best option. If you’re coming from the West or North, try heading Downtown and parking at Mellon Square across from the Omni William Penn Hotel. It’s a short three-block walk to PPG that is not only cheaper but a much easier way to quickly get out of Downtown after the game.
If coming in from the East, take Second Avenue to the Armstrong Tunnel. From there, you can cut right across Forbes and Fifth to the Chatham Garage, directly across the street from the arena. Getting out is a little trickier, but if you park on a lower level, you can cut back across Fifth and leave the same way you came. You may have to cut a few people off, but that’s Pittsburgh, everyone should be used to it by now.
Once you’re parked, you want to avoid the lines and get in. If you took the advice of parking Downtown, the Peoples (Fifth Avenue at Washington Place) and Trib Total Media (Centre Avenue’s lower entrance) gates will be closest.
But take a short walk around the arena to the Verizon gate on Centre Avenue (its upper entrance), and you’ll avoid waiting in the longest lines, which means you’ll have easier access to food and beer. Just some food (beer) for thought.
Finding your seat
OK, so you’ve made it. You’re in. Hopefully you gave yourself enough time to get everything you need before heading to your seat. Now, most fans know that there really isn’t a bad seat inside PPG Paints Arena. You obviously want to be on the side where the Pens are shooting twice, and the closer to the ice, the better, but anywhere in the arena is honestly a decent view.
But we all know that there is always the outside chance that you’re going to completely loathe the people you are sitting next to — the chances of this happening rise exponentially if the Pens are playing the Flyers, Leafs, Capitals or Blue Jackets. It happens, but that doesn’t mean you need to be stuck there. Remember, preparation is key. Fire up SeatGeek, StubHub or Ticketmaster on your phone before the game starts and see what seats haven’t been purchased yet, especially the really good ones.
Keep an eye on them up until puck drop, and if nobody is sitting there by then, that means nobody bought the seats. If you find yourself sitting next to someone who smells or won’t stop screaming “Shoot it!,” or worse yet, a Flyers fan (*shudder*), you can head over to the empty seats with confidence. Just avoid the ushers, and you’re golden.
If you absolutely have to leave your seat between periods (food, bathroom, beer), then going for it with a minute or so left before the horn is the way to go. There are TVs everywhere in the concourse, so if you do miss something live, chances are you’ll be able to catch it on a television.
If you don’t want to miss any of the live action, try finding one of the mobile vendors scattered throughout the arena, as opposed to waiting in a line at a booth. They’re everywhere and usually don’t want to have you hanging around them any longer than you do.
Finally, entering the exit of the bathroom is a lowkey way to sly avoid the wait. You may get some looks thrown your way but everybody knows the time between periods is 15-minute free-for-all and it is every man or woman for themselves.
Speaking of timing, you’re going to want to make the most of the time you spend outside of your seat.
If you can arrive early enough to park Downtown, you might want to consider eating there, as well, so you can keep your butt in your chair during the game. Parking near Mellon Square opens up several options for a meal nearby: Grab tacos at Condado, flatbread at Talia, or stop by the Commoner if you’ve got time for a sit-down meal.
There are plenty of options for eating at the arena, as well. If you are craving Nakama sushi at a hockey game, you can do that. If you’re in the mood for some classic arena chicken fingers and fries, you can do that. If you want a Burgatory milkshake, yup, that’s here, too.
Before wandering through the crowded concourse, make your decision based on the PPG Paints Arena dining guide, which is complete with food stand locations.
A new addition to the arena’s already robust food offerings, Emporio: A Meatball Joint opened an outpost there this season, and they’ve made their meatball dishes portable enough that you can take your meal back to your seat.
The Most Coveted Secret Of All
Lastly, the ultimate hack of all hacks: The PPG Paints Arena Wifi password …
To be fair, we can’t promise that this password won’t have been changed by the time you get there, but we tried to help you out.
You’re welcome, phone data plans.
— The Incline’s Food and Culture Editor Rossilynne Culgan contributed.