Thursday, November 5, 2015
I love NYC but crave a weekend escape. As a lifelong city dweller, I enjoy a getaway to a smaller town, but spoiled enough to expect culinary and stylish marvels when I get there. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is a destination that did not disappoint. I found shopping, great cocktails, culture and foodies all over the place.
The cocktail culture that swept Manhattan two decades ago is hitting Bethlehem hard right now. Every restaurant on Main street offered up a menu of creative libations with varying degrees of success. The real treat however was outside of the main area of downtown and in the basement of an apartment building.
The Bookstore Speakeasy looks like an old den of musty books. Beyond the first impression, you will walk back in time to an old-school bar/salon. The bartenders were dressed in vests and sleeve garters. The thick tome of cocktails was almost irrelevant as it was better to just tell them what you like to drink and they would craft something worthy of it. The biggest surprise was the excellent food there. Peach short ribs, an interesting take on shrimp nachos and other good sized plates on their appetizer menu that would count as an entree in NYC. A live trio added to the decadent vibe.
For the arts or industrial beauty? I fell in love with the rusted metal structure of the old Hoover Mason Trestle. A former steel factory, the site has now been turned into Steel Stacks, an arts center and event space. You can roam the iron stacks then enjoy free concerts at the base. Catch an independent movie or sip wine and nibble on upscale fast food.
Steel is a big theme for this town. One of the most interesting boutiques along Main Street is the Steel Beam. Opened by Fay Fitch, she is a Parsons Fashion School of Design grad like me who worked with many top designers in New York before returning to her home town. I guess that concept resonates with me. Her shop is a mix of her own collection, curated designer samples and the collections of indie designers in jewelry, accessories, and home decor in addition to fashion.
Where to stay? For old-school beauty, the Historic Hotel Bethlehem is the way to go. Popular for weddings, it has soaring arched windows in the restaurant, original stone structures dating back to the 1700s. The rooms are cozy and the hotel is lavishly decorated for the holidays. If you like a contemporary chain, the Hamptons Inn is nearby. It has a pool, great snack bar and breakfast buffet.
Other shops I loved included the Moravian bookshop. This was a sprawling retailer of books, home decor, gifts, chocolatier, stationery, and cafe that sold artisanal meade along with the usual java and pastries. It supports local creatives with events and showcases of their talent as a gallery. For olive oil, cheeses, foodie gifts, Seasons is great for a housewarming gift or something to pair with your wine.
Speakeasy Bookshop photo by Express-Times Photo | BRUCE WINTER, all other photos by Mariana Leung