We recently discovered Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on a weekend road trip. Bethlehem, aside from sharing the name of one of the most famous cities in history, has an unique and storied past for a relatively low key American city. In its prime, Bethlehem was a steel town. The Bethlehem Steel Corporation (1857–2003) was once the second-largest steel producer and the largest ship builder in the United States. This is notable on two fronts:
- It is a riches-to-rags story that should not be ignored: Any 100 pound gorilla that dominates a sector and a community can disappear overnight.
- The remnants left behind of the steel boom, mammoth rusted-out steel stacks, create a ghostly backdrop to the city that is worth seeing.
The first highlight of the trip was passing an orange Westie on the highway into Bethlehem. The wheel cover was nicely adorned with the illustrated head of Jerry Garcia. It was great to see music gear strapped to the roof.
The second highlight of the trip was connecting with local distillers who are bringing the art of the craft brewing and distilling to Pennsylvania. Due to recent liquor law changes in 2014, it has allowed the art of brewing and distilling to establish itself firmly in the state with really positive outcomes.
Our first stop was to the South Side of the river which was considered “steel town” back in the day. The steel stacks are located on the South Side along with two notable locations for lunch or dinner:
- Molinari’s has a great farm to table culture that notes local partners on a big blackboard that supplies everything from bread to olive oil. A highlight was The IGT, a signature gin and tonic using house-made tonic and gin from local distiller Faber.
- Social Still was our favourite find of the weekend. It was opened in 2014 by Kate and Adam Flatt in a n old bank on the South Side. We met Kate in the take home shop where you can purchase their bourbon, gin or vodka. She not only shared history of the town but also her enthusiasm for its restoration and their enthusiasm for the “restoration in American spirits.” I tried hand-made cocktails that used their bourbon. They were divine. So much so that we took a bottle home.
After lunch we headed to the North Side which is home to the historic buildings of the Moravian settlers, the Hotel Bethlehem and funky antique and decorator shops.
A great van find on the North Side was at Domaci’s who sells vinyl carpets and mats fashioned from vintage vinyl patterns. We have a long running debate about upgrades to the van: should we honour the past or the present? Keep it vintage or modernise? It was fun finding these mats because they were the best of both worlds – a vintage pattern on a modern material that is durable and hard wearing.
Ironically, we went with the vinyl mat pattern “Pushing up Daisies” a salute to the ghost steel stacks of Bethlehem. It will be a reminder of a not so distant bygone era. Hats off to the new creators in Bethlehem that have embraced the past but are more aware of future opportunities in brewing, distilling and design. A wonderful weekend and great van road trip.