A Day Off in Lancaster, PA

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So I know in my last post I said that I would be writing next about Maui, but I had an itch to write and so I thought I would spend a little time in my current hometown, Lancaster, PA.

There are several aspects of Lancaster County that make me a happy resident here. And no, the Renaissance Faire and the Amish are not on the top of the list; they aren’t at the bottom either, just not at the top. However I will say that the idea of dressing up as a Medieval knight or Merlin and chasing ornately attired wenches around open fair grounds with a pint of ale in my hand is appealing; and if you laughed at that and claim otherwise, search deep, there is a Lancelot and/or a Gandalf in every one of us. Furthermore I do like to tell people a story about one rather fuzzy memory involving a buggy jacking for a case of Victory and some imitation Cubans. Not true of course, but I like to tell that story.

Lancaster is great for a number of reasons; cost of living, farm fresh produce, laid back lifestyle and a city (including suburbs) that remain a bit of a secret to those living close to Philadelphia.  Once we get our day rolling, after breakfast and a run around some of the Amish farms that surround our house, we typically head up to Lititz, PA. This is a great small town filled with boutique and antique shops. It honestly looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting or the movie Funny Farm. Lititz Springs Park has some great history and is home to a couple rafts of ducks that you can feed. It’s a really nice walk on a sunny day. Just next door to the park is a surprisingly little known chocolate factory. Wilber Chocolate has been in operation since the late 1800s and is still making fine assortments of chocolates today. Naturally it is living in the shadow of a much more well know factory producing out of Hershey, PA, so this may be why you haven’t heard of them before. After picking up a couple bags of Wilbur Buds (the essential equivalent to the Kiss), we walk back up to the center of town for a beer or two at an all-time favorite watering hole. The Bull’s Head in Lititz is an English style pub adjacent to the General Sutter Inn. In many ways it really feels like walking into an old world tavern. All orders go through the bar and it is seat your self, so getting there early is key. The many rotating taps and an extensive bottle list, as well as the traditional pub fare, will definitely not leave you wanting. We like to get our drinks and sit outside with the Wilbur Buds and people watch for a while. Kelly doesn’t drink beer too often, but when she does she goes for double chocolate stout or a Russian imperial stout. I love my wife. After a round and some window-shopping we truck it back down the 501 to Lancaster City.

When most people in the Philly metro area think Lancaster they think of those open-air discount circuses just east of the city called the Outlets. To be honest I do my shopping there too, but lets call it like it is and if you’ve been there on a weekend afternoon, like most, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Fortunately for us, those black holes of frugality keep the masses out of the city, giving us lots of breathing room on a lazy day off.
If you happen to live relatively close to the city like us and you happen to be an early riser for the most part, an absolute must is the Lancaster Central Market. It’s located right in the heart of the city (hence the central part) and unfortunately only open Tuesday, Friday (6a-4p) and Saturday (6a-2p). CNN Travel recently rated it the 8th freshest market in the world. Even if you’re not looking to buy fresh produce or grass-fed meats, there are great cups of coffee, sandwiches and Amish trinkets to your hearts content.

Surrounding the Market on any given day of the week (watch out for Sundays and Mondays as businesses like to use those for their days off) are ample shopping, dining and bars. We like to people watch, so usually we stop by the Spring House Taproom right next to Market and sit out on King St. They feature a small but well crafted selection of their own brews. During one trip there, they had an infuser to filter their stout through espresso beans. If you happen to like something a little more involved, just down King St. a bit is Annie Bailey’s. This is the quintessential Irish bar and well worth the stop whether it’s for a quick lunch or a night out with friends. They feature live music most nights and have a bar staff that actually has talent. Also, located next to the Market is another downtown Lancaster favorite, The Dispensing Company. Another awesome place for lunch, dinner or just a few drinks; live music several nights a week and even some during the day, especially outside. If Friday happens to be your night off, the First Friday of every month in Lancaster is special. Artists, musicians, performance groups, artisans all flood the streets for an open gallery where you definitely do not have to be afraid to let your inner nerd out.

Nights out are full of great experiences in Lancaster as well. The Chameleon Club features excellent live music from established artists as well as up-and-coming acts year round, as well as acting as the main stage for the Launch Music Conference & Festival for up and coming musicians. For a nice glass of wine and a cheese plate, a favorite stop is Pour on Prince St. Soft lighting with a hint of hipster atmosphere this place is an absolute must for foodies, winos and beer snobs alike. Pour tends to pull in a younger, trendier crowd than some of the others.  More intimate evenings can be shared at the Press Room, which feels much less like you’re in Amish country and more like you stepped into a scene from Mad Men. If 1962 isn’t quite your vintage, just down the road at the Lancaster Marriott (historically the Watt & Shand department store) the Rendezvous Lounge has a subtle, classy atmosphere more for this generation. Another great place for dinner, or just a couple drinks, is just outside downtown called Fenz.  Fenz is clean, crisp and modern.  The bartenders know how to make a drink and the beer and wine selection is always kept fresh.  On the way out of town (for us any way) we pass by one of Lancaster’s oldest continually operating social centers, Quips Pub. Yet again, Old England finds a way into Dutch Country with old wood, classic design and authentic British food.

Lancaster is definitely a city that has yet to get its due recognition. Granted it has Philadelphia and Baltimore close by, and they are tough competition. Lancaster offers just as much as it’s big brothers though; great shopping, arts and entertainment, dining, nightlife, sports (Lancaster Barnstormers) and it’s a college town a couple times over.  Plus, to its advantage I think, Lancaster is still small enough that you feel like you have some elbow room and looking someone in the eye or waiving isn’t taken as a sign of aggression. Unfortunately I have rather limited space to try and talk about all the great places to visit both downtown and just outside the city.  Maybe I’ll pick a few others and highlight them in a later blog.  If you live in the area, or happen to be planning a visit, I highly recommend taking the time to drive past the Outlets and visit Lancaster City. You will be glad you did.

Until next time guys, thanks again.  And just a reminder that you are all invited along with us whereever we go via Twitter and Instagram @steelbluemind.  See you soon!

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