About Beer Magazine Volume 21 Number 1
Back Roads Pennsylvania
D. G. Yuengling & Son had already been brewing beer for 45
years when the Kempton Hotel was built in 1874. Last summer we sat at the
bar of the Kempton and drank draft Yuengling beer. The Kempton isnít on
any lists of historic inns, and the Institute for Brewing Studies doesnít
classify Yuengling as "craft" beer because of adjuncts the
brewery uses, but that doesnít make either less distinctive.
Both survived the period from the 1950s through the Ď80s when any
style of beer other than the pale lager most Americans drank was on the
endangered species list, and so were many bars you would call
old_fashioned taverns. Yuengling has since flourished and at least the
Kempton has stayed in business, unlike many taverns and corner bars.
On this particular day, we were traveling with Lew Bryson,
author of the book, Pennsylvania Breweries, as well as a frequent
contributor to many periodicals. Bryson is a champion of the Pennsylvania
hotel bars. He frequently prowls the back roads with friends, drinking
regional beers while perched on a bar stool in places where "you feel
instantly at home."
We began our journey at "Yoccoís, The Hot Dog King," just
west of Allentown, not for hot dogs but because it was a place to stash
one car. Bryson was carrying a detailed Pennsylvania map--necessary in the
rolling hills north of Reading even after many trips through them--and a
dog-eared copy of The Bars of Reading and Berks by Suds Kroge and Dregs
We knew we were in good hands.
Suds and Dregs
As is the case with us, most of the time when Bryson writes about beer,
his focus is on specialty beers. Also like us, he would have been
comfortable prowling the bars of Reading and Berks with Suds and Dregs
during the 1970s and ∆80s. While those authors reviewed taverns with an
eye toward beer, the sameness of beer from bar to bar kept it from being
an important component.
More important to them, as they wrote in their last book in 1988,
"Former readers know that we have exhibited a penchant for old
original establishments in the past. That has not changed. A two- or
three-man urinal still brings tears to our eyes, as does an expansive
stamped tin ceiling or a massive, ornate, carved and mirrored antique back
bar. Most of our ratings reflect a pristine quality or unique features
found in few contemporary quafferies."
They obviously struck a chord with many readers. David Wardrop and Bob
Weirich visited every bar in town to write Beer Drinkers Guide to the
Bars of Reading in 1975. Being high school teachers and understandably
concerned about how their book would be taken in the community, they chose
to use pen names that stuck with them through four more volumes.
Suds and Dregs became something of celebrities, and not only in
Reading. They appeared on the "Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson
and were written about in many national newspapers. Calvin Trillin spent a
couple of evenings drinking with them and described that in a New Yorker
essay. They followed the first book with one on Berks County bars, then
books called Eat and Eat II before revisiting every bar in
Reading and Berks County to write their last book in 1988.
"We knew that extensive damage had been done to that beloved
gathering place, the neighborhood tavern. But we did not realize the
extent of the damage. The number of city taprooms dwindled from 133 in
1975 to 109 we found open in 1988 and county taprooms, which numbered 238
in 1977 have now been reduced to just over 200," they reported at the
Hotel Bars and Other Treats
Things havenít gotten better in the 13 years since. Fact is, after we
toured the Yuengling brewery in Pottsville, we headed for New Philadelphia
to check out the Shive Wheel. "A localsí place," Bryson said.
"The first time we walked in everybody turned and looked at us."
When we got there it was closed, not just for the day but apparently for
This happened again later in the day, when we stopped at the Windsor
Castle Hotel in Windsor Castle. Suds and Dregs gave this place 5 Beers
(their top rating) and wrote that they fell in love with "Miss
Windsor Castle." We hung out on the porch, we peeked into the
windows. It looked like it could still be operating but definitely not
These were minor setbacks. In New Philadelphia we walked across the
street from the Shive Wheel to a place called Malzooms. It had a horseshoe
bar with pennies embedded in the top, and it felt like we were drinking in
somebodyís house, probably because we were. You could walk right out the
sliding doors behind us and dive into their pool. The beers were served in
what some folks call schooners. We werenít sure if they held 8 ounces or
10, but we were sure that at 40 cents for a glass of Yuenglingís
Premium, they constituted a bargain.
We made it inside four hotel bars and each was a treat. The hotel
(Bryson points out that these are pronounced "HO-tel" and
usually have the same name as the town you are in) is a holdover from the
colonial and stagecoach days. What were once hotels and inns evolved into
hotel bars, although most ceased to offer lodging. Another hotel owner
once explained to us that something in the Pennsylvania liquor laws after
Prohibition encouraged bars to keep hotel as part of their name.
We ate lunch at the Kempton Hotel, passing on pickled quail eggs and
the pig-stomach stew but enjoying local produce cooked to order in the
kitchen. Potato dressing on the side was particularly impressive. The
Kempton was built in 1874 to house the workers building the Berks-Lehigh
railroad. The bar and back bar are impressive and we liked the Top Dawg
bowling game, but the real reason we were there is on the ceilings. A
mural with local history is painted on the ceiling of the bar, one with
American history is on the dining room ceiling, and the Life of Christ is
on the ceiling of the back banquet room.
At the Virginville Hotel (great carved back bar and really nice
butterfly lights), we resisted the temptation to buy a T-shirt, while at
the Bowers Hotel we admired the history. It was built in 1820 and run for
54 years by Calista "Sis" Mathias, when it attracted a
"drinking crowd." We were only a little sad that we couldnít
try the pickled Brussels sprouts that Suds and Dregs had written about.
Then there was the Stony Run Hotel. The beer menu was venturesome by
country hotel bar standards--Sam Adams Boston Lager in the bottle, Murphyís
and Guinness in cans. We stuck with Schmidtís, a long lost Pennsylvania
beer now contract brewed. A Stegmaier promotional bottle opener from the
1940s was used to open the bottles. The new owners found a box of these
when they bought the place in 1998, and they had the good sense to start
The Stony Run belongs on the National Register of Historic Places. In
1988, Suds and Dregs wrote, "Excuse us while we take you back a few
decades. Snyderís has been run by the same family for over 100 years.
The exterior features a horse rail, hug porch and wrought iron fence. The
pristine interior has a magnificent back bar, Art Deco front bar, brass
cash register, an exemplary stamped tin ceiling and artifacts galore. The
unheated menís room is still outside by the barn. If Snyderís doesnít
bring a nostalgic tear to your eye, youíre reading the wrong book."
It no longer belongs to the same family, and now thereís indoor
plumbing. But you can still visit the outhouse in back. That can be as
intoxicating as any beer you might order.
Itís easier to find places serving characterful beer than when Suds
and Dregs were on the prowl 25 years ago, but itís getting tougher to
find characterful places to enjoy that beer. Bryson devotes a short
chapter in his book to hotel bars and gives directions to some, but writes
that you donít have to stop with that list: "...you can try any
small town along the Appalachian front, and chances are youíll find a
hotel. Enjoy the thrill of discovery. Itís out there, waiting. Go and
Stan Hieronymus and Daria Labinsky are authors of The Beer Loverís
Guide to the USA (St. Martinís Griffin).
Pennsylvania Breweries, Lew Bryson (Stackpole Books)
If there were more books like Pennsylvania Breweries, we would
never have compiled The Beer Loverís Guide to the USA. That book
began as our personal list of beer places to look for while traveling
because there werenít up-to-date guides to both brewpubs and bars for
Although the first edition of Pennsylvania Breweries was still
the best state or regional guide out there, the release of the
second edition last fall guaranteed that it remains at the top. The
new version adds information about breweries that opened since the first
edition, updates details about operating breweries, lists even more spots
in the good beer sites sections, and has a list of breweries and brewpubs
that have closed.
The latter is important for those who donít find, for instance,
Pretzel City Brewing of Reading in the book, arenít sure why, and drive
all over Reading looking for it. It is far easier to flip to page 225 and
find it listed under "The Boneyard."
As the title would indicate, the focus of the book is on breweries and
brewpubs. Youíll find a page or two of history and description, then
another page of basics--everything from the size of the brew house and the
names of the brewers to a list of regular beers and Brysonís
recommendations. All the essentials are here--a map, hours of operation,
parking information, etc.--but the extras help set the book apart.
The list of nearby attractions, particularly nice for those travelers
not totally focused on beer, is never just an afterthought. For instance,
in writing about whatís in the area near Buckingham Mountain Brewing Co.
in Lahaska, Bryson lists two different shopping areas, a flea market, a
vineyard, a carousel museum, a community theater, a driving tour and
Sesame Place, a theme park.
One of our favorite parts of the book, not surprisingly, is the
list of other good beer sites in the area surrounding each brewery. Before
Pennsylvania Breweries was published, Brysonís recommendations in
print and online helped us find gems such as Alexanderís in New
Jerusalem and The Grey Lodge Pub in Philadelphia. He has added to the
lists in this edition, including spots new to us, ones that we will surely
visit in future trips to Pennsylvania.
Of course, we wish that these places received even more attention.
While most of the good beer spots in the state are included somewhere in
the book, you canít just flip to Allentown and find names, addresses,
phone numbers and descriptions. Instead, the bars and restaurants are
listed in a paragraph at the end of the chapter on Old Lehigh Brewing Co.
Weíre grateful that the information is even available but can testify
that Bryson knows a lot more about these watering holes than is here.
Our suggestion is that a publisher commission him to do a book about just
those places. We promise to buy a copy.
copyright 1996-2003 Chautauqua Inc.