WHY: Though more and more cities are saving important buildings from the wrecking ball, the award for the most repurposed downtown goes to that bastion of Amish Culture, Lancaster, PA. Most tourists visit this region for a glimpse of the austere, electricity-shunning PA Dutch, but there is a new reason to make the trip out to the Pennsylvania countryside, and that’s for the burgeoning arts (both fine and performing) scene. A SCENE? An ART’S SCENE in the middle of Yoder’s Meats-land with the mores of Brooklyn, NY? Yep. There are over 150 art galleries and two performing arts centers along with a growing collection of gourmand-approved restaurants, wine bars and SoHo-style boutiques. Of course you can come back and do the Amish Country thing, but this Getaway is all about Arts, Crafts and Theater.
Things To Do In Lancaster, PA
DO: If you arrive on Tuesday, Friday or Saturday bring a cooler, and tote it to the country’s oldest continuously operating public market, Central Market, “where city and country have come to meet” for more than 200 years. Locals are proud of this mainstay (Lancaster was an inland “market town” dating back to 1730), and you might very well hear a neighbor call out, “will I see you at market?” on non-market days. With sixty-two separate vendors (some operating as family enterprises for over 100 years), you can find an abundance of ethnic foods here, too. Just don’t forget to say “hi” to Vince at Sweethearts Celery. He sells celery and nothing but celery – the best, of course.
VISIT: The Pennsylvania College of Arts and Design, a leader in the installation of public art, has been a downtown anchor for thirty years, bringing in free speakers, international artists and signature events. At the very least, pop in to peruse the latest exhibition in the Main Gallery, as exhibitions change periodically.
DO: See A Show. This city of 60,000, amazingly, has two live theaters. Built in 1842, and renovated in the 1870’s after Sarah Bernhardt declared it “the worst place to perform,” The Fulton Theater (named for Lancaster-born Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat), became one of the best places to perform, hosting the likes of Mark Twain, Louis Armstrong and Al Jolson. Renovated again in the mid 1990’s, The Fulton Theater now shows innovative, engaging original stage productions.
DO: Ware Center. Scope out the events at the Millersville University’s Philip Johnson-designed Ware Center; a soaring space made up of auditorium (with acoustics so perfect, you can hear a pin drop on stage), galleries, event spaces and classrooms. There’s something for everyone nearly every night; dance, lectures, art films and a weekly Jazz Cabaret (the best bargain in town; $15 ticket includes a glass of wine) in a windows-to-the-city room where you can watch the town light up as the sun goes down.
GO – Best Time To Come: Arrive on the First Friday of any month and the City of Lancaster turns into “Mardi Gras.” Over a hundred shops and galleries participate with music, wine and special events. The THIRD Friday of each month brings Music Friday, which turns all of downtown into an outdoor concert .Even if you can’t be here First Friday, come any other time, unplug from your IPad and “StumbleUpon” furniture, art and jewelry boutiques in real life.
SHOP: Tellus360 in a multi-level warehouse space, sells repurposed handcrafted tables, beds and chairs.
SHOP: Mio Studio. Mai Muniz and Erica Miller design and sell sculptural 100% recycled wood and sterling jewelry in many high-end shops across the country, but their necklaces, bracelets and earrings are less expensive at their own store on Prince St.
SHOP: 300 Block of Queen St. Your wampum goes a lot further in Lancaster and doubly so in the funkier regions of Queen St. (300’s block). Find vintage clothing, oddities and quirky stuff at Mommalicious, which shares space with My Aunt Debbie. Just the names themselves should entice. Don’t miss Building Character, a vast co-op arts mall specializing in architectural salvage.
Where To Eat In Lancaster, PA
SNACK: Marcy Poorman’s Sticky Buns. Though not downtown, you’ve got one reason to stop at the PA Dutch Visitor’s Center on Route 30, and it’s not for maps. Order one addictive Sticky Bun from Marcy Poorman’s truck next door, and you will either bless me or curse me. Warm from the oven, Marcy’s scrumptious treats put those mall-franchise cinnamon buns to shame.
EAT: Carr’s Restaurant. Sip local wine on street level at Tim Carr’s outrageously festooned wine-bar, Crush, then head downstairs to the more sedate, candle-lit dining room. There’s Meatloaf ($14), Pork and Sauerkraut ($16) and Corn and Oyster Pie ($16) on the menu, but the Ultimate London Broil ($29); slices of expertly seasoned meat au ju blanketing hand-made spaetzle, just-picked spinach and ask-for-seconds-stewed tomatoes is quite possibly the most satisfying and tasty dish this side of the Culinary Institute of America (where Carr was trained). Finish with the signature Milk Chocolate Crème Brulee – obscenely delicious.
DRINK: Annie Bailey’s. Got a hankering for Bangers and Mash or an on-draft pint? Try this authentically dark and woody two-floor Irish Pub– a popular hangout for locals and tourists.
Where To Stay In Lancaster, PA
STAY: Cork Factory Hotel @ Urban Place. This 77-room boutique was built brick by handmade brick in 1865 as Lancaster Cork Works (purchased by Armstrong in 1895), for the purpose of pressing cork into disks that were then inserted into bottle caps. The hotel is a study in repurposing; utilizing wood, stone and brick from the original buildings. It’s not difficult to imagine foremen clumping up and down the main staircase making sure that the cork-presses were working efficiently, though it might be a stretch to conceive of horses stabled where the ballroom now stands.
The bar top, tables and chairs in in-house restaurant Cork and Cap were all made from salvaged wood found on-site. Ask for a high-ceiling suite on the 4th floor where you’ll be spared noise from upstairs neighbors. Guestrooms exude raw charm – you are, after all, sleeping in a former factory building. Exterior walls are original uneven handmade brick; warps, pits, and all. Ceilings feature exposed pipes and unadulterated planks of wood. Beds are firmly comfy, with herringbone-woven leather headboards and white fitted comforters. With just a few pieces of furniture, designers went for “less is more,” though the imperfections in the brick walls can be mesmerizing. In the bathroom, stone tile, granite sink and glass shower bathrooms meet luxury boutique standards. Rooms are $119 to $219 per night and include complimentary continental breakfast, free parking and free wi-fi.
STAY: Lancaster Arts Hotel. You can also stay in Tobacco-Warehouse luxury at the 63-room Lancaster Arts Hotel which features the work of dozens of PA artists in its lobby, suites and rooms. ($180-$360).