Best known for its history as a steel town, Bethlehem Pennsylvania has a number of gifts for the traveler searching for authentic Americana. A few of the buildings on the vast expanse of the grounds of the Bethlehem Steel plant have been preserved as giant iconic sculptures of steel as a backdrop for a plaza and event space called SteelStacks. The space consists of several outlets for information and entertainment including, the ArtsQuest Center for films, shopping, snacks, the Air Products Town Square with its performance stage for free programming year round, the outdoor space of the PNC Plaza and the Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks amphitheater for all types of music.
And while at SteelStacks it would be hard to miss the 40 foot tall glass sculpture in the spiral staircase produced by ArtsQuest’s Hot Glass Studio (The Banana Factory). The studio is open for public viewing as the craftspersons blow and manipulates hot glass into a variety of shapes. The process is hypnotic as the glass team seems to do an impromptu dance as they assist the main glass blower. Samples of their work are on display and perhaps can be purchased. The free gift of observing the glass blowing experience is another valued gift of Bethlehem.
While in Bethlehem you must visit the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem; whether it’s for gaming, a gourmet meal with exceptional service at Emeril’s Chop house, or just marvel at the Steel plants transformation into a glamorous high end entertainment venue. My beverage and dining offerings were beyond my expectations. Additional food service is available at the Carnegie Deli, St James Gate Irish Pub and Carvery, The Market, Chopsticks or the Cobalt Buffet and Café. Of course the Sands offers an expansive hotel and even an upscale shopping mall with such stores as, Tommy Hilfiger, Izod, Ultra Diamonds, and Lenox to name a few.
For a more traditional dining experience, you can take in Fegley’s Brew Works located on Main Street where the beer makers craft is taken seriously. Not being a beer person I was pleased to learn of the different qualities and techniques that make up the brewers art from light ales to dark and tasty beers. Some beers are seasonal, as is their Pumpkin Ale, but others range from the award winning Fegley’s E.S.B., an amber light; to the dark Steelworkers Oatmeal Stout, which is a reply to Guinness and is described as “a meal in a glass.” In addition to their unique beers they offer a nice selection of wines from California, Argentina and Germany.
For a quiet and laid back evening, the Edge Restaurant fills the bill, with subdued lighting and white table cloth elegance. You are taken back to a fine dining experience unexpected in this rural Pennsylvania setting. My Sautéed Scottish Salmon with Fig Balsamic was surpassed by their special side dish of potatoes au gratin; a seemingly simple dish but which always gets rave reviews.
Of course the real charm of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is staying in downtown proper with its historic buildings dating back to 1700s and perusing the shops including the extensive Moravian book store with seems to go on forever. Being founded in 1745 it claims to be the World’s Oldest Book Store. I wonder what London would have to say about that. The Bethlehem hotel is a member of the National Trust Historic Hotels of America, but modern in comfort and amenities, in an upscale 1920’s atmosphere.
The hotel’s bar, the Tap Room, adjacent to the main lobby, proudly boasts photographs of the hotel’s past guests including, Thomas Edison, Amelia Earhart, Johnny Bench and Presidents Eisenhower, Clinton, Kennedy and Ford. For a step back in time make a visit to the 1758 Moravian Sun Inn , or you may reserve your space on an adventure in the afterlife with their paranormal experiences.
Also in the Lehigh valley are the towns of Nazareth with its Martin guitar factory (tours available) and Easton with the newly renovated State theater and center for the arts, with its constant line up of traveling entertainment. And, of course, one must visit the Crayola Factory for the kids, and the kid in all of us, to experience the versatility of this medium and observe the machines that make them. The gift shop next door has everything and more than any Crayola lover could hope for.
Before there was steel, the town’s religious founders pondered over a name for their new town, and feeling inspired, named it Bethlehem. Today it is known as the Christmas City complete with a shining star in the hills. The gifts of Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley can be enjoyed year round for a quaint historic American experience with a dash of dining, education and entertainment.
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