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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Backyard Ale House in Scranton (and a couple more bars for fun)

I was up in the Poconos with the family last week, resting and relaxing (and having a great time riding the D&H rail trail: I rode every day of the vacation but Thursday, when it poured rain). Wednesday it got hot, and I decided that there were things I'd rather do in the afternoon than go to bars. Our family friend, John Lelak, went along with me in the Saab (I don't think I mentioned that: we bought a 1984 Saab 900 (28,000 original miles!) for the kids, which became our second car when Thomas had an accident in the Passat in late June). We went back into the hills, a mile up a dirt road, to Chet's Place.

Chet's Place is a sprawling complex of entertainment. Besides the bar, there's a dance floor, a softball diamond (for the bar's team, still alive in the playoffs), volleyball courts by the the sign said, "Welcome to Chetsville." We went in, sat at the bar, and ordered draft Yuenglings. I'm not sure what we did get, but it wasn't Lager: maltier, with a strong note of caramel. Not unpleasant at all, but not Yuengling Lager. I ordered a bottle of Lager to be sure, and clearly got a different beer. Honey Brown, maybe? Dunno. But things got real pleasant when the fellow down the bar asked, "Are you the guys who came in the old Saab? That thing is cherry, real nice. What is that, an '84?" Wow, good guess! So we talked cars for a while, had a good time, and then we headed out.

We drove down into Dickson City. I got a swimsuit (apparently I packed all mine away!), a gaudy pink flowery surf model (no, there are no pictures) that was on close-out for $3.75, and then we hit a Starbuck's where I got caught up on e-mail using their WiFi (and got caught up on sleep by abusing their caffeine). After that, it was into Scranton, where we dropped anchor outside the Backyard Ale House, right across the street from the county courthouse in the middle of town.

We thought we were alone in the place; the front barroom, cool and clean, was empty except for a bartender. John and I sat down and I started looking at taphandles, then asked her for a list. As she handed it to me, she started asking me what beer I liked. "I like all kinds," I said, "I just want to see what you have." She kept after me, making suggestions (most of them, like the ones of the people who would follow her, were IPAs or double IPAs). I wanted something light -- I was driving -- refreshing -- it really was hot -- and not too outrageous -- John's pretty new to craft beer. Ha! "Two Palms," I said. The keg blew during the first pour. Crap, back to thinking! By this time, we had three other people behind the bar trying to help out. I made it quick: Franziskaners! Keg was just put on, and all she got was foam.

I was already looking at the bottles by now, and got John a Newcastle (which he really enjoyed), and a can of Mama's Little Yella Pils for myself. Perfect. Then we strolled out back, and that was great! Open patio, felt more like the shore than downtown Scranton. We sat at the very nice outdoor bar, along with a bunch of business casual-types from across the street, and relaxed. When it was time for my next beer, I decided to keep the can theme going with something I hadn't had a chance to try yet: 21st Amendment's Back in Black dark IPA. Unfortunately, I think I got an off can; there was a sourness to it that went beyond huskiness. The bartender agreed. (I do not mean to sound critical of BYAH here; we liked the place, they just had a bad run of luck on the beers I happened to choose, and their instincts were right on the continued trying to find me a beer; I'm not a normal customer!) I left the remainder, and we headed to our next stop, an old hotel bar I had once spotted quite by chance on a drive through Scranton, and had been hankering to try out: the Hotel Sun.

Before we got there, though, I spotted the returned Coney Island of Scranton! I pulled the Saab in under the railroad bridge, and dragged John into the place. The Coney Island burned in April, 2008 (a still unsolved arson, sad to say), but they've recently re-opened, with a larger kitchen, but painstakingly restored black-and-white tile floor and wooden booths. And the Texas Hot sauce (greek sauce, 'chili,' coney island sauce) was superb on the custom-made split, short wieners. I love it when a place is good. I was wrecking my diet this week (I'd wind up gaining back a little, despite all the biking), but it was worth it.

The Hotel Sun...I don't know why I like places like this. Smokey, run-down, foul-mouthed patrons, crap booze selection (but almost always clean, fresh draft Yuengling); it could be any of a number of hotel bars I've been to in PA. But it's so solid, so real, so authentic, I just can't help myself. This is, as my friends would say, a Hunt bar, a place we can walk into and feel comfortable, a place where you could get a shot of spearmint schnapps and not worry about what your cocktailian friends might think (er, if you wanted to; I didn't actually, though I almost got Rock n Rye). We had one, and headed home.

Postscriptually...we all went out to Arcaro & Genell's in Old Forge for dinner on Saturday night (at the advice of Scranton native and good friend Rich Pawlak). We got the famous Old Forge pizza (plain red and broccoli white, again on Rich's recommendation), and it was delish. We also split two pitchers of house Chianti, which was tasty and went great with this classic red-gravy Italian menu. Definitely recommended if you're in the area (don't even ask about the beer...); as Pawlak said, "My mom's pick every time." Smart woman.


Anonymous said...

only been to downtown scranton once but after drinking at coopers why go anywhere else.

Lew Bryson said...

Variety? You don't like fish?

Doesn't mean Cooper's is bad, but there's a reason there are more than five good bars in Philly, f'rinstance.

Anonymous said...

One reason to go someplace other than Cooper's is that Cooper's and Backyard stock different beers. Furthermore, Cooper's has been getting stagnant for awhile, same draft selections over and over. BYAH doesn't have a lot of beer expertise behind the bar but they are trying. Cooper's seems to be resting on their reputation.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the old NEPA trick of putting something similar, yet most likely cheaper, on tap and pawning it off as a brand name. Seen it done at a corner bar with Keystone Light for Coors Light. Sorry that happened to you, Lew.

JohnM. said...

"Seen it done at a corner bar with Keystone Light for Coors Light."

Not just NEPA, I've seen it done all over. Fact is, why not? (well, aside from the fact it's illegal and just plain wrong).

Can you tell the difference between Coors light and Keystone light? I freely admit I can't. One more excellent reason not to order macro swill, especially in a bar you're not familiar with (and where the staff don't know you).

Syllogism said...

I am curious what is driving the variety of beers being offered? Is it that bar owners have wised up that they can make more per pint from craft brews? Is it from customers coming in and DEMANDING variety? Or is it what I suspect is the hidden power of driving variety, beer distributors. Curious if you have any insight Lew.



Anonymous said...

hey lou like i said was only there one night and the bartender didnt know what she was doing and was giving us bombers of stone instead of the 12 0z for 3 all the other bars i saw had big coors light banners out. by the way i only knew about coopers because of your book pennsylvania breweries.

Lew Bryson said...

Hey, no sweat, whatever. I like a variety of bars for different times and moods, that's all.

Chris, if distributors are driving it, that's an interesting switch. As late as five years ago, most wholesalers had to be dragged to variety. It's a combination of those factors and others.

JohnM. said...

Chris. Not that I'm an expert, but obtaining a better variety of beer down here in Baltimore is something that is of particular interest to me (the last several years have been terrific in that regard BTW, and the selection just gets better and better all the time). It's a topic that comes up rather frequently; one I discuss on a semi regular basis with Casey over at Max's.

According to him, it's a struggle getting the wholesalers/distributors in the state to try to bring in new product, as most just aren't "into it." The reaction down here seems to be very much along the lines of "what wrong with the beer we already haf?" Fortunately, Max's has enough buying power to make it worthwhile for most distributors to make the effort (and it doesn't hurt that we're increasingly seeing more and better beer bars with an interest in new product as well), but by all accounts it remains a struggle.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I agree with Lew, though given the generally outstanding quality of what you have up in the Philly area, I can see where you might think this is distributor driven (Casey always speaks with considerable envy when mentioning Bella Vista, Origlio and Shangy's).

Just my two cents... I think it's easy to have one's perception skewed by what you all have in Philly/SEPA. By all accounts you guys are rather blessed... my understanding is that the variety you all generaly take for granted is, ahem, rather atypical nationally.

Brad said...

Aw man! You were in my neck of the woods! Wish I ran into you!

HarpoonPhilly said...

How good is Coney Island Texas Lunch!! I can't leave Scranton without 3 weiners a cheeseburger, fries and a root beer. I actually eat it in my car - usually parked under the bridge.
BYAH is great. The back patio is awesome and they do a lot of brewery nights with flights. Very well attended events.
Looks like I need to set up a meeting with Ace Bev ASAP - I need some dogs.