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Friday, October 22, 2010

The Bookstore: I can't shut up

I'm going to miss the big grand opening event at Fork and Barrel tonight -- I'm headed to Boston for Parents' Weekend -- but it brings to mind the owners' other place, The Bookstore speakeasy in Bethlehem, which I visited back in August. I've been wanting to tell you about it -- I've been telling everyone else about it in person, I mean...I can't shut up about the place. Here's why.

I was leaving the (I gotta say it) Bourbon, Beer and Bryson Festival at Allentown Brew Works, and I'd been too busy to get a drink -- it's a tough life -- so I thought, hey, I've been meaning to check out that Bookstore speakeasy place; why not stop in? I tooled on over to Bethlehem, and dropped down onto 3rd Street, parked on 4th and cut back to Adams on foot. It is, to say the least, unpromising, a totally blank streetblock, except for a hand-done sandwich sign on the sidewalk with the Bookstore's specials. Sandwich sign? For a speakeasy?

Yeah, that was one of the things I liked about the Bookstore. They do the speakeasy thing, atmosphere, cocktails, menu, period dress, and -- wait, I'll get to the other thing, which is awesome -- but they aren't stupidly precious about it, no "you have to know someone to get in" and "we're not really here" crap like you'll see in the big city. It's more about the experience once you're inside, not the view (or lack thereof) from outside.

The doorway was a few steps down, just a blank door with "The Bookstore" on the lintel. Go in, and there are a few display counters with books, a podium, and black curtains. And an attractive young woman in 1920s dress at the podium, who will either let you in or not, depending on whether there is space. It was just me, and there were seats at the bar, so she took me right in. And that's when The Bookstore dropped my jaw.

First, before she even opened the curtain, the music was amazing. Drew Nugent and The Midnight Society  were playing their hot 20s jazz: piano, sax, trumpet, tuba, banjo, and Drew singing -- no mike, a megaphone -- and it made it so damned real right from the start. They're not there every week, but when they are... wow.

Then she opened the curtain, and that other thing I mentioned hit me: fire. There are maybe four electric lights in the whole place, and they're all for the bartenders and musicians. The rest of the light in the place comes from candles and oil lamps, which was magical. And a bit scary at first -- I'm thinking, booze and oil lamps? We're all gonna die! -- until I saw that the oil lamps were new, and had thick plastic oil reservoirs. But it was so exciting, and gorgeous, and atmospheric. The band was hot, the ceiling was low, and the vibe was electric.

I sat at the bar. There's a great beer selection -- a bit of a surprise, I figured it was all-cocktail -- but I decided to get a cocktail, because the liquor selection was excellent, the bartenders were intense, and the ice was incredible. Long drinks -- collinses and such -- got long cylinders of ice, cocktails being shaken got hand-cracked ice, so cold that a fresh block that came out frosted over immediately when they unwrapped it. I ordered a Sazerac, and it was beautiful.

Time to enjoy. Great drink. Hot jazz; which is really the first time I understood that term. This was hot jazz, musicians pushing it, pounding it, transported by the joy of their music. The people in the bar were all enjoying themselves: foodies, cocktail junkies, jazz lovers.

I thought I'd push it a bit. I looked up a cocktail recipe on my iPhone, and asked the bartender if he could make me one. He looked, smiled, and started mixing. Okay, it's an easy one: the Frisco, bourbon and Benedictine, but he took it in stride and made it happen. Beautifully stirred, which is an underrated cocktail skill, IMO.

I didn't eat -- already ate at the Brew Works -- so I can't speak to that. But this was the best bar experience I've had in months, and I cannot wait to go back. The Bookstore is one cool place; get to Bethlehem and check it out.


Glenn said...

Check out their other spots of you haven't already:

Tap & Table...awesome beer bar right down the road from The Farmhouse

Atlantic Jazzyard...not quite speakeasy but very cool. Operates during the summer in Rehoboth (maybe on your way to DFH?) and has an awesome courtyard under the stars

and Bahnhoff near the old train deport in Bethlehem should be opening quite soon.

All excellent places and one of the owners/operations dude Matt Scheller does a great job with them.

Dan Bengel said...

Sorry kids, Jazzyard is closed and the building is up for sale.