Lancaster County, PA
Amish country is cooler than you think-and there's shoofly pie!
Thu May 24 2007
So get this: Pennsylvania Dutch Country isn’t all about the Amish. There are parts that are pretty damn cool—and not just for fans of homemade cheese and horse-drawn carriages (though they have their invaluable places here). The spirited city of Lancaster, which sits nestled among checkered plots of farmland just 80 miles west of Philadelphia, is the best bet for lending a modicum of hipness to your journey.
Lancaster Arts Hotel (300 Harrisburg Ave, 866-720-2787; from $169), an honest-to-goodness boutique property—housed in a brick tobacco warehouse built in 1881—opened just seven months ago. So the interiors, from the low-lit, sculpture-filled lobby to the clever and cozy rooms (which feature iPod docking stations, flat-screen TVs and wonderfully firm beds), are strictly modern. A sleek bar and cocktail lounge offers dry martinis and a selection of on-tap local microbrews.
Of course, there’s more to the city than the hotel scene, and a recent balmy evening had two usually opposing forces—baseball and art—both on grand display. Just across the road, Clipper Magazine Stadium (650 N Prince St, 717-509-4487) hosted the season opener for the Barnstormers, the local Atlantic League team, which ended with a grandly victorious 20-minute-long fireworks display.
A peaceful stroll downtown, meanwhile, led to the monthly Prince Street gallery hop, First Friday (lancasterarts.com), which attracted all sorts of art aficionados and social butterflies—clumps of teenagers, families with small children, aging hippie types, urban-cool couples both straight and gay, all with plastic wine cups in hand. Creations ranged from the colorfully swirling oil paintings at Isadore Gallery (228 N Prince St, 717-299-0127) to the edgy multimedia student works at Pennsylvania College of Art & Design (204 N Prince St, 717-396-7833) and the mod furniture, Kidrobot toy collectibles and whimsical paintings of Metropolis (154 N Prince St, 717-572-9961). When the galleries and shops close, most by 8 or 9pm, settle into one of a handful of tasty eateries, like the tiny Effie Ophelia (230 N Prince St, 717-397-6863), a new BYOB bistro, or head back to the hotel’s adjoining restaurant, John J. Jeffries (717-431-3307), for a seasonally changing menu composed of local organic meats, cheeses and produce (the salad of microgreens, asparagus and pokeweed, a regional pink-hued delicacy, gives your tongue a happy tingle). For a dose of nightlife, head back out for a few pints of Amish Four Grain at the cavernous Lancaster Brewing Company (302 N Plum St, 717-391-6258), or catch area bands and DJs at Chameleon Club (233 N Water St, 717-299-9684).
You’ll find plenty more treats when the sun rises at Lancaster Central Market (William Henry Pl, 717-291-4739; open Tue, Fri, Sat), where farmers and craftspeople hawk everything from homemade bread and whoopie pies to goat cheese and just-picked vegetables, alongside Amish quilts and toys. Before driving out of town, be sure to duck into the tiny Heritage Center Museum (5 W King St, 717-299-6440) for a good overview of Amish culture, and cruise up and down the streets to admire the mint-condition brick row houses that give the city its warm, sepia-toned hue.
Out in the country and just 15 miles west, a visit to Wrightsville’s Moondancer Vineyard and Winery (1282 Klines Run Rd, 717-252-9463), a peaceful spot perched high above the wide Susquehanna River, is a welcome surprise—especially if you catch the live jazz it offers on Saturday afternoons at 2pm.
Finally, dive headlong into serious Amish country by traveling through towns with titter-inspiring names like Intercourse and Bird-in-Hand. You’ll quickly realize that the Amish and Mennonite people (who differ slightly in their views and customs) have become the type of attraction that brings endless busloads of consumer-happy, fanny-pack--sporting tourists. It’s depressing. It’s ironic. But there is a reason to check it all out: the back roads. Arm yourself with a good map and pick a random course, avoiding the overly--trafficked Routes 30 and 340 at all costs. You’ll catch priceless glimpses of the “plain people,” as they’re called, riding in various styles of horse and buggy, plowing fields with engineless machinery, selling eggs or shoofly pie (which tastes like pecan pie minus the pecans) at roadside stands—in other words, just living their lives. It’s like driving through a time warp, and it’s calming and wild all at once.
Two nights, two people
Car rental $250
(with gas and tolls)
+ Meals 111
Take the NJ Turnpike south to PA Turnpike west. At exit 54A, merge onto US-222 south toward Lancaster.
Travel time 3hrs