LANCASTER, Pa., January 13, 2012 — When most people conjure Lancaster, Pennsylvania, they think Amish farms. While there are still plenty of Amish in and around Lancaster, the area is a rich tapestry that in recent years has become increasingly diverse.
Not only is there a thriving arts scene and great restaurants, but the city of Lancaster also happens to have some of the most progressive repurposing of historic buildings in the country.
While the surrounding villages, like Intercourse and Bird-in-Hand, remain old favorites, the city of Lancaster has captured a new buzz. Here are a few reasons why:
#1. Emerging Arts Scene
Over the past decade, artists have discovered the city of Lancaster and it has become a hotbed of creative pursuits. With so many former factories and warehouses, artists have found refuge for a fraction of what they would have to spend in New York, Washington, or nearby Philadelphia.
The result of this influx of creative talent is a great boon to the city, which now has over 125 arts-related venues. Visitors can plan an entire weekend around gallery visits alone.
An area of downtown known as Gallery Row has dozens of galleries, studios and small arts-related boutiques that sell handmade jewelry, baskets and pottery.
Galleries are also scattered throughout the city, like near historic Penn Square, where Strawberry & Co. has an eclectic mix of art work and paper mache figures and South of King Street, which is anchored by Kevin Lehman’s Pottery, an artists’ collective housed in an old ironworks factory.
In spring (May 5 and 6) and fall (October 6 and 7), artists throw open the doors of their studios and galleries for the Lancaster ArtWalk. Visitors can do a citywide self-guided tour and meet with artists and take arts-related seminars.
#2. Unusual Museums
Lancaster has a bevy of unusual and visit-worthy museums.
For instance,the Demuth Museum, is the home of modernist painter Charles Demuth whose technique called Precisionism was embraced by the avant-garde of the 1920s.
The North Museum of Natural History & Science puts a hands-on spin on natural history with live animal exhibits, a forensic science mystery game for visitors and performances like magic shows.
Considered by many scholars as the best of its kind, the Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum housed in a Beaux Arts bank building, has an impressive display of historic quilts, many indigenous to the Lancaster region. Note: This museum is open by appointment only.
#3. Central Market
Thanks to the country’s oldest continually operating farmer’s market, there’s no need to leave the city to get Lancaster farm fresh produce, meats, cheeses and flowers. Central Market, which is housed in a 120-year-old brick building, also has stalls serving ready-to-eat regional specialties, like scrapple and bread-and butter pickles.
Beer lovers won’t have any trouble quaffing their favorites at one –or more—of the many pubs in the city.
Quips Pub, an English-style pub with 16 draft beers, features a menu that has Brit- favorites like bangers and mash and fish and chips.
Annie Bailey’s is Quips’ Irish counterpart. Sit by the fireplace or take your place astride a bar stool at the hand-carved wood bar. Order a Guinness on tap and tuck into a traditional shepherd’s pie.
The Lancaster Brewing Company makes it own beer and serves it on tap at its restaurant. Try the locally inspired Amish Four Grain or the Rumspringa spiked with honey. Some dishes on the menu incorporate the brewery’s own beer for flavor, like the bratwurst poached in pilsner and the milk stout soaked beef skewers
Over the past several years, chefs have been flocking to the city. Because of this, Lancaster has a burgeoning restaurant scene with devoted foodies. Many restaurants put a strong emphasis on sourcing local products for their menu. Here are few of the best:
The cool, modern space at Penn Square Grille is perfectly suited to the hip vibe that’s defining the new Lancaster. A big draw is its grill, which turns out a variety of high quality, locally raised meats. Plus, the menu has interesting sides, like stewed lentils with fennel and tomato.
POUR is the newest addition to Lancaster’s localvore scene. Nestled among the art galleries along Gallery Row, it draws a big after work crowd thanks to its emphasis on tapas plates prepared with locally sourced meats and cheeses. Plus, the extensive wine list is affordable with glasses starting at $8.
John J. Jefferies not only relies on surrounding farms to develop its menu, but also on ingredients that are organic and in season. The winter menu features bison, black bean and white bean chili with crème fraîche and cave aged cheddar pond raised duck breast with caramelized apple, crispy house cured pancetta risotto and pomegranate/ginger relish.
#6. Cool new hotels
The Cork Factory Hotel is housed in a converted cork factory in a cutting edge corner of Lancaster. Its 77 rooms feature brick walls and minimalist design. This boutique hotel has its own restaurant, which puts new spins on traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dishes.
Lady Gaga chose the Lancaster Arts Hotel when she was in town recently. Housed in a former 19th century tobacco warehouse, the walls in this edgy boutique hotel double as gallery space. Large, loft-like rooms showcase the building architecture with rough-hewn pillars and exposed beams. Every room comes with its own sketchpad for those inspired by the surroundings. Guests’ artwork—including a flower drawn by Tony Bennett when he stayed at the hotel—is captured in an album at the front desk.
An inveterate traveler, Andrea Poe writes frequently about travel for national and international publications. You can email Andrea at andcpoe at gmail dot com or follow her travel notes as andpoe on Twitter. She is also editor of Food & Travel at The Washington Times Communities.
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