I'm in a rut - a bar rut.

In April, I moved into the heart of York. Now, Bistro 19 is across the street. Mudhook Brewing Co. is about 70 strides from my door. White Rose Bar and Grill, Maewyn's Irish Pub and Restaurant and the new Holy Hound Taproom are all less than two minutes away on foot. A handful of others lie just beyond that.

The food and drink options are plentiful. But I already frequented those places before I moved a few blocks closer.

They've become comfortably familiar - a great thing when meeting friends or grabbing a weekend pint. But as the purveyor of York County entertainment options and events, I was spending too much time in the same neighborhood.

So, earlier this month, I took a drive south on Friday night.

I've known about The Hodle - a staple for food and drinks in New Freedom - for years. It always sounded like an interesting spot, but I convinced myself that it was too far away. But the post-rush hour commute put me in front of the three-story brick structure on Front Street in less than 30 minutes.

The first thing I noticed was parking. Yes - real, actual parking options. The Hodle is near a park, which has several spaces patrons can pull into across the street. On-street parking is also plentiful.

What a difference from York, where I sometimes spend minutes circling the block in the CORE zone even though I have a parking pass.

The crack of cue balls welcomed me into the front room, which resembled a cozy residential parlor, outfitted with pool tables and photos from yesteryear.


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The bar was in the back section. NASCAR was on TV. Classic rock blared from the sound system.

Then, I noticed a familiar smell - cigarette smoke. In York, it's now a foreign substance in nightlife spots. But, at The Hodle, patrons still light up with enough frequency that there are ashtrays every few feet and snarky butt-disposal reminders printed on the walls.

As a non-smoker, I knew I would smell like The Hodle later. But for the night, I was transported back to pre-smoking-ban days.

Dave Fitzpatrick lines up his shot as Dawn Hof watches during a night out at The Hodle in New Freedom.
Dave Fitzpatrick lines up his shot as Dawn Hof watches during a night out at The Hodle in New Freedom. (FLIPSIDE - CHRIS DUNN)

Lisa Dezanger relished the chance to smoke while she sipped a Blue Moon She needed a drink, she said, since she had to put her dog down earlier in the day. But it was time, she added, of her beloved bichon.

For Dezanger and her fiance, Steve, who live about seven miles south - across the Maryland border, The Hodle is one of the closest places to grab a beer. Since their May proposal, they have been busy combining households and looking forward to their wedding on 10/11/12. Dezanger even gave me - a wedding planning novice - some pointers.

In my years talking to people at bars, that was a first. I was touched. But I also needed some fresh air, so I headed for the outdoor patio, which was strung with white twinkle lights and had ample seating.

When I ventured back inside, owner Denis Bazuine was waiting for me in a light colored shirt with a Hodle logo. He's a Maryland transplant who has been in the entertainment business for 30 years. On April 10, he celebrated his 12th year at The Hodle.

The building dates to 1883, when it served as a hotel. It's been operating since that time and eventually morphed into a bar.

In the old days, it was The Colonial Hotel and Tavern. Technically, that's still its corporate name, Bazuine said. "Hodle" was how locals pronounced "hotel," and the name stuck.

After extensive renovations when he took over, Bazuine was able to carefully blend the old with the new. Original tin ceiling, moldings and brickwork are intact. The wood-paneled bar - a more recent addition - was inspired by one of Bazuine's favorite Maryland bars.

There is still work to do. Bazuine and I ducked under yellow caution tape to climb the stairs to the second level. It's completely gutted. Bazuine said he plans to add another lounge-type area in the space. He's converted the third floor into his living quarters.

He's surrounded himself with family. His teenage sons and his parents, who live two blocks away, pitch in. His brother works the kitchen. He's proud to know most of the patrons by name and preferred drink.

People are also loyal to The Hodle's weekly food specials, he said, which include $1.50 burgers and $1 crabs.

Others come for live music. About eight years ago, Bazuine started open mike nights and live weekend entertainment.

Back downstairs at the bar, Brian Shaffer - facilities director at the Gettysburg Foundation by day, DJ Breeze-Mon by night - . was at The Hodle to see reggae act B-Tropical. It's where he saw the group the first time. He was so impressed that he's booked them for many parties, events and fundraisers. When the band started to play around 10 p.m., the bar was packed.

I never guessed a night at The Hodle would include a history lesson, wedding advice and tropical tunes. It won't become my new hangout spot, but I'll return. And now that I'm out of my rut, I'm eager to explore more bars off the beaten path.

PopEye is a bi-weekly column focusing on the ever-changing landscape of popular culture. To reach writer Erin McCracken, call 771-2051 or send an email to emccracken@ydr.com.

The Hodle

The bar is at 106 N. Front St., New Freedom. It opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday and noon Wednesday through Sunday. It's closed Monday. The menu features wings, burgers and crabs. It serves several types of draft beer and mixed drinks. For details, call 717-235-2221.

Tavern Tour

FlipSide is taking its PopEye column on the road to explore taverns around York County. In this ongoing series, we'll give readers a peek inside small-town bars and out-of-the-way watering holes. At each stop, we'll learn about local history and share stories about the people at and behind the bar. Want to suggest a Tavern Tour stop or story? Email emccracken@ydr.com.