Small town spotlight: Be charmed by New Hope
How to best describe New Hope, PA?
It’s a bit like a lower Manhattan flashback, a neighborhood that’s home to artists and crafters, old hippies and nouveau hipsters. It’s the funky whatnot shops of Philly’s South Street alongside the upscale clothing boutiques of the Hamptons. It’s independent coffee shops and bookstores wedged against a shiny new Starbucks, squeezed next to 100-year-old buildings housing European-style restaurants and small-plate whiskey bars.
It’s theater. It’s live music. It’s a weeklong Pride celebration in May.
To the east, the wide Delaware River presents the perfect vista for outdoor dining, and the Delaware Canal intersects the town with surprise vignettes of water birds fishing beneath leafy overhangs.
Oh yeah…and there are antiques shops. Loads of antique shops.
How to get there, when to go
First things first: New Hope is a very worthwhile day trip, but there’s no direct route from central Pennsylvania. You can pay to take the PA Turnpike and then wind along lots of secondary roads. Or, you can battle the truck traffic on I-78 — and then wind along a lot of secondary roads. No matter which route you take, leave early and the door-to-door travel will clock in around two hours.
New Hope has both street parking and some municipal parking lots. Bring quarters for meters.
VISIT: newhopeborough.org for a parking guide.
Weekends in New Hope will generally be crowded. Weekdays are less crowded, but check restaurant and shop schedules — some have limited hours earlier in the week.
There’s always something to do — theater, live music, shopping and more. Weekend and week-long festivals abound throughout the year, both within New Hope and in greater Bucks County. Upcoming events include:
Full disclosure: I cheated on my day trip and stayed the night before with my cousin in Doylestown. She’s not on Airbnb yet, but New Hope offers plenty of overnight options, from national hotel chains to oh-so-quaint-and-romantic bed and breakfasts.
What to do? Shop, of course!
New Hope is not the mall. I didn’t see a Gap or an FYE or a Yankee Candle.
Instead, New Hope’s blocks of storefronts are home to independent boutiques, galleries and restaurants — some proprietors, the new folks who continually help reinvent the town; others, the longtime stalwarts who maintain the connecting links to New Hope’s fusion of hip and history.
The buildings are old. The stores are “cozy.” The shopkeepers are attentive.
Small business is personal. In every shop, the staff — who were often the owners, or who were related to the owners, or who just had dinner with the owners — were knowledgeable about their goods, from where each item originated and how it was made, to why each item was hand-picked to represent their specialty.
In God Save the Kweens, a floor-to-ceiling riot of punk rock memorabilia, owner Meshelle Kimbel is choosy about her stock.
“All our Dr. Martens are made in England,” Kimble told me. “They’re vintage shoes that I select myself.”
Kimble’s store is also the “only official brick-and-mortar store for Ween merchandise.” Kimble said she went to high school with the guys in the band, and she’s been a fan since their early days playing at New Hope’s famous John & Peters, the self-proclaimed “longest running nightclub in the country dedicated to musicians who play original music.”
For an overdose of groovy, Love Saves the Day stocks all the best in psychedelic jumpsuits, animal masks, bullet-bra Barbies, vintage vinyl and Playboy magazines from back when centerfold models didn’t do Pilates.
Farley’s Bookshop’s heaving shelves are a bibliophile’s heaven, and the knowledgeable booksellers can recommend the best best sellers as well as make a personal introduction to the works of local authors and the out-of-the-box writing from independent small press.
I’m not much of a clothes shopper (as evidenced by my uniform of jeans, T-shirt, running shoes), but the wide variety of styles and stylings offer something for everyone. Whether you’re a pierced-nose teenager or a minivan mom who wants to ditch the cardigan for the next PTO meeting or a young professional who needs hiking trail-to-office footwear, New Hope has your back (and front and head and feet).
And when you’re not shopping, you’re eating.
It would take a full week of lunches and dinner to sample all the restaurants in New Hope.
My cousin and I had lunch at Triumph Brewing Company, where the food menu and the beer menu is direct from the farm to table and glass. I tried the beet salad with pea leaves, arugula, honey, goat cheese, lime vinaigrette, jalapeno oil and hazelnut.
Outstanding. My cousin ordered the fish tacos, made with blackened barramundi, green cabbage, red onion, cilantro, honey, tequila lime crèma and chives. Two thumbs up. It was a scorching, hot day and I didn’t want to feel groggy, so instead of a pint, I ordered a small glass of Hefeweizen. Slightly citrus-y, perfectly refreshing.
Speaking to locals and accosting some stranger on the street for other restaurant recommendations, there were a few I heard over and over again.
The locals say to make reservations now — right now! Blue Moose began as Skylar Bird’s weekend culinary endeavor when, in 2006 at age 14 — 14! — Bird and a friend began cooking and serving meals for family and friends. Fast forward through apprenticeships, internships, a trip to France and classes at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, and a seating at Blue Moose has become one of the must-have dining experience on your trip to New Hope. But, like I said, make reservations right now.
The website says a new menu is on its way. The Facebook page lists a plethora of intriguing past events: pop-up dinners with guest chefs, a troubadour’s brunch, a night of Moroccan cuisine, Thai Tuesday — and a very sexy photo of a plate of oysters. My darlings!
Jaffron Indian Restaurant
The booksellers at Farley’s Bookshop list Jaffron as one of the places they happily spend entire paychecks. Booksellers are smart people.
Karla’s is open for brunch, lunch and dinner, with outside seating. The beer and wine menu is eclectic and includes both Yeungling Lager and Rodenbach Flemish Sour — which is enough of a recommendation for me.
When you’re not shopping or eating…
See a play or musical. Newly renovated in 2012, Bucks County Playhouse is home to musical classics, original Broadway-bound theater, comedians, kids shows and everything in between. Visit this Oct. 21-30 and see "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" live on stage.
Walk the canal. This historic Delaware Canal winds through New Hope, with scenic overlooks from bridges and a shaded path offering respite from both crowds and heat. Visit fodc.org.
Hit the rails. The New Hope & Ivyland Railroad offers hourly trips through Bucks County woods and farms, and specialty excursions throughout the year, including a Wildflower Express and Murder Mystery.
Ride the train and/or Dinner Train on the New Hope Railroad. Since the heat index hit 1,000 degrees the day I was visiting, my cousin and I sprung for seats in the first class, air conditioned car. I’d like to report more on the gorgeous scenery and historic commentary from the conductor, but my cousin and I hadn’t seen each other in a while, and we chatted through most of the ride. My apologies to other passengers. Visit newhoperailroad.com.
Look at all the art. New Hope is an artists’ colony. Or perhaps it’s an enclave, I often confuse the two. By any account, New Hope is packed with art. Check out the Red Tulip Gallery, a cooperative of local artisans, featuring one-of-a-kind textiles, pottery, jewelry, furniture and more. Wander around Curious Goods, a hodge-podge barn of pastel-hued Shabby Chic gifts and housewares. Duck into small and smaller shops and explore the nooks and crannies. Keep your eyes open and look up, down, in the bushes along the canal path — the art, you’re soaking in it.
And after you’re done exploring New Hope…
Trek a short walk on a not-too-long bridge, and Lambertville, New Jersey, offers another day of exploring shops, eateries and the outdoors. visit jn.org/city/lambertville
Rent a kayak or an inner tube and take a dunk in Delaware; find details on rivercountry.net/Delaware-river-Tubing_c_1.html
Maybe a day trip isn’t enough time to do it all. Best book a room and make it a weekend.
Other helpful links:
A few more words of advice…
Wear your walking shoes: The New Hope downtown area is only a few blocks long, but you’ll want to zig-zag a few times. And then you’ll walk the canal path. And then you’ll walk to Lambertville, New Jersey. Hills are few, but enough that you’ll feel it in your calves the next day.
Bring cash: Most places take credit cards. A few didn’t. Or they didn’t take all credit cards. Be prepared.
Use your best cell phone etiquette: Stores are small, and cell phone conversations can start to sound very loud, very fast. Many stores have signs requesting you silence or turn off your phones in the stores. Take the opportunity to be unavailable for a day and shut off the rest of the world.
Ask before taking photos: You’re going to see a lot of really cool things and stuff in all those small stores. Shop owners only ask that you remember, these are businesses, not museums or photo ops. Yes, your photos help advertise their goods, but if ten of you are trying on the cool 1950s vintage coat just to take a photo, that could cause damage the owner can’t afford. Also, many customers take photos in the stores so they can buy the item cheaper online. Everyone wants a bargain, sure. But store owners ask that you balance window shopping with supporting the stores you’re visiting.
Kids and teens: Small shops and old buildings are not a friends to strollers, so be prepared with a carrier for babies or a “wait outside” adult for little kids with fast feet and grabby hands.
A few of the shops sell art and other merchandise that kids may find nightmare-inducing or that might prompt a birds-and-bees-and-bondage conversation. Merchants are conscientious about putting alert labels on shop windows. My advice? Heed them.
Also, I know your teen is one of the good ones. Even so, packs of teens in stores can quickly become a hooligan mob. A brief word about “best behavior” and “you break it, I buy it” could be a timely reminder.
New Hope is a diverse community in almost every definition of the word. And everyone in the community welcomes you to their hometown. Have fun. Be cool. Talk to people. Everyone I met had a great story.