New Hope, PA: Eat, Drink and be ’Mary’

by Jill Gleeson

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday December 17, 2013

It's a frosty December afternoon. A light snow falls. Settling on the old powder with the softest of sighs, it makes all sparkle anew. You bundle up and head outside for a walk south along the canal, where sweeping views of the ice-encrusted river steal your chilled breath and you spot deer and blue heron at play. It's a glorious scene but eventually -- with the tip of your nose red and your thoughts serene -- you turn back, heading into town.

It's quieter here in the off-season than it is in the spring and fall. There are less young families pushing strollers over the sidewalks, and fewer bikers roaring down Main Street. But all of the pleasures of this, one of the Mid-Atlantic's greatest gay destinations, still await. Gourmet dining from casual to grand; intimate piano bars and energetic dance clubs; Broadway-worthy theater and festive special events -- this burg has it all. And as the weather turns cold prices tend to plummet. Lodging costs less, restaurants run specials, shops have sales.

So why, you wonder, has it taken you this long to visit New Hope, Pennsylvania in winter?

Historical Roots

Located in Bucks County, a few miles from where George Washington made his historic crossing of the Delaware River, New Hope has a population of just over 2,500. Yet it has long been a mecca for the LGBT community, who followed the influx of artists and actors into the town in the first decades of the 20th century. Today, many New Hope businesses are gay-owned and the ones that aren't are decidedly gay-friendly.

"I think a lot of the LGBT populace comes to New Hope because there will be things offered that are particular to the group," notes Daniel Brooks, founder of the LGBT marketing organization New Hope Celebrates and proprietor of the town's Wishing Well Guesthouse. "They know they can go anywhere in the town and feel like a part of it. And then in winter it's so beautiful. New Hope makes for a great winter getaway because it's so scenic... it seems almost untouched."

Seasonal Celebrations and More

The town's biggest cold weather celebration is the annual Lambertville-New Hope Winter Festival, which takes place January 18th to the 26th and features a parade, chili cook-off, walking tours and more. Most popular with gay visitors and residents is the famed Fire and Ice Ball, a dance party glittering with fire dancers and ice sculptures that is held on the festival's opening night. Of course, this month New Hope's special events have a distinctly Yuletide flavor; December LGBT-centric offerings include events like holiday-themed supper club shows with plenty of caroling.

For those who want to catch Broadway-quality shows without paying Great White Way prices, the Bucks County Playhouse is presenting "Meet Me in St. Louis," now through December 29. Founded in 1939, the Playhouse has boasted the likes of Grace Kelly, Robert Redford and Liza Minnelli on its stage. Since reopening in 2012, following a multi-million dollar renovation, the quality of its productions has only increased; recent shows have included the world premiere of Tony award-winning playwright Terrance McNally's AIDS-themed drama "Mother and Sons," starring Tyne Daly, which transfers to Broadway this February.

Dining, Dancing and Drag

According to long-time borough council member Geri Delevich, even without its line-up of special shindigs, New Hope in winter has plenty to entice. "Go to the Blue Moose for a delicious brunch," she advises. "Or, for the best view of the river, try Martine's. Then, head to The Studio, a lesbian-owned art gallery and one-chair hair salon. Say hi to Terry the owner -- she's created a meeting place for women there. She's held seminars on marriage equality and had lesbian authors share their writings. Follow up with a drink at Karla's, where former drag queen extraordinaire Ricky bartends and holds court. The clientele is very friendly and you never know what Ricky will be up to!"

Other celebrated establishments for food, drink and fun are John and Peter's, a legendary rock club where Pink got her start, and The Raven, New Hope's premiere LGBT establishment for more than three decades. Drag shows, a supper club, male revues, DJ-led disco nights and plenty of piano bar entertainment -- sometimes from surprise guests like Alan Cumming -- are all on tap weekly. Each year, The Raven also hosts one of the area's best New Year's Eve celebrations, with four-course dinner packages, a dance party and more.

Where to Stay

New Hope is rich with wonderful lodging options, and one of the most popular sits just a stone's throw from The Raven. Situated on a bucolic acre fronted by a gently gurgling stream, The Wishing Well started life as a farmhouse and still sports its original stone walls and wooden floors. In winter, when Brooks and his partner present cozy board game nights in front of the fire, and cabaret evenings around the piano, the guesthouse's charms increase exponentially. It doesn't hurt that room prices drop significantly in the off-season.

The only AAA Four-Diamond property in Bucks County, The Inn at Bowman's Hill is undoubtedly New Hope's swankiest lodging. With guestrooms featuring showers and whirlpool tubs for two, fireplaces and king-size featherbeds, it is also undoubtedly the most romantic. To increase the allure, champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries and roses are available upon arrival; gourmet breakfasts in bed and in-room couples massages may be arranged; and an outdoor hot tub is accessible day and night. Prices reflect the luxury, but in winter bargains abound even at the Inn at Bowman's Hill.

Small Town Charm

With fabulous festivals, world-class theater and the finest bars, clubs and restaurants, New Hope, Pennsylvania has more to offer in winter than many larger towns do in the busiest warm weather months. But Louis Licitra, president of FACT (Fighting AIDS Continuously Together) Bucks County, believes there are gentler delights that beckon. "There is plenty to do," Licitra confirms, "but what I hear from our New York City and Philadelphia part-time residents is that they enjoy just being wrapped up in the beauty of the area at wintertime and the relaxing atmosphere... all in all, if you are lucky to find yourself in New Hope.... you are lucky!"

Jill Gleeson is a travel and adventure journalist based in the Appalachians of Central Pennsylvania. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @gopinkboots.