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A Road Trip Down the Devil’s Path
   


  Story and Photographs by Chris Poh



"The church is near, but the road is icy. The tavern is far, but I'll walk very carefully."       
                                                                                                                                             - Old Russian Proverb







While the seeds of this journey were originally planted over twenty years ago, the first real signs of any potential growth occurred in the fall of 2007. And now looking back, those early efforts at bringing American Public House Review to life were somewhat akin to the hardy (but not exactly ready for that blue ribbon) flora that manage to push their way through the cracks in the pavement. As we enter into our tenth year of publication, we can probably take some degree of satisfaction in the fact that in many ways we have exceeded our own expectations and quite possibly even our own capabilities. But there still remains that one rather vexing aspect about this journey— and that would be simply finding a way to pay for that next round of drinks. And that particular factor has tended to keep us close to whatever domestic snug might serve as the setting for our evening libations as of late.

Nonetheless, we’ve managed to pull off a handful of less ambitious road trips during the past few months. And that good fortune has given us the chance to reconnect with some favorite old haunts and to discover a number of noteworthy new stops during the course of our travels. So for the sake of brevity, I will present the recounting of these particular sojourns in one semi-discursive rambling pictorial.





2016 got off to a less than auspicious start. A rather cryptic post on Facebook seemed to indicate that our favorite perch for train spotting might be closing its doors and deck forever. Delahanty’s in Phillipsburg, New Jersey had bid its clientele a fond farewell without any reassurance as to what the future might have in store for this classic downtown tavern. But by early spring, our concerns were quieted by the much welcomed news that the pub was simply being gussied up a bit prior to its reopening under its new name, the SoMa Downtown Grill. While this current incarnation is much more in keeping with the trends and tastes of the area’s changing demographic, one can still enjoy a good pint on the deck while anxiously awaiting the rumbling of a passing Norfolk Southern diesel or the beckoning whistle of the Delaware River Railroad’s venerable steam locomotive.   












Photo is courtesy of Delaware River Excursions



Directly across the Delaware in the city of Easton, Josh Bushey, formerly of Fegley’s Brew Works, has taken over as the head brewer at Two Rivers. Earlier this past summer, I had the opportunity to spend some time with him sampling the results of his craft. I am delighted to acknowledge that the only thing that I find superior to the rich ambiance of this splendid establishment is the beer that now flows through its taps.







A bit further south, Justin Low, another very talented young buck in the brew trade, continues to produce product for Doylestown Brewing Company. But now his responsibilities include keeping the growlers and glasses filled at multiple in-town venues. Their original tasting room and brewery located in the Marketplace building on Main Street remains open, but for those who might prefer to mix the fruits of
fermentation with the delights of distillation, a short crosstown stroll will bring you to their newest operation located down a quiet alleyway just off of East State Street. The first floor of this fine looking brick structure is now the home of Hops Bar and Grill—the perfect space to enjoy a good meal with that freshly poured pint. And the upstairs lounge, appropriately named The Still, recreates the intrigue and intimacy of those illicit Prohibition era hideaways in Doylestown during a time when those same people charged with enforcing the Eighteenth Amendment during the day might be caught violating the Volstead Act in some darkened corner at night.







Photo is courtesy of Doylestown Brewing



Our abiding appreciation of Coastal Delaware has not waned, and this past summer and early fall had given us the opportunity to visit the Atlantic shores of America’s first state on two occasions. During our first trip, we veered off our usual route to Lewes with a stop for lunch in Delaware City. This historic seaport and riverside town has retained much of its architectural charm from those prosperous days during the early nineteenth century when it served as the eastern terminus of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. Eventually though, the government’s preference for a passageway at sea-level would lead to the construction of a new channel two miles further south. With the opening of that waterway in 1927, Delaware City began the transition from boom town to that of being somewhat off the beaten path.

Those same waters that had at one time carried grand steamers between Baltimore and Philadelphia now provide sheltered dockage for pleasure craft and fishing boats. And the fine old riverfront hotel that formerly catered to the canal’s overnight trade is now the home of Crabby Dicks. While there appears to be some credible evidence suggesting that a number of spirits whose travels were cut short still reside in certain portions of the building, during this visit to Delaware City, we focused our attention on those spirits occupying the barroom shelves and the outstanding views from this memorable  waterside establishment.














Returning to our southerly heading, we continued onto our overnight accommodations in Lewes. And as a matter of personal tradition, any time spent in this resplendent community must include at least one session at The Rose and Crown and Striper Bites. And when those customs weren’t being attended to, we traded the tranquil waters of Delaware Bay for the roiling surf at Rehoboth. During our stay in the spring, we spent nearly an entire afternoon comfortably perched at the outside bar at Obie’s By the Sea. And during our return to Rehoboth in October, upon the disappointing discovery that our previous boardwalk bivouac was already closed for the season, we set our sights on a nearby table outside the quaint little pub at Victoria’s

While these two locations are strikingly different as far as their ambiance, Obie’s being that distinctive casual ocean-side bar, and the other reminiscent of a drinking parlor one might expect to find in an upscale Victorian era hotel--both are equally welcoming. So whether you’ve arrived in flip-flops or Florsheims, you will have found the perfect spot to witness that timeless and tantalizing tango between the sand and the sea.







Photo is courtesy of Obie's





The second Sunday of September found us once again standing watch over Atlantic waters. A somber remembrance of the attacks of 9/11 brought us to Mount Mitchill. This public park and memorial rising above New Jersey’s Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook provides a stunning view of Lower Manhattan and the newly constructed One World Trade Center. I remember watching a smartly dressed woman sitting quietly alone on a bench. Her constant gaze fixed upon a single point on the other side of that great blue expanse of sky and water. One needed only to look into her eyes to understand the pain and loss suffered by so many Americans on that terrible September morning.

Thoughts of that woman stayed with me. And during our customary respite at Bahrs Landing later that day, I again wondered if I should have reached out to her, but my instincts at the time prompted me to respect the silence. So instead, I made an extra effort to extend a little more kindness to my fellow patrons and to the puppy sitting at my feet. After all, the best way to honor those that have gone before us is to be more loving of those that have remained behind. 








The “keeping it close to home model” that has dominated our wanderings during this past year brought us back to New Jersey on several occasions. To those whose only knowledge of the state has been fashioned by pop culture and media myths, this pork chop-shaped piece of ground between New York and Philadelphia is thought to be nothing more than tank farms along the turnpike, suburban strip malls, and a collection of small and medium sized cities that don’t appear in anyone's travel brochures. But having been a Jersey boy for most of my life, I know that there are an abundance of safe havens and secret gardens amidst the chaos and the noise. And this year’s finds were centered in and around the village of Blairstown.

During the first half of the last century, this idyllic hamlet, tucked away in the northern reaches of bucolic Warren County, could have easily served as the subject matter for any number of Norman Rockwell’s illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post. Although this tiny settlement alongside the Paulinskill River was established decades earlier, in 1839, it was renamed in honor of its most celebrated citizen, John Insley Blair. Along with helping to found the prestigious Blair Academy, this multi-talented entrepreneur and philanthropist was a driving force in the development of America’s railroads. By the late 1800s, he was the president of 16 railroad companies and the single largest owner of track mileage on the planet. And all of these holdings were managed from either his office in his beloved hometown or from the comfortable confines of his private rail car that traveled tens of thousands of miles each year.

The iron horse no longer runs through Blairstown, but you are more than welcome to ride your pony to the Post Time Pub. And a number of the regulars are in the habit of hitching their mounts to the back fence. This equine friendly atmosphere is fostered by Joyce Billings, the genial host of this popular and always interesting eatery and “Old East” saloon.














On the southern outskirts of town lies the newly constructed Buck Hill Brewery. Both the exterior and interior design of the building is in perfect harmony with the architectural aspects and rural character of the surrounding area. Furthermore, from the brewhouse to the “back of the house,” their farm-to-table philosophy helps to protect and sustain the local agricultural community. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the brewery was still awaiting final approvals in order to serve their own product. In the meantime though, an outstanding selection of American and regional craft beers will continue to complement a cuisine that is just the right mix of comfort and creativity.







If one has the notion to reach the New York state line by way of Blairstown, that route will at best be meandering and at times downright circuitous. But that was in fact my itinerary of choice as we headed off on a capricious trip to the Catskills. While I tend to be the fastest way from point A to point B kind of guy, the reward for forgoing the interstates in this particular instance was the experience of seeing some of New Jersey’s most scenic natural settings—among them Swartswood Lake. When this pristine freshwater glacial lake nestled in the Kittatinny Valley was designated as New Jersey’s first state park in 1915, the surrounding area had already established itself as a major holiday destination. Vacationers and weekend tourists traveling by train took advantage of the resorts, small hotels, and summer cabins that dotted the countryside.  

Today the lakeshore lodging s are long gone, the rails are rusted and overgrown, and most  of the traveling public have set their sights on more fashionable destinations. But the breathtaking beauty of Swartswood Lake remains fully intact, and there just happens to be an absolutely superb vantage point along the lake’s western shore where one can grab a good meal, sip a slow pint, and watch nature’s splendor unfold. In my haste to reach the New York borderline, I almost missed a very pleasurable midday stop at The Boat House. From the road it appeared to be just another simple country tavern, but my mind’s third eye told me otherwise, so I turned the car around. And after a quick stroll to the rear of the property, I seriously considered ending the day’s adventure along the shoreline of Swartswood Lake.
 








Public Domain


Ultimately, that day would end at water’s edge overlooking another remnant of the last glacial period. Other than the free use of a rather well-appointed lakeside cottage outside of Parksville, we did not know what awaited us in this storied part of New York State. My usual internet reconnoitering did not yield many choices for either food or drink. It appeared that our long weekend would mostly consist of beer from the fridge and dogs on the barbie. It seems that the Catskills should be viewed by the sum of its parts, because many of its pieces have become a bit tattered and tired out by an economy that has lost the support of a once thriving tourist trade. The so called Borscht Belt has certainly done more than its fair share of tightening. But if one is still willing to engage in a bit of exploration, there are still plenty of precious finds waiting to be unearthed in an area that is abound with artists, artisans, authors, musicians, and more than a few interesting throwbacks to those days when the Woodstock generation descended upon these splendid hills and hollows. Luckily, during our brief stay we were able to experience those various aspects of Catskill living in one near perfectly sublime setting.

There is a bit of mystery, magic, and mirth within those charming preserved walls and the surrounding grounds of the Rolling River Cafe. Rob, Kim, and Miriam Rayevsky have created an experience designed to please the palate, satisfy the senses, and soothe the soul. And while our magazine normally refrains from your typical critique of food, drink, or service—let me just say that a really kind and delightful human being brought me one of the best meals and glasses of beer that I’ve ever had during my sixty-two years of life. My chicken dish was the masterful work of the head chef, Rob Rayevsky. And the Devil’s Path IPA (named after one of the more ambitious and arduous walks offered to hikers in this part of the world) was produced by the good folks at nearby Catskill Brewery.

After dinner we retired to the simple outside bar that sits atop the bank of the Little Beaverkill River. Anyone that has followed our travels since we began publishing American Public House Review, will certainly recognize that ours is a quest to find tavern nirvana. And usually those pursuits are a study in old stone and mahogany adorned with the trappings of the trade. Who would have guessed that the best bar ever might consist of nothing more than a few lengths of two-by-fours supported by a couple of well-positioned boulders?



Photo is courtesy of Rolling River


Photo is courtesy of Rolling River


Photo is courtesy of Rolling River



Photo is courtesy of The Catskill Brewery


Photo is courtesy of The Catskill Brewery

Photo is courtesy of Rolling River

Photo is courtesy of Rolling River


As dusk’s light fell upon the gently rolling waters of the Little Beaverkill, I found myself thinking about our journeys and those unexpected intersections that so profoundly impact our lives. I can not fully recollect or even understand all the twist and turns that brought me to this particular place. As for the Rayevsky’s journey to Parksville, part of it has its roots in the former Soviet Union. Ray emigrated to the United States by way of Israel after leaving Russia in 1978. And to that bit of fate, that would ultimately bring him and his family to this crossroad in the Catskills, we raise a glass to glasnost—and to the hope of an even greater detente down this devilish path called life!




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