By Jeff & Stephanie Sylva
A perfect way to experience the energy of Bethlehem, one of Pennsylvania’s resurging cities, is with a stay at the bed and breakfast inn that was once the home of Robert Heysham Sayre, one of the community’s most distinguished men. The Sayre Mansion, a Gothic Revival-style mansion completed in 1858, is a member of the Select Registry and the Historic Hotels of America.
The mansion was built in the wealthy neighborhood of Fountain Hill primarily because of its proximity to the Lehigh Valley Railroad’s main headquarters. Sayre was Superintendent and Chief Engineer of the railroad. Still, he was also to become a significant force in building, shaping, and guiding many organizations and institutions that brought prosperity and culture to the city. Serving as a trustee of the Episcopalian Cathedral Church of the Nativity, which still stands across from the Mansion, Sayre led many meetings to result in the founding of St. Luke’s Hospital, Lehigh University, and the Fountain Hill Opera House. Also, along the Lehigh River banks, adjacent to the Lehigh Valley Railroad tracks, Sayre helped build and manage the Bethlehem Irons Works, the precursor of Bethlehem Steel.
Today, The Sayre Mansion, known as “Bethlehem’s Urban Haven,” reflects the grace and elegance of its history yet offers the modern touches of its meticulous restoration. The inn has 19 classic guestrooms and three spacious Carriage House suites. Many rooms are unique in design and appearance, featuring original details such as vaulted ceilings, fireplaces, detailed woodwork, and gold leaf ceilings. Suites are spacious and include fireplaces and whirlpool tubs.
Guests are invited to visit a unique area located on the top floor called The Conservatory, which features a ceiling made entirely of glass. A garden breakfast nook, trickling fountains, and lush green plants add to the room’s appeal.
Stroll along the two acres of picturesque grounds, which provide a beautiful setting for outdoor affairs on the terrace or simple relaxation on the front porch.
Amenities include fine linens, private baths, Wi-Fi, and a full breakfast. On Thursdays, the mansion’s dining room and adjoining parlor host the extremely popular Afternoon Tea. A variety of packages are offered seasonally; a popular one arising from the proliferation of craft breweries in the area is the Bed & Brew Package. Mother’s Day Brunch is being offered this month.
MUSIC TO YOUR EARS
The Lehigh River dissects Bethlehem, resulting in essentially two downtowns. Sayre Mansion is just steps from South Side’s downtown (a hip, eclectic vibe) and just a short walk across a bridge to North Side (quaint and historical).
Bethlehem was founded on Christmas Day in 1741 by the Moravians, and many of the group’s original buildings still exist. In 1937, Bethlehem was officially declared Christmas City USA. Historic Moravian Bethlehem is a National Historic Landmark District, and the Moravian Bookshop is the oldest bookstore in America. The city has a rich history beginning in colonial times, continuing through the industrial age, and eventually to the rise and fall of Bethlehem Steel. Take in some of this history with a walking tour or museum visit. Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites conduct various walking tours, both guided and self-guided, with their app. Check out the National Museum of Industrial History housed in the former Electric Repair Shop on the Bethlehem Steel campus.
With a wide array of music venues, including the popular ArtsQuest at the Steel Stacks, Bethlehem is a city of music. The 10-acre campus of Steel Stacks on the former site of Bethlehem Steel has become an entertainment mecca. It includes Wind Creek Casino and Shopping Mall, restaurants, two event centers, an outdoor stage, an industrial museum, and the Hoover-Mason Trestle. For ten days each August, the city celebrates Musikfest, the nation’s largest non-gated free musical festival.
WINE & DINE
Dining options abound in Bethlehem, but you must experience ZEST bar + grille, which sits on the top floor of 306 S New Street, the only rooftop restaurant in the Lehigh Valley. Offering three-season terrace seating with spectacular views, Zest strives to capture the very meaning of its definition—great enthusiasm and energy—in its culinary and social experience. Zest offers creative culinary choices and well-crafted cocktails. The Seared Sea Scallops were perfectly done, but it was the Scallion Risotto with mushroom and ponzu emulsion that took the dish to another level. If the Pasta of the Day is Orecchiette with crab and short rib—don’t pass it up.
You should also experience Lehigh Valley’s oldest winery and its first distillery—both founded and operated by the same family! Stop in at Franklin Hill Vineyard’s wine tasting shop on Main St. (North Side) and taste some of their many choices of locally grown and produced wines. Then head over to South Side to Social Still Micro-Distillery & Kitchen. Cleverly nestled in an old bank building, replete with the original vaults, Social Still produces and serves small-batch, hand-crafted spirits and a selection of intriguing sandwiches, burgers, and entrees.