Last week I clued you into my favorite Scranton bars as part of my March, “Favorite Bars of Pennsylvania series,” in case you find yourself at Scranton’s parade day this weekend and are looking for somewhere to imbibe. This week, I’ll be expanding to my top 10 favorite bars in Northeastern Pennsylvania in case you somehow find yourself (highly unlikely) venturing outside Scranton’s city limits OR in case you simply visit Northeastern PA on your own some day (which I highly recommend).
The bars I’m covering today aren’t in a major PA city, or even what would be described as a major tourist destination (which is somewhat of a crime) but it’s where I grew up and it’s the bars I’ve spent the most amount of time in. It seemed personally criminal to not include it in this series.
The thing about this area, is that there was literally so many places to choose from, however I tried to pick places that both epitomized NEPA in some way, shape or form while also having some sort of merit to warrant visitors. There’s plenty of places I frequent, and like, that for that reason aren’t on this list. Sadly, the once thriving NEPA bar scene is somewhat on the decline. When my mother grew up here, and even when I was younger, it wasn’t uncommon for small towns to have a bar on almost every corner, a tradition institutionalized by the region’s blue-collar, coal mining past. Forest City, where I went to high school has a population of just under 2,000 and when I was younger had no less than 6 bars. Simpson, a couple of miles south had 6 as well when I turned 21, most in under the same square mile, and three basically on the same block. For better or worse, bars are part of the cultural DNA in my corner of Pennsylvania.
So without further ado, here are my favorite bars on NEPA (mainly in the Lackawanna Valley, and rural Susquehanna & Wayne Counties). Hopefully it will inspire a few of you to take a weekend trip up to the motherland.
1) Franks- 57 Jefferson St, Simpson
Franks is my “Cheers,” my go-to bar whenever I’m at my parent’s house and where I end up on most important drinking holidays (Christmas Eve, Turkey Eve…Sundays). I’ll be honest, bar-wise if you’re not someone who grew up going there, it’s probably nothing spectacular (although they do have an impressive taxidermy collection) and they’ll close early if no one is frequenting the place, but it literally has the best food in NEPA, and possibly Pennsylvania. Their boneless wings are about as close to a perfect food as you could get, the Montreal Prime Rib is my end all for steak and their white garlic and shrimp personal pizza is life changing (and I’m firmly anti-white pizza!)…I could keep going, but I won’t. The menu is huge and they’re constantly adding to it (which I might know because I check online every week, which isn’t sad or anything).
Bonus points: free popcorn and a newly established ramp to NEPA’s Rail-Trail so you can snowmobile or XC ski or bike there now, which is nice.
2) Bottler’s Tavern– 200 Delaware St., Jermyn
Aside from Frank’s, which spoiler, will forever be my favorite bar of all time, this list is in no particular order. Bottler’s is a random addition, but here for a very specific reason. Like Frank’s, they also have an impressive taxidermy collection (welcome to NEPA), but instead of simply deer heads, Bottlers has a black bear and a huge alligator (or crocodile, not completely sure). I shit you not. Like many well established NEPA bars, from the outside, Bottlers looks like a house and gets a very local crowd. They also still have old school NEPA beer prices. While most bars have bumped their drafts up to $2.00, I’m pretty sure you could still get a draft at Bottler’s for $1.50 or so.
3) Chet’s Place– 1778 East Mountain Road, Uniondale PA
I’ve written about Chet’s before, mostly notably in the Northern Tier bar-crawl, a collection of bars/inns/restaurants in Susquehanna County habituated by locals, foreign camp counselors and skiers (depending on the season). Chet’s is probably the most established and most interesting of all these bars. Chet’s is located just a few miles from Elk Mountain and despite it’s middle-of-nowhere locale always gets a pretty fun crowd. They frequently get bands, have XC ski and snowshoe rentals, rooms to rent and a yearly “Chet’s fest.” This is the type of place just brimming with local flavor that you need to experience to fully comprehend and the type of place you’ll be telling friends to check out.
4) DG’s- 923 Forest City
DG’s is another is-it-a-house-is-it-a-bar joint situated at the very end of Forest City’s one mile of hospitality and like many of these bars, is not trendy, not cool and in a sense a throwback to the NEPA bars of yesteryear. DG’s is also home to the beer-for-under-two-bucks club and is an underrated little gem when it comes to bar food, all of which is made from scratch. The wings are phenomenal and it is home to my favorite pizza in the world (hint: order 2 trays so you have one to take home; cold DG’s pizza is God’s food).
5) The Orson Inn-3497 Belmont Turnpike, Orson
The Orson is another one of the country bars/inns, although truth be told, I’m not sure if you could stay at the Orson or not. It does (in my ever so humble opinion) have the best wings in NEPA (my favorite wings of anywhere) and is an experience in itself if visited during the summer. The Orson is located in a part of Wayne County that’s filled with sleep-away summer camps (the kind you see in movies but thought didn’t exist…they exist is Pennsylvania which is why none of us ever went there) whose counselors come from every corner of the globe, literally. Summer nights and this usually quiet country bar transforms into what we fondly call a Euro-trash dance party; when we were in Iceland this summer, my sister and I agreed that one of the Reykjavik clubs had shades of the Orson to it. It’s a truly bizarre juxtaposition. On big nights they actually will get a DJ, dim the lights and let the kids go wild, so you could be inside literally raving with a trapeze instructor (summer camps, remember) from Brazil and three Polish co-eds and then exit for a cigarette and watch a couple of cows mosey around the pasture across the street as some locals in Carharts pile out of a run-down pickup truck. Worth-experiencing.
6) CFM-931 Main St Simpson
CFM is actually a Convenient Food Mart bottle shop located on the outside of Simpson, PA. I’m including CFM because it’s the only bottle shop I’ve ever seen that people treat as a bar. Aside from having a solid collection of beer and a pizza-wings-apps-menu, CFM has several tables in the back and even has a Touch Tunes. You could order a 12 pack and drink the whole thing there, or grab individual bottles and cans, but either way it’ll be cheaper than an actual bar and you’ll get, as a beautifully written Yelp review states, “you may rub elbows with some of the local philosophical luminaries that frequent the place.” I couldn’t have said it better myself if I tried.
7)Waymart Hotel– 205 Carbondale Road, Waymart
The Waymart Hotel is arguably the classiest establishment on this list (actually, Franks is perfectly classy, I’ve personally just had one too many non-classy moments there) and is known throughout NEPA for their pizza (which has a very unique taste); it’s the type of place my out of town family always insists on going because it’s what they miss eating. The Waymart Hotel recently opened two outdoor patios and The Wrangler’s BBQ pit behind the hotel, which is a great place to spend a Saturday afternoon fattening up.
8)Arlo’s– 10340 State Route 171, Uniondale
General store? Check. Hotel? Check. Gas pumps? Check. Ice Cream? Yup. Mini Golf? Check. Bar? Check. Tavern menu? Yes. Arlo’s is literally a one stop shop for anything you need in Northeastern Pennsylvania, a bar-store-hotel-gas-station-mini-golf hybrid, and the bar, which has ample outdoor seating, is much nicer than you’re probably picturing. My favorite way to experience Arlo’s is to go up on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and enjoy a nice buzzed-up round or so of mini-golf. Losers buy drinks.
9) Maiolatesi Winery- 32 Cabernet Drive, Scott Township
So technically this is a winery, and not a bar, and I don’t even drink wine, but I wanted to include it on the list because it’s a pretty impressive property and I like that my corner of NEPA is starting to have nice things after so many years without them. While I stick to beer and know little to nothing about wine, I have been to events at this winery and it’s a beautiful place to drink and take in the gorgeous NEPA scenery, particularly if they have a band or special event.
10) Take your pick- EVERYWHERE, NEPA
Even though the bar scene in NEPA’s died down, compared to a lot of places it’s still thriving. You could still drive into most small town’s (or be driving in the middle of the country) and run into at least a couple watering homes with some local flavor. At this point, it’s sort of a moot point to pick one of them, as they would all have a description somewhat akin to, “slightly trashy, questionable crowd and cheap booze.”