I generally don’t do much for Valentine’s Day, so don’t have a ton of Valentine’s Day memories, good or bad, like you would with Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Halloween. To the chagrin of my mother, I’m perennially single, and so typically don’t really have the need to really even celebrate. I also have a healthy dose of self-respect, so wouldn’t be caught dead at one of those Valentine’s Day “unattached” mixers, where participants bemoan what they dub “singles’ awareness day,” unless of course, it’s by accident, which did happen on the only really memorable Valentine’s Day I’ve ever celebrated: what has gone down in history as the “Tri-State Barcrawl.”
My friend Jackie has a birthday that falls a couple days before V-day (a popular birthday time in my social register as it happens, as my Dad, sister, and cousin also fall within Valentine’s week), and a couple of years ago invited a bunch of us from college to her home in Long Island to celebrate. Her parents made us all a nice dinner, drove us to the LI Railroad, and sent us into Manhattan. It ended up being one of those really fun nights you always look back upon when you get together, and we deposited ourselves back in New Hyde Park sometime early the next morning, which coincidentally happened to be Valentine’s Day.
Editor’s note: I believe it’s important to point out that at the time of this story, I was probably 23, out of college for less than a year, and not yet a fully functioning adult. I feel like pointing this out might make you judge me less.
We’d ended up running into my friend Maura in the city. Maura also hails from New Hyde Park (LI basically feeds kids to the University of Scranton), but lived(s) in Philly, and asked me if she might catch a ride home with me back to PA, and not rely on public transportation. The next day, after saying farewell to our hosts, my friend Jacki (not the birthday girl, and no “e” in her name), went to pick up my friend Maura. Jacki lived (still does) in the Downingtown area, so essentially all of us were heading back to southeastern Pennsylvania. We picked up Maura sometime around noon, and I was expecting to be back at my apartment, all nice and cozy, by 4. As we were pulling away from Maura’s house, where I believe she’s lived her entire life, we passed a dingy looking Irish pub, and either myself or Jacki, time has rendered the culprit fuzzy, asked what the bar was like. Maura admitted she’d never been to it, and one of us decided that was not right, that she should visit the bar next to her house, and pulled over the car (ok, that was me).
It was supposed to be for one drink, but isn’t that always the case?
Let’s just say that one drink became a few, and several other LI-centric friends were texted and came to join in the fun. Around 4, the time I was expecting to be at home in bed, doing whatever youths did before the advent of Netflix (sidenote: what did we do? Read? Like peasants?), I made the executive decision to pull the plug on this LI dive bar and began our trek home. We went to a local diner, where we loaded up on food, and the girls may have each gotten tiny bottles of wine, because that’s a thing you could do at LI diners. There was also pictures of penguins all over the place, and Jacki may have snatched one.
We hit a ton of traffic driving directly through Manhattan, as one is bound to do when driving directly through Manhattan, so much so that at one point, one of the passengers may or may not have got out and purchased a 6 pack at a local Manhattan bar, which was promptly put in the trunk, as there was no bottle opener in said vehicle (again, remember I was not a full adult. I now carry one in my wallet). After what felt like an agonizing four hours, but was probably 45 minutes, we emerged into the Garden State, and I thought maybe I’d be home by 10.
Yet again, the day had other plans.
At some point we came to the conclusion that we should grab at least another drink, and something to eat. We put “bar” into my brand new Garmin GPS and were promptly whisked to one of suburban New Jersey’s finest watering holes: TGI Fridays. It was also at this point that we were made aware that it was in fact, Valentine’s Day. How were we made aware? Well, there was a singles party at this particular TGI Fridays, complete with name tags letting others know if the wearer was “taken” or “available.” Spoiler alert: most of them were available, and most of them were absolutely shit-faced. I’m not going to bore you with the details of this, except to say that you haven’t lived until you’ve attended a singles mixer on Valentine’s Day at a suburban New Jersey chain restaurant. I will admit, now that something like 8 years is between myself and this incident, that we may have attempted to steal a chair from said chain restaurant, but couldn’t fit it in my trunk. I’m not proud.
The rest of the day/night included an agonizing ride through the Lehigh Valley, across Berks County, and back to Lancaster, where I ended up in bed, warm and cozy, around 3AM. While we didn’t stop at any PA bars, because it was midnight on a Sunday by the time we crossed into our home state, we did stop at a Sheetz outside Kutztown for some grub, where a dazed, confused, and likely still-drunk Jacki pulled the penguin picture she’d taken earlier (that detail was mentioned purposely) out of her pocket, and asked the very confused clerk, if she “liked her penguin” (when I ran this sentence by Jacki, she informed me that she also may have tried to barter the penguin picture for a taquito).
I was exhausted the next day, and didn’t get anything done I had planned, and probably regretted it at the moment, but the day has definitely gone down in infamy, and one that I always end up smiling about when someone brings it up. The tri-state-barcrawl was a great moment of my early 20’s. It’s also a novel concept, and if you’re the type of person who likes to do things simply for the novelty, a fun way to kill an afternoon. There is something that seems almost productive about drinking in three states in one day, and the good news about Pennsylvania, is that there’s several very easy, and more importantly, safe ways to do this, if you’d like to embark on one of your own.
A few ground rules to get out of the way. The first is obviously is to make sure that you have a designated driver, or are really watching how much you imbibe, although if you are completing this in the greater Philly area, public transportation is your friend. Also, while you feasibly could do, like, an 8 state bar crawl (I’ve driven from PA to Maine in a day, you pass through PA, NJ, NY, CT, RI, NH, MA, and ME, and feasibly could grab a drink in each), how much fun would that really be? It’s too much driving. Plus, tri-state bar crawl has a much nicer ring then octo-state bar crawl. It’s also imperative that you have someone who makes you adhere to times-lines. I’m the worst with barcrawls, because I plan them, but then have fun at usually like, the second stop, and just stay there.
We’ll start off at my home turf. Northeast PA is very close to the NY border. In fact, crossing the NY border to drink isn’t uncommon for us; there’s plenty of crossings where you aren’t even welcomed via sign between states. You have several options here. You could do the PA, NJ, NY route, or the PA, NY, CT one. The first one covers the least amount of miles. Maybe start in the Scranton area early Saturday afternoon with a visit to Susquehanna Brewing Company (breweries will make this seem much classier then it really is). Sample some beers, grab lunch at the food truck, and play some bean bags, then head west on 380 through the Delaware Water Gap (stop for some scenic pictures), and head into that Garden State. Pick a brewery, and then have your next move planned. Here’s a handy map of all NJ’s offerings. You could A) pick somewhere in the Northwestern corner, maybe near Hackettstown, and then head towards the lower Hudson Valley to end your trip, or B) somewhere closer to NYC, and make the big apple your final destination. If you opt for the first, here’s a map of all the breweries in NY. If you decide to start spreading the news, maybe find somewhere to sleep and be prepared to throw down some cash.
You could also do a version with much less mileage. Start at the Irving Cliff Brewery in Honesdale, cross over to NY in Narrowsburg and make your way down the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway, which has plenty of watering holes to choose from on the way. Once you hit Port Jervis, New Jersey is literally two miles away. You could do like we did, and find the closest dive or chain, just to say you drank in New Jersey OR head to Angry Erik Brewing in Lafayette Township, which is the closest NJ brewery (you could probably find a closer bar with a quick Google search).
As for the PA, NY, CT route. You could start at either of the aforementioned breweries, or just find somewhere divey in Matamoras on the PA/NY border. My next stop would be one of the breweries near Newburgh (there’s quite a few in that area), and then continue on 84 into CT to either Danbury or Hartford Breweries, although I’d personally swoop a little more out of the way to hit Two Roads, one of my favorites in that state.
In southeastern PA, the easiest option, and the one that doesn’t require a DD, would be a bar in Philly, a brewery just across the river in NJ (I’d pick Flying Fish myself, and I’d take an uber), a second stop back in Philly (at the Bridgewater’s, a pub right in 30th Street Station) and then take the train down to Wilmington, Delaware (served by both SEPTA and Amatrak), which you could then explore at your leisure (Wilmington’s “Riverfront”walking path, chock full of bars, is just a short walk from the station).
For a more rural version, start by exploring some of the breweries in Kennett Square (Kennett Brewing Company or Victory’s Kennett Square location), drop down into Delaware, and your closest bet is the Dew Point Brewing Company, which is just over the border. Then head west into Maryland. This part of Maryland looks extremely sparse, so your best bet is to find somewhere nondescript (I’m just guessing?) in Rising Sun, then hook back up to PA for a nice dinner in Atglen, at The Whip, one of my favorite, and still somewhat secret, pubs in the state.
We’re heading west now. Take a nice early morning in Pittsburgh. I could probably spend a whole four days just exploring the Steel City brew scene alone, so find whatever tickles your fancy. Leave around lunch and head down to West Virginia. Again, you have two choices. The first would be heading down to to Morgantown and go to Mountain State Brewing. I’ve been to their Maryland location and it’s good beer, and probably better pizza (I’m judging the pizza by sight and smell only). Also find a real authentic hill billy WV bar in the middle of nowhere. Embrace the cliche. End by driving into Western MD and set up tent at Deep Creek Lake. There’s plenty of places around the water for you to pick to end your hike.
The other option would be to once again start in Pittsburgh, and then head to Wheeling WV. We’re not going to Maryland now, but a PA, WV, OH trifecta. Wheeling is amazing. Trust me. Luckily, all you have to do is literally cross the river and you’re in Ohio. This is an easy one to knock off in just one afternoon.
Now, there’s obviously plenty of other ways to do this, these are simply my suggestions. If you’re mid-state, it’s actually feasible to do PA, MD, WV, and VA . Just start in Chambergsburg (Roy Pitz Brewing Co.) and head due south on 81. I was going to actually discount this as too much work, but it’s only a 64 mile drive from there to Winchester Virginia, which again, is easily covered with an 11:00Am start time, and one beer at each locale. I’d stop in Maryland in Hagerstown (Benny’s Pub), West Virginia in Martinsburg (Bulldog’s Pub…no official website, which always makes me feel all warm and fuzzy), and Winchester for the win (Alesation Brewing). I’m actually going to have to add that to my bucket list, although again, tri-state just sounds the best. What do you even call a four state bar crawl? A quad-state? That sounds like a medical side effect.
Anyway, have you ever done a solid tri-state bar crawl? How did it go? Has anyone actually ever done 8? I might like to hear about that.