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New Hope has earned its reputation as central Bucks County's hip entertainment and shopping bastion, emerging around the time it became the halfway point on the original colonial York Road between Philadelphia and New York.
It has had incarnations as a theater center - the Bucks County Playhouse was a Broadway tryout venue in the mid-20th century and playwright George S. Kaufman brought many New York literati to his summer house nearby - and as a gay resort, and a biker haven. Music flows in its narrow streets, which are filled with art and antiques galleries and tchotchke shops.
A ride up the Delaware River to New Hope can turn into a special day. Here are a few offerings for a spring weekend:
Suzie's Hot Shoppe. This spring, longtime customer Glenn Goldsmith bought his former favorite hot haunt, which for a decade has inhabited a small storefront on Bridge Street a few blocks from the Delaware River. Suzie's trades only in hot sauces, flavors, salsas, and rubs, 800 varieties jammed all through the little store.
"Because of the Food Network and the Travel Channel, people are more and more confident to cook something new, to try new flavors," said Jerrod Sydnor, Goldsmith's son-in-law and manager of Suzie's. "That's how my father-in-law was, and we hope to keep educating people to try those new things."
Health officials made Suzie's eliminate its sauce-and-salsa test-taste bar, but Sydnor said Suzie's has a full 14-day return policy for the too-hots, too-spicys, and not-hot-and-spicy-enoughs.
"We want people to try everything. We're still learning ourselves and are trying out different combinations at home," Sydnor said. He said customers had come from as far away as Virginia looking for new fiery tastes.
"I liken these customers to record collectors," Sydnor said. "They know labels and distributors and every little thing about every sauce, or they want to learn. This is definitely a destination shop for a whole bunch of people who come to New Hope."
19 W. Bridge St. Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily except Tuesdays. 215-862-1334.
John & Peter's. For the last 37 years, John & Peter's has been the anti-cover-band, nonconforming stronghold of South Main Street. It's a throwback to New Hope's artsy, semi-counterculture - or at least defiant - days of the 1970s and 1980s.
"We are open 365 days a year and have music every night," said Chris Williams, music club manager. "I would say for those 21 to 50, we are the locals bar of New Hope."
Music usually starts about 9:30 and runs until midnight. This weekend, the entertainment is scheduled to range from blues to alt-rock. Friday night belongs to Skit's Museum, a jazzy-rock band from nearby Flemington, N.J. On Saturday, the featured band is the Invincible Gods, an alternative rock band from New Hope. Sunday, the music starts at 3 and runs right through midnight, with mostly-bluesy C.C. Coletti and country-rock band CB Radio alternating sets and sometimes playing together, Williams said.
The food and drink at John & Peter's starts at 11:30 a.m. and goes until 2 a.m. Nothing on the menu is more than $10, and it ranges from veggie to sandwich to burger to finger food to the odd Mexican or Asian specialty.
You never know who will walk in the door, and it often might be someone who was no one when they first appeared at John & Peter's. Among those are New Hope-born Leon Redbone, comics Penn & Teller and Martin Mull, Iron Butterfly, Aztec Two Step, Maria Muldaur, and Norah Jones. Tiny Tim tiptoed along the stage, and Orleans was still the one that played way-back-when at John & Peter's.
96 S. Main St. Open 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. daily. 215-862-5981, www.johnandpeters.com.
Second Saturday. The Philadelphia city art scene has taken over the first Fridays of every month, so because of its regular contrariness, New Hope's artists have latched onto Second Saturdays to celebrate their scene.
The Bucks County art scene is thriving, and there are about 30 galleries and antiques shops in the New Hope area that do special exhibitions, host local artists, and generally do it up each Second Saturday of the month.
The bulk of the galleries are on Main Street, which stretches and winds parallel to the Delaware River, and Mechanic and Bridge Streets, which run off it. Most galleries and shops stay open until at least 9, so it is both a predinner and a postmeal event.
One typically New Hopian shop is Teardrop Memories, at 12 W. Mechanic St. (www.teardropmemories.com). The idiosyncratic store has an all-year-round Halloween section, 19th-century veterinary tools, and a circus sideshow collection.
Marsha Brown's Refined Creole Kitchen & Lounge. The mural of lions fighting off an attack looms over diners at Marsha Brown's, housed in the 136-year-old stone New Hope Methodist Church on Main Street.
The eponymous Brown wanted to open a Ruth's Chris steakhouse in New Hope - she owns several, including the one on Broad Street in Center City - but the town valued quaintness. So in 2003, Brown went quaint, bought the church, and renovated it into a place evoking her native New Orleans.
"She wanted to have a place that was about her personality," said Marsha Brown's maitre d' Brian Szaflarski. "It's a lot of old family recipes and just a comfortable old place."
There's a raw bar and Szaflarski said some people just come in for a few oysters on their way down Main Street. The rest of chef/manager Caleb Lentchner's menu is substantially New Orleans - gumbo ya-ya, sauteed catfish, bayou-rubbed beef, jambalaya, eggplant Ophelia. Entrees can be pricey, from $19 for oven-roasted chicken to $42 for a 20-ounce rib eye.
On Sunday, Marsha Brown's is looking for moms and their families for Mother's Day. There will be a buffet brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the regular menu, with some specials, from 4 to 7:30 p.m.
15 S. Main St. Open 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays, 4:30 to 11 p.m. Saturdays, 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sundays. 215-862-7044, www.marshabrownsrestaurant.com.
New Hope & Ivyland Railroad. In the mid-1960s, a group of railroad enthusiasts bought 16 miles of old Reading Railroad track from New Hope through central Bucks County. They bought old steam and diesel engines and antique passenger cars, not in hopes of returning meaningful passenger service, but for the fun of it.
Now, the New Hope & Ivyland runs between the 1891-vintage Victorian train station in New Hope and Lahaska, about five miles away, through some rolling hills and parklike scenery, weekends in spring and most days in summer. Some of the track was used for the filming of the 1914 silent classic serial The Perils of Pauline.
On Sunday there will be a Mother's Day special - a 45-minute train ride in an old air-conditioned first-class dining car, with finger sandwiches, salads, and a complimentary mimosa for all those over 21. Tickets are $48 for those 12 and older, $24 for children 2 to 11, and $8 for those under 2.
32 W. Bridge St. 215-862-2332, call for prices and schedule and reservations, www.newhoperailroad.com.