Bethlehem is loaded with many fine restaurants. That much is apparent. But as Justin and I walked around town (this being my first-ever visit), nothing spoke to us. We finally found one place that we wanted to try only to realize a few moments later that it was closed. It was a Monday after all. With our excitement quelled, we turned the corner and there it was: a small sign reading Ripper’s Pub. As exhausted and hungry as we were, we literally both shrugged our shoulders and walked over. We didn’t even look to see if they had a menu posted outside. Ripper’s had two entrances: one for the bar and another for the dining area. We had to take a couple of steps down from street level.
In we walked to reveal a true neighborhood bar. Some might call this a dive, but I have a soft-spot for dives that are still scaled up enough that they do not deserve the moniker. Ripper’s was without a doubt a locals bar. That older, beer-and-a-shot crowd that doesn’t give a shit. There was only one table taken in this dimly lit back room. There may have only been six or seven tables altogether. Aged wooden booths that were so old, they had decades worth of signatures, initials, and lewd phrases carved into them.
The other thing we noticed? The smell of cigarette smoke. A row of clean ash trays lined one of the dividers. Justin and I being foreigners from New Jersey had totally forgotten about this ancient element banned in the Garden State for at least the last 10 years. Now, we had bought a pack of Nat Sherman Naturals to bring on this trip because of the smoke-friendly Sands Casino. Neither of us are smokers whatsoever. I enjoy a cigar from time to time, and being that Naturals are 100% organic and chemical free, I felt we should splurge. In a moment of shock, Justin asked the waitress/bartender who came to seat us, “Wait…can you smoke in here?” Her response was a perplexed, nonchalant “Yes” as smoke from a nearby table wafted across the room.
This will seem ridiculous and corny, but we seized on this moment to do what was only natural in most restaurants up until a decade ago: enjoy a smoke while having a beer. Inside. Inside a restaurant. People may read this and go, “What’s the big deal?” Well, to my generation, it is. The Naturals which were in my car were soon picked up by Justin who went what seemed like a half a mile to get them. We were soon set. Ripper’s already had an A+ atmosphere and our asses had barely touched the seats.
We glanced at the menu to reveal a stunningly cheap selection of bar foods, sandwiches, and beer. $9 pitcher of Yuengling? Hell yeah to that. We ended up getting four and a half pints out of it. As for food, Justin was in the mood for a hot dog and ordered one with diced onion. Mustard was already on the table. For me, I noticed something called a “BLT Hoagie” and figured it was worth a shot. As pumped up as we were, we were not expecting anything glorious. That was our mistake, because what was to come was—dare I say it–impressive.
Justin’s hot dog was char-grilled until it was perfectly snappy. His roll too had been toasted. The cost of this was $3.25 with an extra 75 cents for a bag of chips. Looks were deceiving. That was the case with my BLT as well. Take one look at that picture and tell me that doesn’t look like something constructed by a child or someone who has never worked in a restaurant. Bacon, diced domatoes, and chopped lettuce stacked on a hot dog bun? Come on! That’s ridiculous. But you know what? It worked! There were five or six slices of bacon. They were done to the point where they were not overly crispy yet not too chewy. The lettuce and tomatoes were fresh. The mayo was spread light. And my bun too was toasted, just a nice little addition. This sandwich was $5.75 and I added a side of fries (also good) for $3.
Maybe we were easily captivated. Maybe we were too amped up from the atmosphere and a chance to do something different. Whatever the case may be, we had an awesome time at Ripper’s. The atmosphere was beyond relaxed. The waitress set our pitcher down, took our order, and left us alone. There was no pushing of drinks. Even as the dining room crowd expanded to two more tables, it felt secluded. Being hidden from view below the street, while smoke filled this dark, wood-paneled room illuminated by nothing but decades-old lamps, bar signs, and the occasional flicker of a match temporarily removed me from the little town of Bethlehem. For that, I award them a 4 out of 5 stars. Sometimes the best ambiance is unintentional.
Ripper’s Pub is located at 77 West Broad Street in Bethlehem, PA.
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