No matter how hard one tries, the rank of the numerous lost souls who have drank their last drink at The Forge can never be completely cleaned away no matter how hard it is scrubbed and washed.
The Forge has been around for a while. It was a general store when it had its grand opening in 1940 and then became a distiller. Though prohibition was lifted before The Forge was built, it remained a sort of speak easy for the people who wanted to hide their drinking inhibitions from the world.
Nestled right outside the Amish border, a couple blocks north of Pennsylvania’s highway 39 is the brick and mortar bar welcoming the town’s rebels who drink alone.
The Forge is a hidden gem and I believe it wants to stay that way. There aren’t any yelp, Zagat, or travel book reviews about it. Heck, it’s not even registered with the Better Business Bureau of Lancaster County.
The cars that come by see a place that looks like it’s out of business with an unpaved parking lot. No frills is an understatement to what The Forge is.
The rough lumber on the ground creeks with every footstep and the heavy brick walls make one feel like they’re in an oven. It’s dark, dank, and dreary. Not the best of feelings.
The Forge hasn’t produced a drop of its own elixir in quite a while, but it still manages to do a steady pour of top shelf goodness. This is not a mixology place. The bartender (who’s also the owner) only knows how to pour a stiff malt and a beer.
As far as whiskeys and other hard, copper liquids went; I noticed nothing below a 12 year. Some of the few folks sitting ordered a Chivas 25 and others ordered a Balvenie 18. They serve Yuengling on tap, a Pennsylvania staple, and other American light brews that taste like dirty water.
There are a few unmarked bottles underneath the bar, but they’re only for the regulars. I call this The Forge’s “special sauce.” Neither tourists nor locals go here. Drifters like me only inhabit it. No one drowns their sorrows either. If you want therapy, go see an actual therapist.
There is a worn out pool table that needs an adjustment, a cigarette vending machine from yesteryear, and empty tables that I only can assume is where the ghosts of Christmas past dine. The seats are never warm and yet the napkins and condiment bottles are always filled. A menu doesn’t exist.
The blue plate special consisted of one-foot long, beef ribs that were smoked in a shack in the back. Doused with a heavy barbecue sauce with hints of whiskey and Dr. Pepper and served with a jalapeño cheddar cheese corn bread.
When I asked for butter, the bartender very sternly said, “allow me.” He took my piece of corn bread and punctured a hole in the middle with his thumb. He then scooped a quarter size sphere of butter from a tub and dropped it in. The butter immediately melted.
“Try that,” the bartender said as he looked at me with thoughts going through his head that were manifesting my death sentence.
I wanted thirds even before I could order seconds. “One slice per customer. Those are the rules,” the bartender said.
I looked around and there were only two other people in the place that could easily seat 200.
The Forge doesn’t advertise that it serves food. And the times that I went, I’ve eaten an eclectic mix. I’ve had their bone-in rib eye (which is only served bloody), a scramble consisting of spam and ostrich eggs, gumbo, a tamale wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf and filled with goat cheese and green chilies, and good ol’ fashioned barbecued shrimp and grits.
The Forge’s meat comes from a nearby slaughterhouse. “We receive first pick before all the other crackers and jokers,” the bartender said.
I never questioned the bartender’s ability and reason for serving the food he cooks. I was too occupied by the sole reason why The Forge wants to stay off the beaten path. The Forge features more skilled fights than The Double Deuce. I’ve wanted to join in because they look like fun and there is usually one person who is outnumbered, but if I did so, my corn bread would have gotten cold and it is too damn good.
Because I’ve witnessed murders and beatings inside The Forge, my meals and booze were always free. I took that as a bribe to keep quiet.
Sure, I was scared when I left. Was I going to get beaten up too? Was I going to be followed for being an eyewitness to some of the most innovative and bone crushing Cirque du Soleil type fights I’ve ever seen since the early days of the WWE?
Honestly, I could care less about all of that. I just want some more of that corn bread and butter.
ATMOSPHERE: Dark, dreary, and dank. A middle-aged, washed up man’s place. People are nomads, gypsies, wanderers, and other sorts who want to stay off of the grid if-you-know-what-I-mean.
SERVICE: No front-of-house staff. Only way to get served is to sit at the bar. The tables are only there for looks.
SOUND LEVEL: Quiet in an eerie sense. There is a jukebox that intermittently plays but the real music comes from the occasional fistfight.
RECOMMENDED: Whatever the bartender serves. Hopefully, you’ll have the opportunity to eat some of his corn bread.
DRINKS AND WINE: Try and see if you can swig anything from an unmarked bottle. It’s smoother than rattle snake’s venom. No roofies are infused. Only order top shelf double ryes, scotches, bourbons, and the occasional brew to make your perfect boilermaker.
PRICES: Free as long as you don’t say anything to no one.
OPEN: All day, ever day.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes