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The Good Smoke    


by Chris Poh



”Open the old cigar-box--let me consider anew--

Old friends, and who is Maggie that I should abandon you?


A million surplus Maggies are willing to bear the yoke;

And a woman is only a woman, but a good Cigar is a Smoke.”

                                                  
                                                         - From The Betrothed by Rudyard Kipling

            



The Wooden Match in Bethlehem, PA as seen in American Public House Review




While I do not embrace Mr. Kipling’s whimsical tongue-in-cheek assessment concerning the expendability of women, I can certainly appreciate his heartfelt fondness for that simple pleasure that has on occasion been frowned upon by those of the “gentler sex.” Even though I grew up in a household surrounded by cigarette and pipe smokers, the ladies of the house would cast a disapproving glance toward those who tended to their liking of nicotine with something other than my dad’s roll-ups or the aromatic offerings in my grandfather’s meerschaum. Whether it was that surly uncle with a stogy, or some stylish rogue sporting a hand-rolled Montesino, the females in the family would hide their curiosity and, as I often suspected, their secret regard under the cover of a somewhat exaggerated level of distress.




The bar at The Wooden Match in Bethlehem, PA as seen in American Public House Review





But it would be unfair to attach this point of view solely to the feminine perspective. Since the inception of the country, Americans of both genders have struggled with the issue of the tolerance and propriety of our habits and publicly licensed behaviors. And while our Founding Fathers rallied the rebels and regulars alike with some rather lofty rhetoric, our revolution was as much about the use of alcohol, tobacco and firearms as it was about freedom, democracy and equality.



Dining room in the cellar of the Wooden match in Bethlehem, PA as seen in American Public House Review




Even before the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, Virginia tobacco growers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, were heavily indebted as a result of the system that forced colonial plantations to borrow money from London guarantors in order to maintain their farming operations in America. So it was not only the search for their rightful place in history that inspired those patriotic voices of 1776, but it was also the search for that affordable and accepting place where one could keep their powder dry, their whistle wet and their tobacco lit. Although musket fire is strongly discouraged, The Wooden Match in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania graciously accommodates two of the three criteria.




Wooden Indian at The Wooden Match in Bethlehem, PA as seen in American Public House Review .com

Smoke at The Wooden Match in Bethlehem, PA as seen in American public House Review




Located inside a classic Victorian-era railroad depot, that for decades provided passengers access to points east via the Jersey Central Line, the restaurant, which is owned by Cigars International, now caters to those discernable palates that have a taste for craft beer and good cigars. This is a station where one doesn’t mind the prospect of being stranded without transport for an extended period of time. And according to the experiences and testimony of some staff members there just might be the spirit of a lonely traveler still waiting to board that last train home.




Sign at the Wooden match in Bethlehem, PA as seen in American Public House Review




Sign at The Wooden Match in Bethlehem, PA as seen in American Public House Review




While I personally remain skeptical about such matters, the ethereal quality of the light as it is filtered through the soft fragrant smoke does give the old building a rather pleasant otherworldly feel. There is the sense that you can peer through the veil of time and space back to those days when the anthracite burning steam locomotives ran these rails, and the stacks at Bethlehem Steel filled the skies with the great grey ghosts of molten pig iron. Those days when the likes of Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt visited this iconic symbol of America’s industrial might. And like my fellow patrons at The Wooden Match, these great men of war and peace could fully appreciate the attributes of a good time, a good drink, a good companion, and of course—a good smoke! 




Teddy Roosevelt picture in the Wooden Match in Bethlehem, PA as seen in American Public House Review
Teddy Roosevelt on a whistle stop.




Winston Churchill smoking a cigar as seen in American Public House Review
Winston Churchill visited Bethlehem when it was a steel manufacturing behemoth. Of course his cigar was ever present.






The Wooden Match

  61 West Lehigh Street
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania 18018


610-865-1777

www.thewoodenmatch.com






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