Thanks to its sense of history and pub-style sensibility, Bethlehem's Tally-Ho Tavern reeks with character.
That character makes it easy to imagine the thousands of neighbors, Lehigh University students and Bethlehem Steel workers who have frequented the tavern since its beginning as a 1920s speakeasy in the building's basement to meet and greet friends, celebrate good times and seek solace and sympathy for the bad ones.
The Tally-Ho's legacy as a safe haven for letting off steam lives on. Today, not only is the South Side tavern a haven for fun and frivolity, it's also a great place for a good meal that's a good value.
After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the tavern moved from its protected location to the very public first floor, and I wouldn't be surprised if it looked then much as it does now.
Aged, dark wood predominates in the main dining room from the bar and wall paneling to the tall booths scratched with names of uncounted revelers who wanted to leave behind a permanent record of their presence. The ceiling's Glen plaid-style wallpaper, on panels between rich wooden beams, is a stylish note of surprise.
When I visited, the tavern was decked out for St. Patrick's Day with shiny shamrocks dangling from the bar and a green hat and holiday flag hanging with the Stars and Stripes. I sensed a party waiting to happen.
Casual foods fill the Tally-Ho's menu, matching its casual style. There are appetizers like quesadillas, nachos and chicken wings, a few dinner salads, the tavern's signature chili, and a handful of entrees that include Olde English fish and chips, a crab patty dinner, chicken breast dinner and several steaks.
Two pages are devoted to a host of sandwiches, including a quarter-pound hot dog, the ''Ho Reuben,'' the ''Mad Greek'' gyro, steak sandwiches, club sandwiches and 10 burgers named for colleges across the Lehigh Valley.
From the appetizers listing, steamed clams and pierogies captured our interest. We enjoyed the former, a dozen large and chewy Florida farm-raised little neck clams.
The latter ''St. Stanislov's church-made pierogies'' might just qualify as best-ever. These three potato-filled pasta pockets were evenly browned, yet tender, and butter was used so judiciously, the sauteed pierogies were simply rich, and at all not greasy. Thick golden slices of sauteed onions, limp, yet firm, proved fine counterpoint.
Clearly fresh, dinner salads were a toss up of mesclun mix, carrot shreds, thick onion slices, wimpy winter tomato slices and large, crunchy croutons. We sampled two dressings made in house, balsamic vinaigrette and ranch; both were excellent, proving homemade does make a difference.
From the menu's entrees, we ordered a London broil dinner, which provided enough food for a second helping at home. Thin slices of flank steak, marinated in a sweet and zippy sauce, were tender enough to cut with a fork. A vegetable medley carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini and yellow squash offered thumbs-up flavor. Thick garlic toast and a baked potato were standard fare.
Half of the jerk chicken entree, from the evening's specials, also went home in a doggie bag. Seasoned with homemade sauce (orange juice, brown sugar, Tabasco, green onion and Old Bay seasoning), this spicy grilled chicken was dry at the thinner portions of the boneless skinless breasts, but still tasty. The accompanying Caribbean rice, which was quite good, also offered zippy flavor. Counterpoint to cool overheated taste buds would have been appreciated here.
Since we already had two doggie bags packed for home, we opted out of the Tally-Ho's dessert, cheesecake. After all, when an eatery's been around as long as this tavern has, there's always tomorrow.
Dinner for two, including tax, tip and nonalcoholic beverages, totaled $36.10.
Susan Gottshall is a freelance restaurant reviewer for Go Guide. Gottshall, who tells it like it is, attempts to remain anonymous during restaurant visits. All meals are paid for by The Morning Call.
Linda O'Connell, Assistant
Managing Editor, Features