A microdistillery and new restaurant are coming to Bethlehem’s Sun Inn, in a venture organizers say will respect the site’s storied past.
A group of city residents is working to open Christmas City Spirits in the historic Main Street inn and revive its dining room into the Tavern at the Sun Inn with People’s Kitchen owner and chef Billy Gruenewald.
“We’re using the story of the Sun Inn to go along with our products. We aren’t trying to make it something different,” said Brett Biggs, a distillery partner who works as a vice president at a downtown financial advising firm. “The spirits will be of Colonial nature.”
The partners have been working with Gruenewald to create a tavern-style menu sourced with local, seasonal ingredients and serve the distillery’s products. They expect to serve dinner Thursday through Saturday from about 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
“We want to use everything that the inn was and is and use that as our story,” Biggs said.
Plans call for updating the inn’s outdoor space to the left of the building into a seating area.
“Our intent it to have a nice outdoor space downtown that you can sit and have a drink and some light fare out there,” Biggs said.
The inn has operated a restaurant sporadically over the years, with the most recent restaurateur — Michael Adams, now executive chef at Hotel Bethlehem — departing in May 2013.
“We are Bethlehemites through and through and it is a very exciting opportunity for us to take such a landmark and do something like this,” Biggs said.
The exact opening date is in flux as they await all of the necessary legal approvals. Christmas City Spirits has obtained its state liquor license and is now awaiting federal permits.
“We’ll hopefully be distilling soon,” Biggs said. “We hope to be open by about mid-summer.”
The distillery partners brew beer and wine for fun and were excited by the possibilities when microdistillery licenses became available in Pennsylvania.
Now more than a year into the process, they’ve learned a ton about distilling and taken courses but they haven’t yet gotten to try their hand at it due to the law, Biggs said.
The Sun Inn dates to 1758, and George Washington is among the historical greats who have stayed there.
“George Washington was one of the largest distillers in the U.S. at the time of his death and we’ve looked at what they were doing to form our marketing plan,” Biggs said.
Christmas City Spirits will open a tasting room in the inn’s old drinking cellar — known as a rathskeller — and serve traditional Colonial spirits, like apple brandy, rye whiskey and rum.
The first products will be apple brandy made with local apples and a white Colonial-style rum made from molasses.
“We are using traditional techniques of pot distilling to try to be true to that era,” Biggs said. “We want to have a modern touch to it as well.”
It will be a much smaller operation than South Side Bethlehem’s Social Still, Biggs said.
Gruenewald operates the People’s Kitchen on Linden Street and the Bolt & Key in the Ben Franklin TechVentures building on South Mountain.