The road towards having a new restaurant at the Sun Inn has been one filled with vitriol, drama, and long Bethlehem City Council meetings.
Back in the 70s the Sun Inn was in desperate need of saving. Then a rundown old building, the Sun Inn Preservation Association was formed and set off to raise millions to rehab the historic inn. Finally, in 1982, the Sun Inn reopened as a museum/restaurant. The following years wouldn’t prove as fruitful as those first efforts to save it.
Throughout the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s the inn saw five restaurants run their courses. The last restaurant in the inn closed in 2003 and with the lessee gone the liquor license expired following their departure. In 2005 the Sun Inn applied for a newly-approved liquor license called an Economic Development license. This license, a $50,000 one-time, non-transferable license, afforded new businesses a shot at opening up a restaurant without resorting to $125,000+ license costs. This angered a hell of a lot of people.
With recent developments at the Inn, Bethlehem’s economic development director Joe Kelly was quoted as saying, “The city has always been supportive of getting the Sun Inn back to an active restaurant…” This couldn’t be further from the truth. In particularly lengthy council minutes and letters-to-the-editor, local business owners lampooned and chastised council and the Sun Inn for even considering the license. Pissed off that they had to pay more for their liquor license (that they owned, could transfer, and sell, unlike the Sun Inn’s requested license), the witch hunters were out in full force to get the resolution knocked down. Lucy Lennon, then owner of The Dancing Fish and later The Other Fish, complained about fairness and market values. Her cries were supported by the Holt family, now owners of Apollo Grill. It’s certainly worth noting that the Holts ran the Sun Inn in the 80’s as their first restaurateurs, and ducked out when the Sun Inn refused to grant them a lengthy lease, opting for shorter lease terms.
With the license, the Sun Inn wished to bring in the celebrated chef Walter Staib from Philadelphia. Staib runs the City Tavern, a historical building toting fine dining. Such a restaurant is exactly what the Sun Inn was interested in, with historical and haute cuisine paired to old time ales and beverages. After all of the hemming and hawing from local businesses, the Lehigh County Tavern Association, and other people who apparently didn’t want nice things, a vote was to occur. Prior to the vote, many residents of Bethlehem voiced their support for the project and for renewing the restaurant at the Sun Inn. Mayor John Callahan also voiced his unequivocal support and urged the city council to pass the measure. They did not.
And so it went. For the next five years the Sun Inn would be host to various events like ghost hunting and historical tours, but not a full service restaurant. That changed in 2010 when Michael Adams left The Farmhouse in Emmaus. Adams was responsible for putting The Farmhouse on the map, earning the restaurant notoriety for farm-to-table before the concept exploded in the 2000s. Adams was also nominated for the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Mid-Atlantic Chef in 2008. Adams hoped to open the Sun Inn’s restaurant fully by the end of 2011 but fell short of that goal. The past year he served out of a small tent at Musikfest and later went on to hold full dinners on weekends during the 2011 Christmas season.
We have been taking the approach of “believe it when we see it” in regards to the Sun Inn opening fully as a restaurant based on these occurrences, but an email sent out recently by the Sun Inn points to a full opening on the horizon. The email states, “Based on the positive response, Chef Michael Adams is planning to open the restaurant for weekends at the end of January or the beginning of February.” No opening date has been posted to the Sun Inn’s website yet, but after a few soft opening weekends one can probably expect the restaurant to serve daily in the near future. There’s still no word on a liquor license, something Adams hoped he’d get before the opening.
Chef Adams is also hosting a Foundations of Cooking series at the inn. The classes are limited to 12 people and cost $49 per person. The lessons begin at 6:30 and include “Stock Soup to Winter Stew” on January 18th, “Food for the Heart” on February 15th, and “A Taste of Spring” on March 21st. To register for the classes you can call the Sun Inn’s office at 610-866-1758. Hopefully in the near future you’ll be able to call and make reservations for your dinner as well.