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The Revival of Montgomery County’s General Lafayette Inn

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Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery's Wagyu burger.

Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery  646 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill, (484) 344-5438, barrenhilltavern.com. cuisine: Tuscan-inspired small plates, pizzas, pastas and entrées.  cost: Upscale bar fare.  attire: Casual.  atmosphere: Friendly, relaxed, welcoming.  hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Saturday, 10:30-2 a.m. Sunday.  extras: New house beers tapped every Friday; various special events (beer dinners, guest brewery nights, etc.); private dining upstairs.

When Erin Wallace announced that she would be reviving the former General Lafayette Inn—a historic restaurant and microbrewery vacant since the fall of 2010—the Greater Philadelphia beer scene took notice. The bi-level mammoth had what she called “good bones,” not to mention a righteous cult following, making the ownership plunge a natural nextstep for the restaurateur and her mini craft-brew empire. 

Already the owner of Manayunk’s Old Eagle Tavern and South Philly’s Devil’s Den, Wallace tiptoed into her Montgom-ery County brewpub in early November. She wasn’t out to duplicate the philosophy of the former proprietors. Rather, she wanted to reinvent the space while paying tribute to its past. “General Lafayette fought at Barren Hill, so the name’s a nod at its history,” says Wallace. “We’ve kept the original structure completely, keeping the steel and copper finishes intact while refurbishing the interior and exterior.”

 

LAFAYETTE’S NEW LIFE: (Top left) Barren Hill’s pork-belly reuben; head brewer Scott Morison; wheat-beer mussels; bartender George Sharpless serves patrons.

The circa-1732 structure has been garnished with warmer, more approachable touches. Splashes of asparagus green and moody maroons elevate the exterior, while the interior’s grassy colors enliven the two downstairs dining rooms. The original, saloon-like wood paneling remains, and the
central focal points are the back-to-back oak bars, where you can view house brews being made through picture windows.

The real overhaul, however, comes courtesy of brewmaster Scott “the Dude” Morrison. Chalk it up to good timing that the seven-time Great American Beer Festival winner landed at the tavern. More recently of Dock Street Brewing Company, Morrison oversees a seven-barrel system. Working with four fermenters, he brews on a rotating basis. 

The number of house beers ranges from 12 to 18 (or more) weekly. Any of the 30 taps not pouring Barren Hill varieties are devoted to releases from guest breweries. “Erin and I agreed that we’d do a little bit of everything, which would give us the ability to brew more beers,” Morrison says. “It forces us to constantly come up with new ones. It’s really a brewer’s dream, as you’re always innovating, rather than brewing the same standards and seasonals.” 

As a Belgian-influenced brewer, Mor-rison is challenging himself to produce a balanced, international lineup. “I’m not trying to be flashy here; I’m trying to make good beer,” he says. “I extract as much as I can from the basic ingredients.”

Morrison is already getting noticed for his clever hybrids. Philadelphia beer writer Don Russell named his Pilsner IPA the “it” lager of 2013, and his West Coast Oats—a Chinook- and Aramis-hopped oatmeal stout—is a big seller at Barren Hill.

Chef Paul Trowbridge has assembled a compact, carefully edited compendium of bar favorites—comfort food with stylish upgrades. His reubens are built around melt-in-your-mouth hunks of pork belly. The tempura-battered, cold-water-pollock fish and chips come with a side of mustard greens. Chopped iceberg greens benefit from bacon jam and frizzled potato strings. “I’m producing things you’d want to eat with beer,” says Trowbridge.

THE SKINNY: Get in on the ground floor of Lafayette Hill’s most satisfying new resurrection, where the beer is as compelling as the fine-tuned cocktails, and bar food is elevated to respectable cuisine. Feel free to opt for that second pint—the Dude will happily abide.

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