If Bavaria-born brewer Alois Bube came back to life today, he would probably be overwhelmed to see the amount of activity going on at the brewery, tavern and inn he founded in Mount Joy.
Bube’s Brewery, the complex on the borough’s Market Street that houses restaurants, a historic brewery, a hotel, a museum of artifacts and lots of Victorian-style event rooms, has a lot going on within its 19th-century walls.
To its ever-changing schedule of murder mystery dinners, ghost tours and medieval feasts, Bube’s has added an Escape Room, an evening of jazz, a new chef and menu and even some unusual lodging.
The massive cluster of keys owner Sam Allen carries around Bube’s all day seems symbolic of this plethora of things to do, see, eat and drink. His keys open a variety of rooms filled with a mix of historic and modern brewery equipment, antiques, and private dining and event spaces.
Allen, who is from Elizabethtown, bought Bube’s in 1982, not long after he graduated from college. His passion for history and theater — he was an actor as a student at Penn State — have helped shaped the offerings in the historic complex.
Bube’s has long offered murder mystery dinners in the Alois Restaurant area of the 19th-century hotel building, and themed feast dinners at long tables in the cavernous, candlelit Catacombs eatery — originally a beer-aging cave — with its stone walls and medieval ambiance.
But Allen and his staff are adding new attractions all the time.
“There are a lot of permutations of entertainment here,” Allen says
Bube’s is working toward starting a regular jazz series amid the ornate, Victorian decor of its Alois room — featuring the hotel’s original oak bar.
The inaugural event comes at 8 p.m. Friday, April 28, with Philadelphia jazz vocalist Kevin Valentine performing three sets in the Alois room.
One of Bube’s other new entertainments is its Escape Room, located in the basement of the hotel.
The room, which runs through the end of April, was created by Kate Hopkins and her husband, Rob Earhart, two of the partners in Roundtable Productions — a company that costumes and stages murder mysteries and historical productions,
Six people at a time can go into the Escape Room, Hopkins says, which is a replica of the office of Alois Bube’s son-in-law, Henry Engle.
The room includes a historic safe, an old map of Mount Joy and other artifacts.
Participants have 60 minutes to puzzle over clues in the room and find the key to get out.
“To find your way out, you must work together,” Hopkins says.
Hopkins and Earhart also have created the dozen or so rotating themed murder mystery dinners held at Bube’s every Saturday night.
Allen is often one of the performers who interact, as Victorian characters who might have inhabited Mount Joy in the 1880s, with the diners.
Ghost tours continue every other Friday night, Allen says, with a writer focusing on ghost stories on the first Friday of the month, and Reading paranormal investigator Pat Miley offering a ghost-hunter-centered tour on third Fridays.
And pirate-, Gypsy-, Roman- and medieval-themed feasts continue in the Catacombs Fridays and Sundays.
Allen believes his brewery is the only one in the United States that still exists in its original, 1860 form (with a few modern improvements such as the use of electricity instead of steam power).
He and members of his staff take interested diners on free, pre-meal tours of the brewery and explain what the various rooms and pieces of equipment were used for.
Part of the story of the place involves its namesake, Alois Bube, who, Allen says, emigrated from Bavaria and came to Lancaster County as an 18-year-old journeyman brewer in 1869.
With financing from a neighbor in 1876, Allen says, Bube bought the brewery, which had been built in 1860, so he could make the lager beer that was “all the rage in America.”
Many breweries had taverns and inns at the time, he notes, so Bube built the attached Central Hotel — for lodging and his own family residence — in 1879.
“The hotel had the first flush toilet in Mount Joy,” Allen notes. “We’re so proud of that.”
The brewery closed in 1917, at the beginning of World War I. The coal the brewery needed for power went to the war effort, Allen says, and Prohibition was looming.
Bube’s started brewing beer again in 2001.
“We took an 84-year break,” Allen says with a laugh.
The brewery portion of the complex is filled with artifacts including gigantic wooden barrels, original Bube’s beer bottles in a glass case, antique stoves and a wooden butter churn.
“There are still old fermenting tanks that are filled to the brim with historic artifacts we haven’t had a chance to catalog or interpret,” Allen adds.
Allen explains the “vertical design” of the old brewery.
“The cooling room is upstairs, with a fermenting vault beneath,”Allen says.
In Bube’s day, he notes, “they could pump the hot beer out of the kettle once, up to the top level, where they would cool it. Then they could ferment it one room below, condition it one room below that and then age it” in what is now the Catacombs.
Those with a special interest in historic brewing can schedule a longer, more specialized tour of Bube’s brewery facilities, Allen says.
Those are done when Bube’s brewer, Vincent Zanghi, who runs a homebrew business in York County, is in town to make beer.
New chef, new menu
Another addition at Bube’s is the new chef, David Nutter, who had been cooking at a farm-to-table restaurant in Baltimore, where he went to culinary school.
It’s a homecoming for Nutter, a Lancaster native and Hempfield High School graduate who still has family here.
Nutter says he is in the process of changing both the more casual, burgers-and-sandwiches menu in Bube’s Bottling Works restaurant and pub and the more upscale menu of the Catacombs.
The Catacombs menu “is a bit more refined and it’s plated a little more imaginatively, I would say,” Nutter says.
“What I like to do is combine the French and Italian (culinary) background I started with and do a little American twist on it.
“I just put a pan-roasted duck breast on the menu that I’m serving with a strawberry horseradish glaze,” Nutter says.
“I’ve added a fisherman’s stew, with fresh scallops, shrimp, red snapper and crab all tossed in a lobster broth … served out of an edible pastry shell.”
Nutter says the restaurant will continue to offer such customer favorites as Chicken Coopersmith, with its Marsala sauce, and Chicken Costello, featuring crab and Mornay sauce.
For the Bottling Works menu, Nutter says he wants to bring a few fresh takes on the kinds of carnival food he ate at the York Fair as a kid.
“We’re working on a pumpernickel funnel cake, with the flavors of rye, cocoa powder and molasses,” he says. He’d also like to offer flavored popcorn, perhaps cooked in bacon or duck fat.
Bube’s offers lots of private dining space for groups, such as rooms decorated with stripes, dragonflies or peacock feathers.
Bube’s hosts weddings, parties and other events in the ballroom of the hotel building.
Allen calls the decor of the old Central Hotel — the stencilled walls, oriental rugs and ornate wallpaper and paint — “interpretive Victorian.”
Bube’s now also has a number of exotic, themed hotel rooms, generally rented to event groups since they are served by shared bathrooms.
They include a leopard-motif jungle room; an Arabian Nights room; a fantasy princess room with a huge, lighted vanity; a New Orleans room and a space evoking the U.S. Southwest.
If they’re not rented to a group, Allen notes, these decorated rooms are available to individual lodgers who have entered the whirl of activity happening any day of the week at Bube’s Brewery.