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This article by Angelina Sciolla was prepared for the July 16, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

New Hope on a Friday: Contagious Energy

It was a dark and stormy night.

No, really it was. Along the slick streets of New Hope on a June weekend

(can you remember a weekend in May or June when they weren’t?), nary

a romantic duo was found canoodling along the picturesque bridges

or window shopping for antiques. It seemed everybody had taken refuge

from the rain under a roof somewhere. Thankfully, in this little hamlet

there are plenty of interesting rooftops under which to take shelter.

On this particular evening I had two roofs in mind. The first, belonging

to Triumph Brewing Company, was intended to be my warm-up spot —

the lubricant for some dancing later on at Havana’s newly expanded

music space.

Situated in Union Square, this sister to the Triumph Brewery of Nassau

Street hosts the happy hour crowd in an industrial-sized concrete,

wrought iron, and brick structure. The beer is brewed on the premises

and the large vats stare down at you from the balcony. It’s sturdy

beer drinking decor with just enough contemporary touches to keep

it hip, although the choice of building materials does not do much

for sound absorption, as I found out a little later.

While there is a large and noisy dining room, the U-shaped bar easily

accommodates those after-work revelers with enough stamina to get

through that awkward phase — between 8 and 10 p.m. — to make

it a full night out. The energy is contagious and I envisioned a few

phone numbers being written on matchbook covers at some point during

the evening. I caught the crowd right in the middle of the awkward

phase, watching patiently as the band began to set up. The lull gave

me enough time to sample the brew and the grub, both of which are

worthy of a return visit.

The homemade beers include but are not limited to honey wheat, amber

ale, India pale ale, and a special bitter. First I sampled the amber,

a malty but pleasant brew reminiscent of a Seattle microbrew. Then

I washed down a spicy rich Asian crab salad with wasabi peas with

the India pale ale, which packs both a bite and a punch. Designated

drivers and single women drink at your own peril.

The multicultural menu at Triumph is truly one of its selling points.

The very English fish’n chips showed up in a paper cone and the tabbouleh

and melon salad was first revered and then devoured by my neighbor

at the bar. Mexican pork chops, risotto primavera, and porterhouse

steak help to round out the many selections, all tastily designed

to compliment the house beverage.

The only drawback appears to be the music, and I don’t mean the musicians.

It’s just that the capacious structure mercilessly bounces the sound

around to a muffling numbness. Loose Cannon played competently and

I’m sure with a few more India pale ales I might have absorbed the

sound a little better myself. But I become impatient if cannot hear

song lyrics and, besides, other destinations beckoned.

Back down to the "strip" — if ever you could actually

use that word to refer to rural River Road — I headed toward New

Hope’s most famous nightspot, Havana, to check out yet another band

as well as the acoustics.

The place was busting at the seams with activity as the Friday night

crowd mobbed the front porch, drinking tropical concoctions and smoking

up a storm. (I could swear the New York tobacco refugees are commuting

down here now.) Havana’s Southern gothic cum Caribbean plantation

vibe keeps attracting a satisfyingly mixed crowd; from the fashionable

downtown types to the biker leather locals and Bucks County bohemians.

Such a sampling is great for people watching, but now that the club

has spruced up its music venue, people can actually watch the band.

It was after 10 p.m. when I arrived at Havana and so

I was subject to the $5 cover charge and the accompanying paper bracelet.

The door charge varies according to the band. For some of the better-known

acts, it may be $10 or $15. On this particular night it was Brass

Roots, yet another R&B group that featured a front man who could easily

double for American Idol Ruben Studdard, Jeff cap and all.

The expanded venue includes table seating for about 50, a roomy dance

floor, and a stage that puts the musicians at eye level with just

about everybody on the good side of the velvet rope. And the sound

quality is exponentially better than at Triumph. It’s only fair to

point out, however, that Havana as been one of the premiere music

venues in the area for 25 years, so they’ve had time to figure out

sound issues. (Hint to Triumph: Berber carpeting!)

Havana’s hefty menu, a mishmash of Mexican, Creole, Caribbean, and

Continental, includes a fine salty sampling of bar foods. While I

swayed on my stool to Motown, I nibbled on the Jamaican jerked chicken

wings and hot Chesapeake crab dip. As the night wore on, the porch

dwellers headed inside to the roomy dance floor and boogied to faux-Ruben

and the tootin’ horn section. The band, while not one of the national

acts Havana often boasts, did some dynamic renditions of R&B favorites

without making me feel I was at somebody’s wedding.

What better way to punctuate the end of your 40-hour week than with

some breezy pop or blues providing soundtrack to your warm summer

night. While Havana wins as a music venue, Triumph has much to offer

in terms of its atmosphere and menu. You can easily do what I did,

make it a night and try both.

Now that it’s July, just don’t forget the bug spray.

— Angelina Sciolla

Triumph Brewing Company, Union Square, New Hope, 215-862-8300.

Music Wednesday through Saturday. Cover $3 to $5.

Havana Restaurant, 105 South Main Street, New Hope, 215-862-5501.

Music Tuesday through Saturday. Call for cover/ticket prices. www.havananewhope.c

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