1. The Funhouse
5 E. Fourth St.
Cramped spaces, live shows that often turn the joint into a sweatbox/sardine can, cigarette smoke from ceiling to floor and even the pre-cooler years of warm beers have not kept the South Side’s crowning jewel from becoming the gathering place and the all-but-official home of the South Side family. The Funhouse remains the epicenter and town meeting spot of both the blue collar and bohemian art crowd, and its museum walls whisper the stories of generations of Lehigh Valley and Bethlehem bands and singer-songwriters. Owner Tina’s strict dedication to featuring only local acts has kept scores of struggling and starving artists both alive and growing; some stay local, some grow regional and a select few have used these hallowed walls to hone their craft and springboard into national tours. But it’s not just about the melting pot of musicians who often use the small stage as a cross-breeding ground – with its outdoor deck and seasonal décor, there’s some sort of fun for everyone at what the locals affectionately call the The Funhole, Funholio, or simply: The Hole.
2. Godfrey Daniels
7 E. Fourth St.
Where The Funhouse focuses on rising local talent, its neighbor, Godfrey Daniels, features the nation’s finest folk, blues, jazz and singer-songwriter acts – and they’ve done it all as a humble not-for-profit organization of devoted music aficionados. If you’re one of those starving artists who can’t afford a ticket… no problem! You can volunteer to set up chairs, sweep the floors or sell goodies and receive a free pass to the show. With that ’60s communal spirit and the Dylanesque “Absolutely Fourth Street” etched on the bay window, Godfrey’s passionately supports not just the acts, but those who love them. The poster-lined back-concert room is a history lesson and wonderment for all.
3. Touchstone Theatre
321 E. Fourth St.
With grant-writing talent and more literal blood, sweat and tears than these pages could soak up, the small staff of working artists at Touchstone Theatre have been creating for more than 25 years. It’s not uncommon for the shows to grow bigger than the 75-seat black box theater can contain: improv acts have spilled onto the city’s sidewalks, grandiose “theatricades” like the Don Quixote project have marched down police-barricaded streets, and traveling shows have taken original scripts and hand-built sets to local schools and theaters up and down the coast. But most of the magic still goes down inside these historic firehouse walls. With a piano in the café, art lining the lobby walls, and ensemble and local acts storming the stage, Touchstone Theatre remains a vital support system for all forms of local
4. Jolly Joe Timmer’s House of Music
415 Buchanan St.
If you don’t have a profound understanding of the song “One of These Things is Not Like the Other,” take a look at Jolly Joe Timmer’s House of Music, a national treasure and testament to traditional polka camped out in the heart of South Side’s Hispanic district. Across the parking lot from his accordion-filled window, Latin beats blare from stoops in stark contrast to the marches and waltzes Joe has been championing on his WGPA Sunny 1100 AM radio shows for years. Call ahead and enter a world that is as much polka museum as it is a thriving South Side business.
17 W. Morton St.
Take some of the South Side’s most well-known musicians from the area’s most beloved bands, rave enough about their Superbowl food parties and they’ll find a run down hole-in-the-wall on Morton Street, use a favorite vacation spot for inspiration, create their own branch of the Mexican food family tree and call it “Beth-Mex.” What’s it all add up to? Tulum, a little burrito joint that started with a chalk drawn menu board (basically untouched since dia uno) and thrives in part due to a passionate, almost cult-like following of dedicated customers.
6. Homebase Skateshop
14 W. Fourth St.
The story of Homebase deserves one of those inspirational made-for-TV movies or after-school specials. Like most municipalities, Bethlehem has a history of battles and crackdowns on the local underground skateboard culture, but through hard work and perseverance, the staff of Homebase has grown from passionate skate punks with a vision to one of the South Side’s most high-profile advocates on the frontline of local political movements, including the recent approval of the Bethlehem Skateplaza. One pass by this storefront to gaze upon the joie-de-vivre of its staff and it’s easy to see that this crew embodies the spirit of the old adage, “Make your job your joy and you will never work a day in your life.”
7. The Blue Sky Café
22 W. Fourth St.
Much magic and a history of progressive partnerships reside in these restaurant walls. Before it was Blue Sky, So Eat Already’s hand-painted “Natural Foods Restaurant” sign hung above the bay window for years. Later, it was The Green Café challenging a meat and potatoes culture with vegetarian, vegan and macrobiotic fare served amidst Green Party meetings and live jazz brunches. The space transitioned easily into the Blue Sky’s healthy diner concept. Today, the high ceilings and open, short-order-style kitchen still draw steady customers to the South Side’s most creative breakfast cooking.
313 W. Fourth St.
At the furthest reaches of Fourth Street sits a true hidden gem, one that many of its own neighbors fail to take notice of. LEPOCO Peace Center (Lehigh-Pocono Committee of Concern) is an old-school throwback to the passionate activism of the ‘60s, only it’s active a decade into the 21st Century. LEPOCO’s 500-plus members are still non-violently opposing war and pursuing a peaceful world by organizing demonstrations, hosting speeches by peace leaders, creating the summer “Peace Camp” for children and distributing fliers and monthly newsletters. Visit their resource center and see a past begun in Vietnam opposition and grown into an ongoing efforts to keep the peace candle lit on the frontlines of darkness.
9. Tally Ho
205 W. Fourth St.
A remarkably beautiful space with hardwood floors, wooden railed bar (bought by the original owner at the Chicago World’s Fair), high wooden benches that create a roomful of private universes populated primarily by Lehigh University students (except Sunday nights when the townies take back over and enjoy home-cooked food specials). While the focus may have changed over the years (banquet hall, game room, dance hall, live music venue, tiki bar) the clientele has remained constant and dedicated ever since “The Ho’s” 1920 days as a speakeasy located in the basement of the library and old post office. The operation is now above ground, outside with a deck bar and features the South Side’s greatest selection of beer.
10. Play It Again Records
129 W. Fourth St.
Don’t tell the mohawked, punk rock personnel of Play it Again that the MP3 revolution killed the independent record store. Posters and fliers of artists flying miles below the radar fade in the front window, and the creaky floors lead to rich rows of underground and local artists, stacks of new and used CDs and a collector’s paradise of used vinyl. Yes, a store still dealing and trading wax LPs. And cassettes! There might even be some 8-tracks hiding in the piles of the back room of this truly classic record store.
11. Wildflower Café
316 S. New St.
Quite possibly the heart of South Side’s art culture. Besides hosting the best bands of the Lehigh Valley as well as select national acts, the Wildflower supports poetry readings, plays, art workshops and covers nearly every inch of its walls in local artists’ works and photos of the art scene. Perhaps most importantly, local musicians have used the space to gather for improv jams until dawn, playing their hearts out until they pass out on one of the many couches, chairs or rugs on the floor. It is a space the musicians have made their own and often the only thing that has kept the cafe open is the passionate hearts and benefit shows that the artists themselves have organized and participated in. Artists supporting artists – this is where it’s at.
12. Your Welcome Inn
325 S. New St.
Interested in libations? Around the corner from The Funhouse lies Your Welcome Inn, or, as the locals call it, The Welk. A regular pre-gig warm-up for Funhouse acts, the blue-collar prices attract the South Side’s most diverse cast of characters – as evidenced by the wonderfully eclectic jukebox. Weekends are filled with Punks singing Sinatra, Hippies moshing to Metallica and Metal Heads crooning to Cash. Like any true tavern, there are sports on the big screen and an altar to past greats (in this case, The Bo-Sox), a bartender that everyone knows by name and the last shot from the bottle is free. All ages and all demographics – all welcome in.
13. Tallarico’s Chocolates
26 E. Third St.
Described as “a really good guy,” by those who know him, it’s hard to know what owner Brian Tallarico loves more: cooking up his “Immaculate Confection” chocolates or constructing cigar box guitars for his impressive collection. Browse the display case filled with made-from-scratch chocolates featuring homemade caramel, wasabi, chiles, pistachios and other palette-bending mixes, or admire the creatively crafted guitars that could very well summon Brian to come forth from the kitchen, wiping chocolate off his hands, to sit and serenade you. Orally or aurally, the pleasures abound at Tallarico’s.
14. Home and Planet
25 E. Third St.
Before “going green” was a household term and a national craze, Home and Planet was on the forefront of the idea that if you can’t recycle it or compost it, you should make art out of it! While some folks are still dragged kicking and screaming to the recycling bin, H&P features artists who turn full-on trash into useful items: old wax albums morph into CD holders, junked license plates bend to become photo albums, tractor seats and wine barrels find new life as bar stools and even your worn down flip-flops get cut up to become, naturally, doormats. And if this museum of transformed materials isn’t enough to lure you in, H&P is the proud home of the South Side’s most talked about bathroom: an other-worldly portal designed and built by Bethlehem’s own Mr. Imagination. We won’t waste words describing it here. Go. Sit. Recycle your mind.