The 101: A Wilkes-Barre Survival Guide

Bill Thomas, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Every issue, Arts & Entertainment Editor Bill Thomas and Assistant Editor Jake Cochran indulge their vanity and give a thoroughly biased crash-course in whatever madness happens to be dwelling in their warped minds. Their views do not reflect those of The Beacon, its staff or Wilkes University. Blah blah blah. This week, Bill Thomas is tackling…


New to Wilkes-Barre? Here’s some hidden gems and not-so-hidden hotspots that’ll help you retain your tenuous grip on sanity when finals week hits like a ton of bricks.

Best spot to get your smoke on:
The Crimson Lion (37 E. South St.)

Grab your journal, your shoulder bag and your ironic 80s pop-culture tee and curl up at The Crimson Lion to write some poetry, sip some coffee and smoke some Starbuzz Purple Savior. Yes, the nicknames are ridiculous, but the flavored tobacco packs a heady wallop. The experience of smoking it in a hookah is unique, plus it’ll make you look cooler than your cigarette-suckin’ pals. Even if you don’t smoke, The Crimson Lion is a chill hangout for the artsy-fartsy set, complete with paintings on the wall and occasional performances by local bands (see here for a perfect example).

Best spot to declare war on your liver:
Hardware Bar (14 S. Main St.)

A night at the Hardware Bar is the closest thing to guest-starring on an episode of “The Jersey Shore” you’re likely to experience in NEPA. It’s a good idea to put a condom on your soul beforehand, lest you catch some kind of existential STD. Nevertheless, when you’ve just finished typing up a 12-page report on the sociopolitical implications of, I don’t know, stuff, and you’re looking to completely cut loose and indulge your most excessive hedonistic impulses, there’s no place more suited than Hardware Bar. Enjoy the loud music, overpriced alcohol and sweaty make-out sessions with scantily-clad strangers tonight; Worry about the consequences tomorrow.

Best spot to question your sexuality:
Twist (1170 Highway 315)

Ostensibly a gay club, that doesn’t stop hetero folks in search of a party from gravitating toward Twist as enthusiastically as George Michaels exposes himself to undercover police officers in public restrooms. Whereas Hardware Bar is all about sleaze and sweat, Twist is, well, also about sleaze and sweat. But it’s less cramped and less aggressive, plus a lot more colorful, flamboyant and fun. Drag queens are awesome. What more do you need to know?

Best spot to indulge in all things retro:
Musical Energi  (59 N. Main St.)

Everything a hipster needs that can’t be found at Salvation Army is here. Movies, music, funky posters, freaky oddities and, let’s not forget, vinyl, vinyl and more vinyl! The place is loaded with vintage goodies and overseen by an assortment of colorful characters. Talk to Jay, the owner, and he’ll be happy to explain just how awesome vinyl records are and why mp3s are the tool of Satan. Talk to employee Rich and he’ll tell you more about cult/horror/b-movie obscurities than you ever wanted to know. Ask other-employee Mark about his band Mock Sun and you may just discover some of the best local music NEPA has to offer.

Best spot to ogle naked chicks:
Gentlemen’s Club 10 (205 Mundy St.)

Don’t pretend you don’t want to go, dude (or dudette, if that’s how you roll). You know you do. Make sure to hit Amateur Night every first Thursday for your best shot at seeing that cute redhead in your Principles of Fundamentals class doing something she’ll regret in the morning.


And now, a very special “NEPA glossary” of terms every area newcomer should know…

OK, you’re going to be hearing this one a lot, so best get it out the way first. It’s not that hard. NEPA is “Northeastern Pennsylvania,” and it’s the best part of Pennsylvania. Not really, but we’re supposed to say that to make ourselves feel better about not living in Philadelphia.

A little outdated, but it still comes up from time to time. NEPA has its own regional dialect that falls somewhere between mush-mouth and redneck. Steps have been taken to remove words like “heyna” (meaning, roughly, “isn’t it?”) from local vocabularies, but they still pop up from time to time (you may notice we don’t like to pronounce the letter “t”).

The Sterling Hotel
Presidents have hung their hats here. So have hobos. Love it or hate it, this pain-in-the-neck is the reason you have to take a five-minute detour to travel one lousy block down River Street.

Part historical landmark, part eyesore deathtrap, the fact that it still stands defies not only repeated announcements from the city that the thing will be razed soon (no, really this time), but also damn near every law of physics.

These things are everywhere. Reliable for quick, cheap, made-to-order food that pleases the palate of those haunted by late-night munchies (or a telling lack of disposable income), Sheetz may seem like “just” a gas station mini-mart, but it’s oh-so-much more. Try their Shmiscuits and Shwings; You’ll see where the obsession comes from.

The sworn enemy of all good, red-blooded, true-blue Sheetz customers. If your friends go to Wawa, they are not your friends.

Luzerne County Courthouse
And you thought the Galactic Senate from “Star Wars” was corrupt. Made infamous for its role in the “kids for cash” scandal and subsequent inclusion in Michael Moore’s incendiary documentary “Capitalism: A Love Story.”

Old Forge-style pizza
The people of Old Forge would have you believe that NEPA is the “Pizza Capital of the World.” It’s not. That would be Italy. Or New York City, at least. Still, we Pennsylvanians do so love our pizza. In fact, my research indicates that there are more pizza shops per capita in NEPA than there are palm trees in the entirety of Florida. Trust me, that’s 100 percent true.

Anyway, we’ve developed our own type of pizza, dubbed “Old Forge-style,” which essentially equates to a thinner Sicilian fried in peanut oil, with a specialty cheese-blend instead of mozzarella.

Other regional foods you might stumble across include pierogies (fried dumplings with potato, onion, cheese or other fillings), haluski (fried noodles with sweet cabbage) and pagach (basically a pizza with mashed potatoes and onion instead of cheese and tomato sauce).

Let’s not go there.