From Four Lanes to the Hotel: Inside the Langhorne Borough’s Eatery


Photo taken by James Bonnell

James Bonnell

It’s 5:45 pm on a Friday night. The song, “Tennessee Whiskey” can be heard from the touch tunes jukebox nestled in the corner near a Pennsylvania Lottery machine.

No one is playing the lotto machine at the moment, but we’ll come back to that later.

Currently, the bar consists of a group of patrons somewhere between happy hour and dinner guests, to those that will be spending the remainder of the evening on a stool.

Seated to my right, is one of a few dinner time comedians. We’ll call him Johnny.

Johnny appears to have been in his seat for some time now and he’s beginning to get political. “The Democrats are going to get run over in these upcoming elections,” he says.

From the other side of the bar, a bartender named Carla can be heard under her breath, “It’s not even 6 pm and we’re already doing the politics. Gonna be a long night.”

But Carla isn’t actually upset. It’s much more like banter than anything else.

See, Johnny is part of the happy hour/dinner guest bar time. And if you spend enough time here, you’ll find these guests rarely stay past 8 pm.

So, even if what Johnny was saying came off as offensive, everyone knows it won’t even be much longer before someone else is sitting in his stool.

Carla plays along, only a handful of more political jokes are made, and after just two more drinks, Johnny is headed home to turn in for the night.

From an outside perspective, it’s quite poetic in a way. These two vastly different people having the wherewithal to understand their separate roles in this very specific interaction.

Johnny knows how far the envelope can be pushed and Carla always knows the farther he goes, the sooner he’ll go home.

After sometime with the people of this establishment, it becomes extraordinarily apparent that everyone knows each other and everyone knows what to expect when they’re all together.

Sure, unpredictable circumstances arise and new faces walk through the doors, but in the end, no one is really surprised.

The Langhorne Hotel was originally licensed in 1724 as a “House of Entertainment” named The Tavern at Attleboro. With the historical significance of the Langhorne Borough area, Four Lanes End was very successful during this period and would be renamed The Tavern at Four Lanes End.

Throughout the next hundred or so years, the building was remodeled extensively and eventually purchased by a man named George E. Ehrlen from Philadelphia, in 1904. Sometime around here, the tavern was renamed The Langhorne Hotel.

During this era, it was run as a country inn with food and lodging for travelers. There was a livery stable outside and stalls for 20 horses and a few wagons.

As with most food service businesses around this time, prohibition forced Ehrlen to remove alcohol from their menu.

At one time, a national housing shortage during WWII caused the federal government to lease the building as apartments for nearby mining workers.

It wasn’t until Harry and Wanda Force bought the property around 1952 that it would serve food or drinks again.

After some rather large renovations, the Force’s opened their doors and resumed business.

The Langhorne Hotel’s current owners, Benjamin and Lois Asta, purchased the business from the Force’s in 1972 and never looked back.

They sold their house and moved to the hotel with their three children, Tom, Ben Jr., and Lisa.

What was originally a small house attached to the kitchen of the business, was renovated in 1975 to add more suitable living arrangements for the family. Imagine having to use the kitchen for the restaurant, as a personal kitchen as well.

Ben Jr. and Tom have worked in the kitchen with their father Benjamin since they moved. And over the past few years, along with their wives, Tammy and Therese respectively, have been in charge of day-to-day operations.

Between the four of them, at least someone will be there every day they’re open, from open till close.

It’s now around 8 pm on Friday night and the dinner rush is basically completely over. The bartender dims the lights and turns the music up.

If Ben Jr. is working, he’ll make an appearance outside of the kitchen around 9 or 10 pm. But for now, the focus is on Larry who lives upstairs.

One of the things that separates the Langhorne Hotel from so many other colonial buildings turned modern bar, is the actual “hotel” concept. Most people are familiar with the idea of calling a food and beverage business an “Inn”, if for nothing more than historical accessibility.

However, in the case of this establishment, there are 8 livable apartments on the second floor, and a penthouse apartment on the third floor. The rooms on the second floor make use of two separate communal bathrooms and the availability is more focused on long term engagements.

Larry is only one of the individuals who is living up there, but he also may be one of the oldest.

A recently retired long term Amtrak employee, Larry needs a cane for stability, and his glasses are thicker than those old rec spec goggles athletes used in the 80s. Don’t let the image fool you, Larry has been working on creative writing and he’s brought down his notes.

This week, he’s working on a short story about a man who reads poetry.

Perhaps in a move of comfort, he’s found his usual stool near then door that opens up to the bathrooms and the stairs to his apartment. He’ll be in this spot until around 10 pm, at which point he and another gentleman from upstairs will help each other back to their rooms.

Out of all the men who live upstairs, these two are pretty much the only ones who will spend time at the bar.

The rest of the night’s patrons will be a mix of Langhorne Borough residents, people who have to pass through the borough to get home, and sometimes the occasional friend of an employee stopping in to say hi.

While the main dining menu is available until 9 pm Tuesday through Saturday, there is a late-night menu consisting of mostly fried items. Which makes sense because everyone likes to eat something after a few drinks.

It’s almost 10 pm and Ben Jr. hasn’t made an appearance. He must not be working. And just as the thought happens, his brother Tom exits the kitchen and thanks everyone for their patronage just before leaving for the night.

A little after 10 pm, the cook who has to stay for the late-night menu brings out a plate of a new item he’s been working on. It’s fried ravioli and it smells delicious.

Charlie started working here about 2 years ago and has a number of different recipes he’s acquired through his various previous jobs in kitchens.

“At one of my old jobs, my boss used to let me bring the food I cooked to the tables. I love seeing customers faces when they get their food,” he adds.

On a Saturday night about a week later, Charlie brings out a plate of a bruschetta style bread dish with the rest of the garlic bread from the dinner rush.

Every dinner meal comes with a small plate of garlic seasoned pasta and broccoli. So, even though Charlie is relatively new, it’s no surprise the generosity of tradition rubbed off on him.

It’s worth noting that the total number of guests ordering food on any given Friday or Saturday night can reach upwards of 100.

The bar area features a large wrap around countertop with 14 stools, two high top tables with two stools, and three lower tables with four chairs each seated just under a large television on the wall opposite the bar. Off to the right of the bar is a square room with a fireplace called the “Red Room for it’s red color.

This room has five tables with four chairs each, and a service station for coffee and tea. Following through the red room will take you into the dining room, which serves as the main dining area.

In the dining room you’ll find 12 more tables with four seats each and a host stand near a side entrance next to the parking lot.

Covering the exposed brick walls of the business are a number of historical photos and memories of years past. Around the bar area, homages to one of the owner’s kids in the form of skateboards can be seen on display.

Décor in the dining room focuses more on the past of the borough and the buildings previous owner’s.

During the week and most dinner rushes, servers working in the dining room will call on those tending bar to provide beverages for their tables.

On one particular Thursday afternoon, Tammy walks up to the bar and says, “Hey Carla do you have my martini for table four? Oh yea, and a coke too.”

Carla is in the middle of making Washington Apple shots for a group at the bar, but still finds a way to get the drinks out for table four.

This brings us back to communal understanding that is so apparent here. Sure, this could be a result of having experience in the service industry. Yet, it feels like there’s a more specific kind of agreement happening.

Regardless of levels of training, becoming flustered during chaos is almost impossible to avoid. And with the onslaught of the COVID pandemic, the business has seen its fair share of setbacks.

Just last week, two employees tested positive, and the restaurant was forced to operate without them. Again, no matter how frustrating, the team always finds a way.

“Hey, do you need me to take this pickup order so you can finish taking theirs,” is an offer heard almost daily here.

Although not every day is perfect, the general cohesiveness of the Langhorne Hotel is something rarely seen in such social settings.

Employees working with management to create an enjoyable experience for customers who understand exactly that.

Even when a customer gets something they didn’t order, no one is upset. The people who eat and drink here know that the people who work here just want to provide as well as possible.

Maybe it’s the old Colonial era feel of the town itself. Maybe it’s the fact that Ben Jr. and Tom basically grew up in the building.

Whatever it is, there’s an aspect of the place that can feel a bit homey.

No matter what time of day, or what day of the week, you can always find something to do at the Langhorne Hotel.