Southside Bethlehem

Southside Bethlehem

40°37’34’N 75°22’32”W

When traveling over the New Street Bridge from the north side of Bethlehem, views of notable brick facades and towering church steeples morph slowly into modern storefronts and lively collegiate crowds. The rows of colonial homes fade into the background while bespoke glassware, local homemade baked goods, and a funky art scene come into full view. Within the more urban, packed, diverse  environment of Southside Bethlehem lies a history and culture somewhat unseen in other parts of the Lehigh Valley—filled with industry, immigration, and progress.

This area was sparsely populated until the movement of the Lehigh Valley Railroad in 1856, with the iron and coal industries following close behind. With trade and production booming, the official Southside Bethlehem borough was founded ten years later. As it turned out, the banks of the Lehigh River were a perfect spot for an industrial change and also an educational one. Asa Packer, owner of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, also established Lehigh University in South Bethlehem in 1865.

This industrial shift spurred a massive influx of immigrants from much of Europe, traveling with the promise of steady work when Bethlehem Steel reorganized in 1899. With executives taking up residence in the upper area of Fountain Hill, the lower area of Southside Bethlehem became peppered with churches and working class neighborhoods. The population grew throughout the early 1900s with immigrants making up about 70% of those living in South Bethlehem. With this surge of people, small businesses, markets, and neighborhood establishments arose. 

Those who settled in South Bethlehem brought diversity and rich cultural pride found through the main streets of Southside Bethlehem to this day.

Third Street became a hub of farmers’ markets and block parties as well as a main thoroughfare of local cigar shops and other businesses. Because of the work at the steel mill, the Southside bloomed through the second World War and employed over 30,000 people by 1945. The 1950s and beyond saw civic and community progress and growth.

Even after the closing of Bethlehem Steel in 1995 after 140 years of industry, those who settled in South Bethlehem brought diversity and rich cultural pride found through the main streets of Southside Bethlehem to this day. Many locals will tell you that Third and Fourth street offer some of the best the Valley has to offer when it comes to homemade no-fuss cuisine. 

The opening of the Sands casino and various ArtsQuest venues, including SteelStacks, brought jobs (and thus, people) to the Southside again, adding to the crowd of Lehigh University transplants. ArtsQuest also operates multiple events throughout the year, including local charitable functions, movie nights, free concerts, and even more on their ten-acre space under the lights of the old Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces.

In 2015, the SouthSide Arts District was formed. Composed predominantly of volunteers, this non-profit group is working to make the Southside a welcoming place for local patrons, businesses, and visitors alike. They’ve created First Friday, which allows you to leisurely stroll main streets surrounded by local music, food, and in-store specials; and their upcoming Greenway Market Fare in September plans to celebrate the surrounding farms that help to feed those on Southside. “We want our diversity and heritage to be respected and celebrated, and our community stakeholders to work together to continue planning a vibrant future,” says Missy Hartney, manager of the SouthSide Arts District.

With the infusion of local art, food, and new businesses, you’re sure to find something fun to do or see on Southside even within a few blocks. We couldn’t possibly list all of the notable attractions, but keep reading to discover a few of our favorites!

A. Lit Roastery & Bakeshop
This little eatery hums with hipster delight, complete with kitschy art, freshly brewed coffee, pastel-hued macarons, and other inventive confections made by pastry pro Melanie Lino. Her business partners, Matt Hengeveld and Dan Taylor, are the guys behind Monocacy Coffee Company.
25 E 3rd St / 484.626.0945

B. Roasted
This is the place for breakfast. I mean, where else can you get savory pancakes like The Henry, featuring bacon, provolone, caramelized onions, and roasted brussels sprouts?
22 W 4th St/ 610.849.2673

C. BONN brewery
The brainchild of quirky duo Sam and Gina Masotto, this local microbrewery serves a lineup of beers that change with the seasons. Visit during their daily happy hour at the oddly specific 4:07 – 5:33 p.m. If you’re a teacher or medical professional, head there at 3 p.m. on Fridays for $1 off house pints.
310 Taylor St / 610.419.6660

D. Hot Plate Soul Kitchen
This bright and inviting newcomer serves up Caribbean cuisine and Southern soul food on one delicious menu. Enjoy a giant plate of fried chicken and waffles, indulge in fall-off-the-bone pork ribs or cajun fried shrimp, and definitely try the cauliflower “cak and cheese.” 201 E 3rd St / 610.419.0498

E. The Goose
If you’re a graduate of Lehigh University, you know about The Goose (and you might even have a sandwich named after you). This deli serves some of the best hoagies in the Valley, especially if you’re on a college budget. We also hear that there’s a secret menu—if you’re cool enough to get your hands on it.
102 W 4th St / 610.868.0176

F. Social Still
This distillery—located in a trendy Prohibition-era bank—utilizes old-school style, sourcing Pennsylvania grain and using pot stills, to create nine bespoke ultra-premium spirits like coffee bourbon and one of the best local gins. Enjoy a perfectly crafted martini, or indulge in $5 tacos on Tuesdays.
530 E 3rd St / 610.625.4585

G. Molinari’s
A chalkboard hangs proudly on the wall, displaying names of local farms from which Molinari’s sources its fresh ingredients for an ever-changing seasonal menu—which features old-world recipes with modern touches, and ridiculously fresh pasta.
322 E 3rd St / 610.625.9222

H. U & Tea
The bold flavors and authentic Chinese food dishes at U & Tea might make you forget you’re in Southside Bethlehem. It’s also one of the only boba (bubble tea) spots in the Valley. If you’re looking for a BIG step up from a takeout night, call U & Tea—and throw that other menu away.
119 E 3rd St / 610.866.4900

I. Homebase 610 Skateshop
This spot is home to local skate culture. For almost 16 years, the folks at Homebase have not only sold clothes and high-quality skate products, they’ve invested in the local skate community, helping fund skate parks and show kids how to skate through after-school programs.
29 W 4th St / 610.866.0540

J. Hoover Mason Trestle at SteelStacks
The Hoover Mason Trestle, a project of the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority, brings the history of Bethlehem Steel and its iconic blast furnaces back to life along 2,000 feet of walkway traversing an original catwalk. Consider taking a guided tour led by a former steelworker.
711 First St / 610.297.7100

K. Jenny’s Kuali
This hot spot has been voted the best vegetarian in the Valley on multiple occasions. Jenny and Roy Lim have been rocking the Malaysian cuisine scene for 6 years running and their expertise doesn’t disappoint. Plus, it’s BYOB, so grab your favorite bottle to wash down that curry!
102 E 4th St / 610.758.8088

L. Banana Factory
Part of the non-profit ArtsQuest, Banana Factory has everything you need to embrace your creative side. Named after a former banana distribution warehouse, it houses 30 studios for local artists, exhibition space, and offers arts and crafts classes for adults and kids, like ceramics.
25 W 3rd St / 610.332.1300

M. The Game Gallery
This gamer’s paradise is home to arcade games and pinball machines to spark your nerdy nostalgia, and video games, comics, and action figures to really seal the deal. Just open this summer, the nearly 2,000 square foot spot brings back the best childhood memories.
14 W 4th St / 484.898.6979

N. Martin’s furniture
A staple of the Valley for 90 years,  Martin’s is the sensible first stop when moving into a new home or upgrading your current digs. Offering American-made furniture, they have everything from bedroom bureaus and mattresses to couches and coffee tables.
123 E 3rd St / 610.867.3494

Because You Live Here® introduces readers to a Lehigh Valley neighborhood or local point of interest and its history. This offers both lifelong residents and newcomers a chance to discover the hidden treasures our market has to offer.

Follow @LehighValleyMarketplace on Instagram