“Do you want to see the city?” asks the droll concierge at the Lancaster Arts Hotel. “Or did you come for the Amish shtick?” If her attitude toward the anachronistic Anabaptists seems chilly, well, it’s tough to be a striving metropolis and still find yourself defined by Witness. We’re not immune, my daughter Marcy and I. We craned to see inside the buggies we passed on our way here. But we prefer this luxe hotel to a farmhouse, just the same.
[sidebar]Lancaster Arts is a primo example of “adaptive reuse,” something downtown Lancaster is bursting with. A former tobacco warehouse, it retains its historic brick walls and hefty beams, but has been fitted out with sleek furnishings crafted by locals, indulgent bedding, and all the modern amenities. The rooms and hallways showcase works by area artists, all of which are for sale; we loved Lou Schellenberg’s spare acrylic landscapes. And we would sell our souls to own one of the immense tobacco-leaf leather armchairs in the lobby outside the hotel’s John J. Jeffries Restaurant, where chef Sean Cavanaugh takes full advantage of Lancaster County farm bounty to wow a loud, cheery crowd. (Silky goat-cheese custard with wild mushrooms … ohhhh.)
What makes “Lancaster City” weekend-worthy is the intriguing mix of urban cool and Plain People homeyness. At Central Market, the oldest continuous farmers’ market in the country, you can buy souse and potato salad — and delectable Indian samosas. Rachel’s Café & Creperie serves Paris-perfect crepes without a hint of snobbery. And all along North Queen Street are antiques shops sans attitude. Zap & Co. Retro Department Store is a vast emporium selling remnants of my mother’s past (pheasant-feather hats, Deco martini shakers) as well as mine (polyester miniskirts, crocheted ponchos). “You wore those?” Marcy marveled. History isn’t all ancient … except to your kids.