If you ever find yourself across the Delaware River on the Pennsylvania side, and you’d like to see what bars looked like a long, long time before you were born, there’s a very unexpected place you may stumble into to grab a beer and a bite to eat. Winding down the shady wooded lanes in hilly northern Pennsylvania one day in early August, I found myself in the tiny town of Shohola on the banks of the of the Delaware, when I spied a place called Rohman’s Inn. Rohman’s looks just like an old time 1800s hotel, and that’s because it used to be just that. These days though, you won’t see horses tied up to hitching posts outside, but you are likely to find a line of gleaming Harley hogs and stable of pick-up trucks.
To set foot inside this place is to step backward in time. Pressed tin, rusted through in spots, covers the ceiling and walls. The wood floor is worn down from over a century of scuffs from shoes and boots. There is even an old timey upright piano that stands next to a coal-burning iron stove. The instrument is missing ivory on many of its keys and is hopelessly out of tune, though the bartender assured me that there is at least one elderly customer who comes in that can play it and make it sound great. I played a few chords on it myself and much to my surprise and delight it sounded exactly like the pianos you hear in the saloon scenes of old Hollywood Westerns! I kid you not. I had always assumed you had to put thumbtacks on the hammers of a piano to achieve that bright bangy, clanging tone, but the bartender swore the instrument had not be altered in anyway––it just sounded that way naturally from age.
The wooden bar, which is original to the place, features lavish hand carved decorations around the mirrors. When a customer places a food order it is written up on a piece of paper which is then placed in a dark wooden dumbwaiter at the end of the bar and then hoisted up to the kitchen on the second story. Go through the doors at the other end of the bar, up the old hotel staircase, and you will find a real surprise on the second floor––a full-length four-lane bowling alley. Without a doubt though, the most unique feature of the bar are the barstools––circular wooden seats which sit atop curved iron post and fold beneath the bar itself when not in use.
Rohman’s is tucked away down by the river far off the main drag––if in fact you could call any road in Shohola a “main drag.” If you’re wondering why this old hotel would be located in such an out of the way spot, the reason is that things weren’t always the way they are today. You see, the train used to run right by the front door of the inn and a station was located directly across the tracks. Back in the heyday of the hotel, throngs of people would come by rail to spend time in the area, many of them among the rich and famous of their day.
The building that Rohman’s Inn now occupies was built in 1849 and was originally known as the Shohola Hotel. It operated in that capacity until it was purchased by a man named Art Rohman in 1909. He ran the place until he died in 1973, then the current owners took it over. We spoke with the daughter of the current owners, Kathleen Farrell, who has worked the bar for the past 15 years, and asked some questions about her family’s wonderful old saloon.
Kathleen, I have certainly seen my share of barstools in my time, but I have never seen anything like these here at Rohman’s before. What is the story behind them, are these original stools?
There originally weren’t any stools. Then sometime around the 1930s the control board said that the place was required to seat a certain amount of people to serve liquor. But the stools were going to take up space, so Art Rohman met their regulations by putting the stools in, but nobody actually has to sit on them––they can fold them in.
Did it get so crowded in here that they needed every inch of space?
Yeah, it did then. I was very busy back then.
Were they designed specifically for this place?
No, it’s a conductor’s seat from a train or a trolley.
I’ve noticed that when a patron leaves, they pushed their stools forward under the bar. Is that the courteous thing to do?
Yes, definitely, but they used to just snap back on their own; they were spring loaded. There is still one down at the very end of the bar the does, if you get up quick enough it will snap forward.
Many of the stools have an uneasy feeling pitch backward to them, which give you the feeling that you might just slide right off backwards. There is a trick to remedy this though. Kathleen showed me a handful of various rusty screws and nails with which patrons can level their seat to their own liking by wedging one in the joint at the base of the stand the seat rests on.
Kathleen told me that the bowling alley upstairs was installed in 1940 and that it is one of only four in the entire country like it that is still in operation. If you’d like to bowl a few games, be sure to bring your own pin monkey though, as these lanes have no automated pin setting machines and must be racked manually. However, there is a unique device that aids in the process––a foot peddle causes pegs to come up from beneath the lane. After the hollow pins are set atop the rods, they are retracted back into the floor. Still, the process must get a little laborious to repeat after every frame. Fortunately though, if you call ahead, Rohman’s might be able to fix you up with a local kid who will reset your pins for you for just $5 an hour.
Kathleen pulled a thick, spiral-bound notebook from behind to show me. It was stuffed full of old photos, press clippings and pages from the old hotel register book. I asked her who some of the more noteworthy guests were who stayed at the hotel over the years who may have signed the book. She said that some former guests included Greta Garbo, Gertrude Ederle (the first woman to swim the English Channel), Gloria Swanson, and Charles Lindbergh. Indeed, if you look in the scrapbook, you will find Colonel Lindbergh’s signature. He filled out his address as “Entire World.”
So why did so many celebrities visit the hotel back then, we wondered.
“The area was a lot more populated,” Kathleen told us. “There was an amusement area in Shohola Glen. They had outdoor dances, clambakes; there was a gravity rail that took people from here and into the glen.”
So do the rich and famous still pay visits to Rohman’s these days?
“Robert De Niro stopped in one time, and Mario Andretti, the racecar driver, and Mary Stuart Masterson was here.”
While Mary Stuart Masterson may not be Lucky Lindy, that still ain’t bad company for such an out of the way watering hole as Rohman’s. But for the most part, the clientele is comprised mostly of local regulars during the week and lots of bikers on the weekends, who’ll stop in during their runs.
When the riding season ends, Rohman’s finds other enticements to bring customers in, like their annual Winter Olympics. Men 21 and over are eligible to participate, women can only spectate. Events include beer pong, horseshoes, turkey shoots and golf chipping. There’s a triathlon that incorporates, archery, BB gun marksmanship, and chugging a 32-ounce beer. There are cooking contests and a keg toss (using the same keg for the past 27 years), a two-man saw competition, a bed race, and most popular of all, something known as “Polish skiing,” in which four men are all strapped into the pair of skis. We asked Kathleen if the term “Polish skiing” has ever offended anyone.
“Not yet. We have a Polish gentleman that comes and he’s well aware of it and he’s never said anything.”
Today Rohman’s looks very much like it did over a century ago, and that’s just how the owners like it. They are proud that they are keeping the place as it has always been. Kathleen told me, “We’ve had to do certain renovation, like we replaced part of the wood floor about two weeks ago. But being that it is a historical site, there are restrictions on what we can and can’t change.”
Unfortunately, the old train station that once stood across the street is long gone now, and while the trains do still occasionally travel the tracks, they are only freight lines that pass in the dead of the night without stopping.
“Every year the industry around here gets less and the bar crowd falls off a bit,” Kathleen lamented. “But we like the fact that this is still the same place it always was.”
I like it too, Kathleen. I encourage everyone to go and see this rare, rustic and hidden gem of a saloon for themselves while you can––for though time may seem to stand still inside Rohman’s, it just keeps marching on everywhere else and there just aren’t many places like Rohman’s around these days anymore.
Rohman’s Inn is located at 100 Rohman Road, Shohola, PA 18458 (570) 559-7479.