“Restaurants are like recipes. Some are good, but cost too much to enjoy frequently. Others are inexpensive, but aren’t really that good. A very few are the ones that you return to time after time. They are a delight… and affordable enough to permit you to enjoy them often. In Lancaster, that perfectly describes the Horse Inn.”
The Horse Inn has seen generations of Lancastrians seeking out its hard-to-find restaurant. Why do they do it?
It starts, of course, with the restaurant’s personality. Why is it down an alley and up a steep flight of stairs? Why does it look as if it was once a stable? Yet how could it have been if it is up a flight of stairs? The answer goes back to its origin in the early 1900’s. Legend has it that in 1911, the building was worth $800. At least that’s what William Shaub and his sons paid for it in order to use it for their excavating and contracting business.
They made the upstairs (the present restaurant) their hayloft, storing the horses, carriages, and equipment below. In the early ’20s, the family decided to pitch out the hay and convert the upstairs to a speakeasy where neighbors and friends could drink and play shuffleboard. People who had worked up a thirst were often hungry as well, so William’s wife, Florence, started serving tenderloin tips on toast. That became locally famous… so famous that the Shaub’s were soon able to buy the European handcrafted bar and wall unit, which dates back to the late 1800’s. In a happy burst of ingenuity, they added a front section to the bar, building it from an original front door of Franklin & Marshall College, dating back to 1787. It then seemed like a good idea to bring the horse stalls and horse accessories upstairs, and to fashion the unique chandeliers from the actual wagon wheels and the stools from wagon hubs that had been in the excavating company.
The changing decor led to an expanded menu, and the restaurant became a busy, popular place to eat, drink, and meet friends. Later, a five-piece jazz-style swing band was added. During prohibition, the restaurant didn’t miss a beat, with beer flowing directly from the brewery through underground lines.
It wasn’t until 1935 that son Richard’s wife Emily, now the proprietor, named the restaurant the Horse Inn. The demise of Lancaster’s wonderful, old Stevens House Hotel with its famous Toby Tavern, provided another chance to add color to the decor. Dick purchased the eight Toby tables that now face the booths.
A few years later, the address became Rear 539 East Chestnut Street as a result of a habit patrons had of cutting across the yard of Clarence Shaub to get to it. Clarence, who lived at 539 East Chestnut Street, took the traffic philosophically. The Shaub family owned and operated the Horse Inn until 1971, The Bergers from 1971 to 1972, and Al Medved and family preserved the great tradition from 1972 until January of 2014. That is when Matthew and Starla Russell took the reins. A patron who had frequented the premises in the ’30s, would find it virtually unchanged today, which is a large part of its charm.