Brian Hessenthaler has a $40 gift certificate for Valley Stream Inn, a popular lower Bucks County restaurant known for its crabcakes, Sunday brunch and scenic views of the NeshamIny Creek.
That’s why the county’s chief operating officer was surprised and shocked to find out that the Parks and Recreation department is buying the low-lying property to demolish the eatery and preserve the site as open space.
“I didn’t know it was closed,” Hessenthaler said Wednesday, after the county commissioners approved the $230,000 purchase with federal funds to preserve the 3.5-acre tract as open space.
The landmark, built in 1956, got flooded several times over the years but always reopened. It closed for good in September, after Hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee flushed the creek over its banks twice in two weeks, said Bill Mitchell, executive director of Parks and Recreation.
From the outside, the inn off Bridgetown Pike looked more like a house, with its brick and cedar-shake façade. But inside, it blossomed into one dining room with windows overlooking the creek, another with brick walls and floor, and, at the center, a rectangular wood bar hosting regulars perched on stools. Some nights, live music filled the air.
“Back into the 1970s to the 1990s, it was really one of the leading restaurants in the county,” Commissioner Charles Martin recalled. “Some weekends, it would be packed, with people lined up to get in. They’d have entertainment, sometimes Irish music.”
Robert Cwenar has owned and operated the inn since 1985, Mitchell said. It also contained an apartment, he said. Cwenar could not be reached for comment.
The county owns less than an acre next to the tract, Mitchell said. The long-range goal is to protect the creek from New Britain Township in central Bucks to where it flows into the Delaware River.
The same federal program that is funding the inn purchase is providing nearly $1 million for work on seven houses along the creek in Bristol Township and Hulmeville Borough. The contracts approved Wednesday are for the houses to be elevated above the 100-year flood plain or for utility rooms to be added above that level.
As for the inn, Hessenthaler and Martin said they had not eaten there in years.
“They had the best crab cakes this side of Maryland,” Hessenthaler said. “It was just a comfortable place to sit and have a meal.”