It’s one of those places that everyone knows. It has been there forever, with many owners and incarnations over the years. So it’s sad when it lies neglected and empty.
Bill Haas couldn’t agree more. That’s why he jumped at the chance to renovate and restore the Water Wheel Tavern on Old Easton Road, just north of Doylestown.
Bill knows a bit about restoration. In 1993 he bought the Pen Ryn Estate and restored the 1754 mansion back to its glory (with further renovations to the carriage house, Belle Voir Manor, in 2003). It now serves as a beautiful event venue overlooking the Delaware.
You may also remember Revolutions, the restaurant that is now Bowman’s Tavern. Bill renovated that property as well.
He has served as a board member and president of the Bucks County Visitors Bureau for 20 years and is the founding president of Friends of Washington Crossing State Park.
Starting to see a pattern?
“When I saw this building, it had me written all over it,” Bill says. “These buildings are often slated to be torn down. I have a keen interest in preserving these properties.”
Past to present
The Water Wheel Tavern began its life in 1724 as a gristmill. In fact, it operated as a mill up until 1930. Bill bought the five-acre property in May 2015.
“We did a lot of homework, honoring the history of the building and keeping its feel,” Bill explains.
The result is a more open, lighter, yet still warm feel from the last incarnation of the Water Wheel. Gone are a number of the interior walls that gave it a closed feeling. In its place, wood floors and tables, and an industrial chic theme add coziness without sacrificing authenticity.
Gone too is the musty smell I remember so clearly. With a new HVAC system and a couple of well-placed sump pumps, Bill has managed to isolate the effects of the stream running under the building (it was a mill!).
While the entire restaurant can seat 250 you wouldn’t know it. Six separate rooms spread the seating around, including two beautiful bars, three dining rooms, and one function room.
The upstairs bar now has seating for 23, with over a half a dozen high tops for diners as well. Live music comes into the bar on Friday and Saturday evenings. And with 16 beers on tap, 35 bottled brands and a nice whiskey selection, you’re sure to find something to make you happy.
And get this. The upstairs bar not only has hooks for us girls’ handbags under the bar top; it also has electrical outlets and USB ports. How cool is that? Both you and your phone can charge.
Something for everyone
“We wanted to create a reasonably priced menu with popular favorites,” explains Bill. Working with his culinary team and executive chef Luis Olmeda, they developed a menu that has dishes to please everyone at the table.
Appetizers like Stout French Onion Soup, mussels, crab cake sliders, “egg rolls” (Cheesesteak, Buffalo Chicken and Southwest), four kinds of salad and flatbreads.
For the main course, you can choose from four pastas – like Three Cheese Mac n’Cheese, or Shrimp and Scallop Scampi – or six kinds of burgers, including “Build Your Own.”
A nice selection of sandwiches includes Fish Tacos, Grilled Reuben, and cheesesteaks. If you want something a little heftier, the Water Wheel offers a petite filet, NY strip, baby back ribs, crab cakes, and grilled or roasted chicken.
And there’s more. Sunday through Thursday from 4 – 6 pm, the Water Wheel offers a Happy Hour with $5 appetizers and a choice of wines, drinks and beers.
When Mark and I showed up on the Saturday evening of St. Patrick’s Day weekend, we were keeping our expectations low. The restaurant was packed, upstairs and down, and it was only three weeks since their opening. You have to give a restaurant a break under those circumstances.
We did manage to score two seats at the downstairs bar, all the way in the corner. Cozy, and perfect for observing how the place was running.
The bartenders were friendly and sociable, as well as professional. And as far as I could see, everything looked to be running smoothly. I’ll assume that a lot of credit goes to the general manager, Chris Keely, as well as the kitchen staff. But the Water Wheel has also managed to pull in some of the most experienced restaurant staff in Bucks County.
The Water Wheel has been busy so if you go on a weekend, call for a reservation first. They also offer free valet parking on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The Water Wheel Tavern
4424 Old Easton Rd.
Hours: 7 days a week for lunch and dinner
Sunday-Thursday: 11:30 am – 12 am
Friday-Saturday: 11:30 am – 1 am