John Seitzinger can spend hours talking about the Hagg Hotel’s history, as befits a man born in one of its upstairs bedrooms.
The hotel is in Shartlesville, a town in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Blue Mountains, halfway between Bethlehem and Harrisburg. And the very heart of Shartlesville, the social center of this village of 300 souls, is the taproom of Haag’s at the east end of Main Street.
Seitzinger can reach back to the early 1800s when the hotel opened to serve travelers and townsfolk alike. He can tell you how his grandfather, Albert Jacob Haag, rebuilt the hotel after it burned in 1915, sparing no expense—the front of the bar is Italian marble, its surface Chinese teak. The floor is of thick ceramic tile made locally. He can remember the millinery shop his grandmother ran in the hotel and can explain the Pennsylvania Dutch cooking that makes the adjoining dining room a local favorite.
Seitzinger’s narrative may be interrupted, though, as he stops to greet each entering guest. Most are townspeople and many of the greetings are in dialect—the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch. (The Pennsylvania Dutch are actually German, their dialect derived from the German spoken 300 years ago. Because the word for German is Deutsche, these settlers were called Pennsylvania Dutch by their English neighbors.)
An older couple enters with their 10-year-old grandson. Seitzinger greets them by name, asking about the boy’s grades as they order eggs, homemade scrapple and horseradish for breakfast. This sets off a rapid exchange among adults around the bar debating the varied ways scrapple (a pork dish) can be served.
As the day progresses, the taproom door opens for a varied crowd—schoolchildren buying penny candy, groups celebrating family events, workers stopping for lunch, travelers from every state, and those who just love to eat. Haag’s is a shrine for serious eaters—a place where the food not only is plentiful, but consistently good.
Consider the Hearty Country Breakfast. Plenty of places boast big breakfasts, but it’s hard to challenge Haag’s standard offering, which buys one everything on the breakfast menu. That means bacon, sausage, ham, “raw fried” potatoes, pancakes, apple butter, cottage cheese, tapioca, stewed apricots, coffee, sugar cookies, and shoofly pie. And because Haag’s meals are served family style, you get refills of everything on request.
This abundance of homemade food has deep roots. “ I grew up in the hotel,” Seitzinger says, “and when it was time to eat, they ate heartily, because that’s tradition. They’d prepare a big enough table so everyone could eat together—staff, guests, townspeople, and our family. I remember it cost 50 cents for all you care to eat. It costs a little more now (Hagg’s “standard” is $6.50), but we still keep the tradition.”
The hotel is a bastion of local culture. Haag’s hosts a dialect dinner once a year, the second Friday in November. The hotel is also home to Lodge 12 of the Grundslaw Lodge, a fraternal order dedicated to preserving dialect.
Country hotels once were common, but interstate highways and chain motels have thinned their number. Locally, Haag’s is the last of its kind. The six upstairs guest rooms belong to another era. Each contains an iron bedstead, sink, wooden bureau, and a fan, but no telephones, televisions, or any of the trappings we associate with motels. The room is just that, a room where you sleep, bathe, and get dressed. For entertainment and companionship, guests descend to the taproom, with its dartboard and conversation—where everyone is made to feel at home.
Haag’s Hotel is a home to those who visit. Seitzinger’s older sister still lives there, and all eight of his children and 11 grandchildren have worked in the kitchen and dining room.
“It’s home for us,” Seitzinger says, softly. “And we want our guests to be at home, too.”