There’s a whimsical, magical draft venue in central PA.
Grand Illusion Hard Cider opened in February in historic downtown Carlisle. Over the years a bookbindery, music store, pharmacy, hat store and law office, the site is now a draft bar. Beer, wine, cider and soda are all on tap.
“Taps rotate, new cider makers come onto the scene, and we love to showcase the best in Pennsylvania,” said owner Chad Kimmel.
That’s Dr. Chad Kimmel, a sociology professor at Shippensburg University. He said he conjured up the idea to open a wine tasting bar in 2009 and signed up for the (sadly now defunct) enology and viticulture program the following year at HACC.
“I was on sabbatical and decided to take two classes—one on wine appreciation, the other on chemistry,” he said. “I learned that my focus on wine was too narrow. Still, a market was there.”
Then, around 2013, cider exploded on the scene with the national brand, Angry Orchard.
“So I explored cider,” he said. “It’s more user-friendly, and in some ways, more forgiving. A product made like wine, but riding the back of craft beer. A gluten-free drink that appeals to men and women, with hops and fruit. We modeled ourselves on Portland Cider—I love how they’re making cider.”
No, he didn’t name his urban cidery after “The Grand Illusion,” an album from the 1970s art-rock band, Styx. He toyed with the name Illusion Cider, but his attorney said there might be too many bumps in the road with that choice.
Grand Illusion Hard Cider features an owl on the storefront sign and throughout the bar.
“I always loved turn-of-the-century, big theater magic,” Kimmel said. “The props, the grand shows and the color image posters. Back then, spiritualism as a movement was big in America.”
One poster in particular captured Kimmel’s interest—Thurston the Great Magician—currently displayed on the wall inside the cidery.
“It was my inspiration,” he said. “Often, there’s an owl in those mid-century posters, and I always loved owls.”
There was no surprise in Kimmel choosing Carlisle for his bar’s location.
He had studied Carlisle as a Main Street program aimed at community revitalization, a cool, healthy place with tourism.
“And Cumberland County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state,” he said. “I wanted to make people feel like they were walking into the big city with the details and aesthetics.”
Trick to Success
As you enter the 1840s-era building, note the Gothic preacher pulpit at the hostess station. The Gothic archway in the entry. Magician hat lights over the bar. Infinity mirrors on the staircase. A hidden bathroom on the second floor. The steampunk-style chandeliers. The eye-catching theater magic posters. An old clock enthusiast, Kimmel has placed clocks throughout the establishment.
“I just like to hear them chime,” he said.
The grand room on the second floor offers a view of High Street, along with low-top tables for larger groups, private parties or events.
Chef Paul Francis helped plan the kitchen and the menu.
“All of our food is well plated,” Kimmel said.
The biggest seller is the salted, spicy Cajun and Italian herb-rubbed pretzel flight. As far as flights are concerned, cider and wine are listed along with a sweetness scale on the menu.
“All servers are training to a level-one cider certification,” said Kimmel, referring to a national certification on how to pronounce, describe, analyze and educate the consumer.
The Pennsylvania craft beers hail from Slippery Rock, Mifflinburg and State College.
“These are beers you can’t find anywhere else [nearby],” he said.
PA wines are brought in from Pinnacle Ridge Winery and Karamoor Winery. And they’re kegged.
“I wanted a really good wine,” Kimmel said. “A keg is a system to provide people with the best wine possible in the best vehicle. It’s just a very big bottle under pressure that never allows in light, and the first glass tastes just as good as the last.”
The sodas are from Reading Soda Works, a small, family-owned company. Kimmel’s cider variations, which he claims to be the largest on the East Coast, are described as New York wine meets West Coast beer.
I can attest to that. The sparkling flavor of Kimmel’s Blue Illusion Cider, a blueberry puree with English lavender, left the impression of a rosé and a light, fruity beer—with a kick.
The trick to success, according to Kimmel?
“Exhaust number one before moving on to number two.”
In other words, he plans to focus on the bar and restaurant to maintain growth. He’s currently looking for a cider-maker with commercial experience to help him expand his offerings.
Kimmel is considering a “meet the cider makers” series, along with cheese and food pairings. He layers on events like cider and yoga classes, live music and custom flights. And then there’s “Magic Mondays,” when house magician Kyle Purnell performs magic at your table, right before your very eyes.
“I wanted to capture mystery and intrigue,” Kimmel said.
Now you see it, now you don’t.
Grand Illusion Hard Cider is located at 26 W. High St., Carlisle. For more information, visit www.grandillusioncider.com.