Conway Social Club’s social experiment in Lancaster

Michael Yoder//January 17, 2020

Conway Social Club’s social experiment in Lancaster

Michael Yoder//January 17, 2020

Joshua Funk has dreamed for years of opening up a slice of old-world England, mixed with a bit of the Washington, D.C. social scene and an experimental drink lab in his hometown of Lancaster.

The president and CEO of TFB Hospitality has been busy coming up with different dining concepts since starting the Lancaster-based catering business six years ago with his brother, Josh, including Per Diem in the Hotel Rock Lititz and Gravie Kitchen + Commons in the Rock Lititz Pod 2.

But it was in an underutilized spot above the well-established Annie Bailey’s Irish Pub in downtown Lancaster that Funk knew he wanted to try something different, a space that would need time to mature into an experience-driven dining and drinking concept. It also helped that he already owned the building.

The result is the recently opened Conway Social Club – the seventh food and drink venture he has launched in just six years.

“In the era of bars and restaurants that are inaudible and really churn-and-burn, which is the name of the game for restaurants to make money; this is a place where people can dine and relax in a casual setting, order food and have interesting and unique cocktails you can’t find anywhere else,” Funk said. “It’s a setting that feels old but a little bit modern, too – a Victorian London experience that used to be an Irish pub.”

The Conway concept

Funk, a graduate of Penn State University’s hotel, restaurant and institutional management program, started learning the ins-and-outs of the hospitality world at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. where he oversaw operations for nine years. It was in D.C. that Funk discovered two of his favorite places to go out for drinks.

The first was in the Jefferson Hotel just north of the White House, a small bar called Quill. He said the space that fit around 20 people was the type of place he would go when he didn’t want to be seen but was in the mood for having a conversation with a stranger. And the second was Barmini by Jose Andres, a tiny place with a speakeasy feel known for its elaborate cocktail experimentation.

Funk knew the spot above Annie Bailey’s could to be transformed into something special, moving away from its use as a private event space and overflow for the popular downstairs bar. Originally housing the Sayres, Scheid & Sweeton clothing store, the upstairs space had its own entrance on East King Street separate from the Irish pub.

From the first time patrons approach the Conway Social Club, they’ll realize the hospitality concept is different than any found in the region. To gain entrance, attendees must knock on the door where they are greeted by a doorman who brings them up a two-tier staircase.

The doorman informs patrons on the concept behind the space as they walk up the staircase, and a maître d’ in the lobby inquires as to the experience they’re looking to have – a quiet personal conversation, a meal, interaction with other guests, etc. – and are seated accordingly.

Inside is seating for 54, the walls covered in old photographs, paintings and light fixtures. Beaded glass chandeliers hang from the ceiling.

There are no TVs, and typically the only music playing is jazz. The use of cell phones while seated is discouraged.

“We’re one step below church,” Funk said. “People aren’t on their cell phones, and if they’re taking a call, they’re going over to another area because they want to be respectful to the other people having conversations. It’s refreshing.”

The offerings

The Conway Social Club concept was kicked into high gear over the summer when two prominent food and beverage specialists made themselves available to come on board – Benjamin Hash, who most recently served as the mixologist and bartender at the popular Horse Inn in Lancaster, and Corinna Killian, who was the chef at the Belvedere Inn in Lancaster for more than a decade.

Hash has built a reputation in the region for being one of the most experimental mixologists working in Central Pennsylvania, doing everything from creating his own bitters with homegrown herbs, to utilizing specialized equipment like a rotary evaporator typically only found in larger cities.

His drink list is filled with unique ingredients. The “Milk Punch” is made with milk-washed citrus, Flor de Caña rum, Slane Irish whiskey, cognac, Angostura, Velvet Falernum, pineapple syrup, orange blossom water and Kaffir lime leaf. The “Union Hall” consists of Teeling Irish whiskey, Ruby Port wine, Don Q sherry-finished rum, demerara, saline, Angostura and tonka mist.

Killian’s food menu is constantly changing, with offerings only staying around during its seasonality.

The choices are as varied as the cocktail menu – lobster and smoked Gouda fondue with garlic and rosemary-brushed pita and Roma tomato, or the blackened duck breast with cognac bone marrow compound butter, duck fat bacon grits and balsamic parmesan-glazed brussels sprouts.

“Those were the two right people to restart the concept,” Funk said. “And it really came together exceptionally quickly for a restaurant concept.”

TFB’s growth

TFB Hospitality, which stands for “The Funk Brothers,” has seen exponential growth since starting in 2013, going from 53 employees to around 140 and more than doubling revenue Funk said. He is surprised by his company’s quick rise and has learned many lessons in a short time, including that not all opportunities are good opportunities, but don’t’ be afraid to take chances when an opportunity presents itself.

The Conway Social Club marks the seventh endeavor TFB has taken on, including providing food and catering to Rock Lititz in 2014, opening Gravie in 2017 and Per Diem in 2018. Funk said 2020 plans include building a commercial kitchen at the Rock Lititz campus to offer more food services.

“We’re in business with the right people,” Funk said. “In a labor market that’s been challenging, we have been pretty good at attracting talent and keeping talent because we run our business more like a corporation with a family-business bent rather than the other way around.”

The Conway Social Club is located at 28 E. King Street in Lancaster. Hours of operation are: Wednesday and Thursday, 5-11 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m.-midnight.