Beyond Compare
With a renovated restaurant area, live entertainment and a commitment to providing an excellent dining experience, Bowman’s Tavern offers the total package
by Lindsey Getz

There’s nothing like finding that “perfect place” to enjoy a night out with friends or a romantic and fun date night, where the atmosphere, food and service all come together to create a memorable dining experience. This might explain why so many people have made Bowman’s Tavern in New Hope their restaurant of choice.

Just ask James Seward, who owns Bowman’s Tavern with head chef Mike Livelsberger. Seward saw the tremendous potential during one particularly memorable night at Bowman’s Tavern, so he made the decision to buy it.

“[Mike and I] had worked together in Doylestown and knew we had a similar work ethic,” Seward says. “We had always wondered what project we might be able to tackle together, and then this opportunity presented itself. We knew the restaurant already had patrons, but it needed an update. It wasn’t starting from scratch and we knew we could improve the product.”  

“Improving the product” meant overhauling a number of facets, including updating the décor and doing some much-needed renovations. “The space had been neglected for a long time and had ripped carpets, torn booths and other issues that needed to be fixed,” Seward says, but the restaurant’s “bones” were indeed strong.

Once the remodeling duties were accomplished, Seward’s design team worked to bring the look of Bowman’s Tavern into the 21st century. “It had an outdated Bucks County ‘country’ look,” he says. “We made it into more of a ‘rustic tavern’ look. It’s now more on par with what’s coming out of the kitchen in terms of the quality and style.”

A Total Experience
While the restaurant itself needed a complete refurbishment and a lot of updating, Bowman’s Tavern had a number of existing loyal patrons, many of whom frequented the establishment for the lineup of live entertainment. The restaurant continues to host a bevy of live performers seven nights a week. On Sunday nights, Seward plays with Michael Amery, owner of The Inn at Bowman’s Hill, a New Hope bed and breakfast.

“Some people want to sit down and have a nice meal and a bottle of wine, while others just come to sit at the bar,” Livelsberger says. “We aim to keep it casual while still maintaining our own style. Our menu items make it unique, as opposed to just serving generic chicken tenders or other menu items you could get anywhere. It’s important to us that we identify our own theme and style while still keeping it casual enough that it’s not stuffy or uncomfortable for diners who are out to enjoy themselves.”

The renovated dining room, completed just in the past year, now reflects a more sophisticated vibe, yet, it is still casual enough for diners to feel as if they can unwind and have a good time. Sous chef Tom McGinn says that it has the feel of “a friend’s house.”

“We want diners to feel comfortable,” McGinn adds. “We want them to have some drinks, laugh, and enjoy one another’s company—not feel as though they have to be quiet or be all dressed up to visit us. Eating is about friendship and people enjoying the experience.”  

Top-Notch Fare
The experience of dining out is, at its core, about the food, and Bowman’s kitchen does not disappoint. The restaurant aims to create and serve dishes that highlight as many locally sourced and seasonal ingredients as possible, with a menu that changes with the seasons.

Like any beloved local institution, the Bowman’s menu has a number of signature items that have become customer favorites. One such dish is the pan-seared scallops with creamed corn and roasted mushrooms. McGinn describes the dish as “a mainstay that we haven’t altered at all. If we did, I think there would be an outcry.”

Newer menu items have received accolades as well. Livelsberger says the wood-roasted lamb sandwich with goat cheese and truffle mustard has quickly become a fan favorite.

“In general, we try to make food that is approachable and simple with fresh ingredients,” Livelsberger says. “Freshness is really important to us.”

To supplement the kitchen’s offerings of locally sourced local meats and fishes, the restaurant also has its own onsite garden—Bowman’s Garden—which grows herbs and produce that the chefs incorporate into dishes as often as they can. Given the care that goes into each meal’s preparation and presentation, the passion that goes into the food is obvious. It’s not a stretch to suggest that Livelsberger and McGinn have found their “dream jobs” in the kitchen at Bowman’s Tavern.

Livelsberger discovered his passion for the business in high school, when he began working in a restaurant as a summer job. While attending Pennsylvania State University, he worked at a place on campus that did a lot of cooking from scratch. Finding that true love prompted him to leave Penn State and enroll in culinary school. What he loves most about cooking, he says, is that it makes people happy.

“Good food is a comfort for a lot of people, and I enjoy that aspect of it,” he says. “It’s all part of a great experience and it makes people happy which is a good feeling for me.”

McGinn left St. Joseph’s University and the pursuit of a psychology degree to follow his true passion of cooking. He has learned, however, that providing a great dining experience is about much more than perfectly cooked, expertly prepared food. “When I dine out, it’s that total experience that makes it enjoyable, not only the food but the people and the atmosphere,” he says. “That’s what we want here. We want people to enjoy coming here—and, of course, to enjoy coming back again.”

And that’s what the team at Bowman’s Tavern makes happen every night, according to Seward, by treating customers like family. “With any successful restaurant, the relationship between staff and customer—as well as customer to customer—is really important,” he says. “People come here and they feel like it’s a special place. They feel like family, and they want to keep coming back.”

Bowman’s Tavern
1600 River Road
New Hope, PA 18938

Photograph by Nina Lea Photography