Let the Fun Start Now at Wind Creek Bethlehem

Chuck Darrow

From the stirring marble icons of Washington, D.C. to the soaring Boston skyline; from the verdant woods of rural Connecticut to the mighty ocean that gave Atlantic City its name, east coast casino-hotels offer guests a fascinating variety of views from their properties. But only one gaming hall provides a vivid reminder of an America that no longer exists.

Wind Creek Bethlehem, which is located in the Lehigh Valley city some 60 miles north of Philadelphia, sits on the site of what was, throughout much of the 20th century, one of the engines that propelled this nation’s unprecedented economic growth. At its peak in 1943, Bethlehem Steel’s sprawling, 1,800-acre complex employed more than 31,000 people and provided steel for everything from bridges and skyscrapers to home furnishings and the guns, tanks, ships and aircraft that made America’s War II victory possible.

But by the 1990s, imported steel and other factors forced the plant’s closure. For more than a decade, the hulking buildings that filled the complex stood empty and decaying, until, in 2009, the site’s rebirth began with the opening of the Sands Bethlehem casino-hotel. In 2018, the property was purchased by the Alabama-based Poarch Band of Creek Indians and officially re-christened Wind Creek Bethlehem last October (the tribe owns three Wind Creek-branded gambling dens in its home state).

A decent amount of demolition work was required for the construction of the casino and its outlet mall, hotel tower and Event Center, but numerous buildings—including blast furnaces and warehouses--remain, offering a closeup look at America’s industrial past.

But its vintage structures aren’t the only things that make Wind Creek Bethlehem unique among East Coast casinos. There is also the bi-level shopping center that houses 19 outlet shops, a family-entertainment center, a celebri-chef-run bakery and a spa. Among the retailers doing business there are Coach, Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY and Under Armour. And speaking of unique, the Steel Magnolia Spa & Salon is the home of the highly recommended “Underwater Massage,” a 30-minute treatment in which the guest gets his or her body parts kneaded while immersed in a one-person whirlpool tub.

The complex’s industrial past is paid homage by the 139,000 square-foot casino, which utilizes such elements as exposed steel beams and brick walls. All popular table and slot/video games are offered (the full inventory is about 200 tables and 3,000 machines), as is poker in the nicely laid out and comfortable 26-table parlor (which like all of the food and beverage outlets, are on the casino level).

Not surprisingly, Wind Creek is a local entertainment and nightlife hub. The 3,750-seat Event Center has been a regular stop for top touring acts and is expected to resume its operation post-COVID-19.

On a more intimate scale, Molten Lounge has offered a seven-night-a-week schedule of live bands, ‘80s Trivia Night, Karaoke, “dueling pianos” and the like. And on Saturday nights, the dance-club crowd is expected to return to Vision Nightclub, which is on the same (lower) level as the hotel lobby and Event Center.

When it comes to dining star power, Wind Creek definitely holds its own: One of the “OGs” of culinary superstardom, Emeril Legasse, has three operations: The casual Burgers and More by Emeril and two high-end salons, Emeril’s Fish House and Emeril’s Chop House. The latter is a contemporary room that tends to emphasize steakhouse basics, but does so with high-quality food in a classy, but relaxed environment.

The other A-list stove jockey doing business at Wind Creek is “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro. His Carlo’s Bakery is the sweet-tooth emporium in the mall, but it’s Buddy V’s Ristorante, his Italian bistro, that is the standout. Specializing in old-school “red gravy”-style fare, Buddy V’s offers phenomenal value as the portions are huge. For instance, my recent meal of Caesar salad, Buddy’s Salumi & Cheese Board (a wonderful selection of cured meats and cheeses) and the “Sunday Dinner” entrée (meatballs, sausage, lamb and pork in a delicious tomato sauce with an industrial-sized side of rigatoni) could have easily sated two adults—and possibly three.

For the grab-and-goers, the Market food court boasts stations offering burgers, Philly cheesesteaks, pizza and other popular munchies.

The 282-room hotel tower contains nice-sized standard rooms. The plush Executive Suites, featuring spacious living rooms with sweeping views are a special treat for high rollers and those with more liberal budgets.

Throughout the facility, I found the staff friendly and helpful (an issue with my in-room safe was resolved quickly and courteously).

Wind Creek has announced plans for an expansion project that includes a state-of-the-art, 13-story hotel tower and an indoor water park.

For more about Wind Creek Bethlehem, go to www.windcreekbethlehem.com.

 

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