The bar is made of warm pine. The tables and booths have a country atmosphere that’s incredibly inviting.
Along the walls are photos of famous commanders in the American Civil War.
The menu includes mouthwatering cream of crab soup that is made fresh and available only as long as supplies last, as well as fresh smoked beef brisket.
Burgers are named after the same commanders who line the walls.
Enjoying a meal at the Monterey Pass Pub and Eatery is an experience a person can’t find just anywhere and the holidays are the perfect time to give the restaurant a try.
Part of the well-known Blondies Tavern in Rouzerville, Monterey Pass Pub and Eatery was created by owner Bob Backer as a tribute to a little-known battle that happened just after Gettysburg in 1863.
The Battle of Monterey Pass will not be found in any history books in schools today, but it held importance for this area.
Backer said, “You have to research it to realize how critical it was. Robert E. Lee went right past here. So basically, what I did was I gleaned off the Historical Society to create this.”
While people tend to get caught up in the Battle of Gettysburg, not many stop to think about what happened afterward. Confederate General Robert E. Lee was defeated on the third day’s battle of Pickett’s Charge and those three fateful days are often considered the turning point of the Civil War.
But what happened immediately following that famous battle?
Lee had 50,000 remaining soldiers and he had to get the Army of Northern Virginia out of Pennsylvania.
Keep in mind, that included wagons of supplies and food and wounded men.
Can you imagine?
The Union Army of the Potomac, led by George Meade, was intent on hounding the Confederates.
Much to Lee’s surprise, the Union forces didn’t attack on July 4, following Pickett’s Charge. So in a heavy thunderstorm, Lee took his troops and retreated from Gettysburg.
Lee’s idea was to get to the river crossing at Williamsport, MD, and escape back into Virginia. He had 60 miles of wagons with him — for a mental image, that would be wagons stretching from Waynesboro to Harrisburg.
There was no way they could take all those wagons at the same time — they’d be too vulnerable to attack. So Lee divided the Army of the Northern Virginia. The largest group headed to Chambersburg, eventually turning south to Waynesboro and Greencastle to get to Hagerstown.
A resident who lived along the route the Confederates took said she watched wagons pass her home for three days. Three days of seeing supplies and cattle and wagons and weary soldiers walk by where she lived.
Another 20 miles of Confederate wagons headed for Hagerstown via Fairfield. The troops crossed Jack’s Mountain and were on the top of the mountain at Blue Ridge Summit when Union forces came upon them.
Backer said, “It took two days to hold off the Union. The union was chasing them down the road and in order to let the wagon train keep going, they staged a blockade and that was the Battle of Monterrey Pass.”
Initially, the blockade included one Napoleon cannon with five rounds of ammunition. That’s it.
The weather allowed that lone cannon to surprise the heck out of Union troops coming over Blue Ridge Summit. Indeed, Union soldiers — including General George Custer — were nearly blinded by the muzzle blast from the cannon.
For the next several hours, in the pouring rain and dark, the soldiers engaged in what has been described as some of the most confusing and chaotic fighting of the Civil War. The only way positions of troops could be determined were by the explosion of a rifle muzzle or a lightning flash.
It must have been almost other-worldly.
Hand to hand combat began around 3 a.m. The Southern forces ordered couriers, staff officers and even wounded men who were still able to fire a gun, into the fight.
The remaining Confederate wagons were divided and Union forces charged down the mountain, destroying wagons and collecting supplies.
Union forces chased the Confederate soldiers into Maryland, marking the Battle of Monterey Pass as the only one that technically occurred on both sides of the Mason Dixon line.
Franklin County often gets overlooked under the shadow of what happened in Gettysburg, but folks in this area hope to change that.
In 2013, the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg took place and it was a big deal. It’s also the same time a book about the Battle of Monterey Pass was written. Eventually, the Monterey Pass Battlefield Park and Museum was created to commemorate the site and remember what happened there.
All of that inspired the Monterey Pass Pub and Eatery to open in October 2015 at 11723 Olde Route 16 in Waynesboro.
Backer said, “What really triggered me to do this was when the Historical Society formulated the museum. I just happened to be pondering one day this room here was just used for overflow. It became a little bit vacant, underutilized. So it just dawned on me one day what better theme, what better name for a restaurant dedicated to this area, other than the Monterey Pass Pub and Eatery? So I renovated this whole place into a Civil War theme, with a focus on the Battle of Monterrey Pass and that’s what you see here.”
Born and raised in upstate New York, Backer graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in engineering. He came into this area with a job at Grove Crane, where he remained as a manager for 22 years.
Keep in mind, all the work with his various restaurants happened while he was also working full time with Grove.
The original Blondies Tavern was housed where Monterey Pass Pub and Eatery stands now.
In 1933, the building was an early convenience store with eggs, milk and other staples.
“When they lifted prohibition, Pennsylvania allowed you to get either a beer license for what they call malt, which is beer only, or liquor,” Backer explained. “When I first opened this in 1983, it had a second story. Upstairs is an apartment where my wife and I lived until she passed.”
Many people in this area will always remember Ann Backer. Her name was synonymous with Blondies and her catering is still talked about to this day.
“My wife and I always wanted to buy a bar,” Backer remembered. “This became available, right price and it had good people coming here, but the owner didn’t put a lot of money back into it, so it was pretty well run down. He had a nice blue collar atmosphere, just like mine.”
Back at that time, bars couldn’t be opened on Sundays unless 20 percent of the sales was in food.
Backer said, “So we got into food. We always sold hamburgers. I mean, that was a given, but the expansion of the menu came in part because my wife’s catering. We increased the bar menu to something a little more exotic.”
In 1996, Backer expanded to the Blondies bar we have now and in 1998, the Rouzerdome was created for weddings, private parties, class reunions and the like. The entire roof opens up for an experience not found anywhere else in the area.
In 2014, Backer and his wife started to talk about what could be done to accommodate families. The couple have three children — Wolfgang, Ty and Tammy.
Backer recalled, “The whole centering of this site here was themed off of that 150th anniversary celebration of Gettysburg in 2013. It took me about two years to renovate this whole building. My wife never got to see it completely finished. She died in 2015 in February, and I got this place open finally in
October. This was one of the last things we did together. She never got to see the finished results. So it’s really dedicated to her as much as anybody. We’ve called this our crown jewel over here because of the fact that we’ve got something that’s family oriented.”
Despite the fact that Ann may not have seen the completed restaurant, her spirit can definitely still be felt in the walls and in the food.
Backer said, “I’ve been a widower for eight and a half years. And I still think of my wife all the time.”
In recent years, the economy of bars has really changed.
Backer said, “We used to have Super Bowl parties here, but they mostly have them now in their homes. They invite guests over, you have surround sound and big TVs. So the day of the Super Bowl parties have gone. New Year’s Eve is nowhere near what it used to be. So we decided to try to bring people into the Monterey Pass Pub and Eatery as a magnet to pull people into another atmosphere.”
The atmosphere is incredibly welcoming and has to be seen and experienced to truly understand the feel.
While Monterey Pass Pub and Eatery was first opened Wednesday through Saturday, with a special breakfast on Sundays, the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic slowed those hours.
Backer said, “We finally shut down for about 70 days. It took me a year and a half to get people back. We didn’t reopen until ’21.”
It is now back open again on Fridays and Saturdays from 4:30 to 9 p.m., with the hope those hours will also include Thursdays in the near future.
To enter the restaurant, patrons walk through a museum in its own right. Framed photos and a diorama adorn the entrance. Maps of the area with battles marked show visitors what really happened at Monterey Pass.
The entrance also boasts the original Confederate flag – mostly white with a square corner showing what people think of as the Confederate flag.
Backer said, “That is the official flag of the Confederacy. The one that everybody’s upset about resembles a full flag of that, which was the Northern Virginia fighting army. That was their charging flag going into battle because they were the most ferocious ones. So the flag that everyone’s upset about wasn’t even the official flag.”
When it comes to the food at Monterey Pass Pub and Eatery, the menu includes shrimp, clams, cream of crab soup, crab cakes, haddock, prime rib, steaks and more.
Backer said, “First of all I had to ask myself what would be something they did back in 1863 — smoke. So I built a smoker. Nobody can say they got better smoked prime rib because nobody else smokes it. You’re going to have to go to Kansas City to probably get your best smoked ribs, but we get pretty close.”
When it comes to the menu, Backer goes on his instincts.
He said, “To me, presentation is everything. So you got a toasted bun. Then you put the burger on but if they want lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, onion, they’re all cold. I put the mayonnaise first, you stick your lettuce on it. Then you can stick your onion, your tomato, everything that’s cold. Then goes the burger. Then goes if you got mushrooms, bacon, anything else, but then you put the cheese on last so it melts and then when you take it out, you put the bun on the side so they can see the burger. The other thing is I like ketchup. And the thing I hate about burgers when they stick the bun on top, I’ve got to pull it off with the cheese all over it to put on the ketchup.”
The ideas come from Backer’s engineering and analytical mind.
He said, “It’s instinct. I didn’t go to the culinary school. But it’s learning, eating at other places where if I see something another place, and presentations in particular, I will glean from that as input.”
Instinct, family and history. That’s what Backer puts into all his endeavors — from Blondies Tavern to the Rouzerdome to the Monterey Pass Pub and Eatery.
So if you’re looking for something different from your typical dining out experience this holiday season, why don’t you mark your calendars to visit Monterey Pass Pub and Eatery this weekend?
Your stomach and small town integrity will be very glad you did.