What Lancaster Means To Me: Ben Hash
When Ben Hash visits Central Market on a Friday or Saturday morning, he gathers herbs, spices and other ingredients for the drinks he’ll be making at the Horse Inn later that evening. Each part of the masterful cocktails are handmade in-house, and from concept to execution, Hash is behind it all.
This probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows Ben, or who has seen him at work in the historic, speakeasy-esque restaurant, one of the longest running in the county. Ben’s a master of his craft, and he’s also self-taught. But he attributes part of his success to his surroundings: the opportunities that a city like Lancaster provides, as well as the thriving bartending community he has played a great role in developing.
Born in North Carolina, Hash moved to southern Lancaster county at the end of the 90s. For years, he was homeschooled in Kirkwood, a town below Quarryville. From an early age, Hash’s ethos were evident, as he started working when he was 13 as a cook and dishwasher. He recalls long days of picking up shifts in the morning, doing classes at home during the day, and then returning to work in the evening with everyone else. For years, Hash worked in kitchens, and it was his experience there that truly lent itself to the work he does now.
Though his career was many years in the making, Hash officially started bartending when he was 21, and worked for many different restaurants in the area, but was fired from many, as he says, for “being an ass,” something he laughs and says he’s grown from. It was also around that time that he started to enter national competitions for bartending. After a notable winning streak, Hash had a revelation: his success was because he was building cocktails from the kitchen, not the bar, and he would need that kind of freedom to truly actualize all of his potential.
He found that at the Horse Inn, when Matt and Starla Russell hired him to develop their bar program while in the process of restoring the historic restaurant back in 2014. Hash recalls that he and Matt Chamberlain first wrote the menu, scrapped it, and after many revisions, it became what it is today. It was slow at the beginning, Hash recalls, remembering when they’d open at 4 PM and take bets on when the first tables would fill, which didn’t always happen until 6:15 PM or later… a funny concept to anyone who knows there’s never not a line to get a seat there now.
When Hash was first starting out and unclear about his ultimate goals, he says a friend told him the following: “I don’t know if this is what you want to do forever, but it’s what you’re doing now… so do it the best you can.” It’s a philosophy he’s lived by since.
Hash also cites location as a huge part of why he’s been able to do what he has. “I feel like I can see the progression of Lancaster, and I want to be a part of it, and I feel like I have been a part of it, and I don’t want to lose that,” he says. “I could do the same thing I am doing now in a larger city, and maybe get more accolades there, but I’d rather bring Lancaster up. People say, ‘I’m going to move to the big city and make it,’ but why not make it here? The world has grown smaller. We can use social media to do anything. And we have the best stuff. People look all over for what we have at our fingertips, everything from the ingredients to the glassware.”
Hash even started a private group called the Lancaster Bartender’s Society, which at the time of writing, has 138 members. The group helps one another with jobs, services, and meetings. Mostly though, it’s about remembering that it’s about collaboration over competition.
“The old school mentality is that you talk shit on your neighbors and everyone is the enemy and there wasn’t much camaraderie,” Hash says. “Five years ago, this town really started to blow up with restaurants, and this was our side of it. I want to think that any bartender in this town can come up to me and ask questions and know I’ll give them the right answers. I don’t think there’s much proprietary knowledge in this industry. Once something’s on a menu, it’s free range,” he explains.
Ultimately, Hash says he’s going to be in the spirit industry for the rest of his life, in one way or another. “I’m continually working on a concept for spirits. But in my head, it’s either a restaurant or a distillery, or maybe I’m fortunate enough to be in the media aspect of it,” he said. But one way or another, I’m good at this, I love this, I’ve spent a lot of my life learning about this, and I think that when you’re young you read and when you’re old you write, and I’m just about moving on to that moment when I feel like I’ve gathered enough information and it’s time to start sharing it.”
By: Brianna Wiest