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The definition of a small town, Ambler covers less than one square mile, but despite its diminutive size, it’s amazingly complete, with a host of shops, restaurants, bars and special events that keep the streets bustling. Unassuming and unpretentious, Ambler has retained an historic gentility and independent spirit that are the pride of this tightly knit community.
Originally known as the Village of Wissahickon, Ambler was renamed in 1869 in honor of Mary Johnson Ambler, a Quaker resident who helped lead rescue efforts during the Great Train Wreck of 1856. The town served as a manufacturing hub in the 19th century, and this circumstance gave rise to a long retail corridor on Butler Pike, the ornately crafted Victorian buildings encircling the town and row homes typical of that era’s working-class housing. Ambler has since reinvented itself for the 21st century: The industrial past is reflected in adaptive reuse projects that have turned factories into green buildings, while Butler Pike’s current spate of independent shops and stylish restaurants draw visitors from the region.
Despite having an actual Main Street, Ambler’s commercial corridor is actually along E. Butler Avenue and W. Butler Pike. (Main Street is home to several shops, however.)
Part of Ambler’s wonderfully vibrant arts scene, the award-winning ACT II Playhouse regularly draws patrons from Philadelphia and beyond for its eclectic theater productions in an intimate setting. The Ambler Symphony Orchestra performs seasonally at area auditoriums. The renovated historic Ambler Theater features a stellar lineup of first-run, repertory and family film programs. While there are no galleries in the town per se, the curated Art in the Storefront program ensures a rotating display of photography, painting, sculpture and other media in the windows of the former Ambler Department Store.
Ambler’s dining scene includes cuisines from around the world (Indian, Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean), as well as urbane destination restaurants. One of the earliest champions for civic revival, Trax Restaurant & Cafe bring-your-own-bottle restaurant in the Ambler train station emphasizes local (and microlocal—as in, from the garden outside) dining. Sleek newcomer Lucky Well unites Southern style barbecue with its natural soul mate bourbon. Set in a restored Victorian home, Forest & Main brews highly original beers and serves a small menu of cutting-edge gastropub fare. Dettera expansive wine bar, the sunny patio at 34 East, Bridget’s A Modern Steakhouse’s eclectic fare and the monster beer list at Bar 31 offer plenty of options for libations, live music and, of course, luscious eats.
Shop local is the mantra in this town where chain stores are practically nonexistent. Main Street Vintage refinishes flea market finds for the ultimate in shabby chic home décor. Founded by a former celebrity stylist, Hatch baby store offers up irresistibly cute clothing, gift baskets and toys. The Ambler Skate Shop, meanwhile, caters to a slightly older demographic, serving as a hub for teen and tween skate and snowboarders. Free Shop and Xtra 101 outfit women in on-trend clothing and accessories.
On monthly First Fridays from May to October, area businesses on Butler Pike open their doors for the evening, offering special deals, food-truck treats and live family-friendly entertainment. The Saturday Ambler’s Farmers’ Market, now in its second year, showcases the best of the region’s bounty, from Horsham-grown produce to New Jersey seafood to locally roasted organic coffee. The Auto Show, held in mid-May, exhibits antique, classic and unique cars and trucks in a flashy display along Butler Avenue. The town’s most celebrated event, the two-day Ambler Arts & Music Festival (June) shuts down the streets to make way for more than 60 artist vendors in a wide range of media, more than a dozen bands, a local food fair, beer garden, wine tent and plenty of activities for kids.
Ambler is easily reachable by car from Center City. There is metered parking on the streets of the Borough, as well as three lots off of E. Butler Avenue. All parking is free on Sundays, after 6 p.m., and from noon to 2 p.m. on weekdays. SEPTA’s Lansdale-Doylestown rail line stops at Ambler station, a major park and ride facility.
There are several inns and a hotel/conference center nearby where visitors can stay. Alternatively, stay a short drive away in Philadelphia and save with the two-night Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package, which includes FREE hotel parking.