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’Skeller ‘family’ rallies to support iconic bar

by on December 07, 2017 9:43 AM

STATE COLLEGE — The management team of the iconic All-American Rathskeller was invited to the home of owners Duke and Monica Gastiger on the evening of Dec. 4. There, they were informed that after 85 years in business, the ’Skeller would be closing its doors.

Shortly after that meeting, news broke publicly that Neil and Chuck Herlocher, the owners of the property at South Pugh Street and East College Avenue, decided not to renew the lease of the Rathskeller and its counterpart and upstairs neighbor, Spats Café and Speakeasy, which opened in 1987.

“It was devastating to hear ... almost unbelievable,” said the business’s executive chef, Justin Berkebile, who attended the Monday evening meeting. “I think everyone was in shock. We’re talking about the ’Skeller here.”

Shortly after the meeting, social media exploded as the news went viral. Supporters of the longtime watering hole began posting their displeasure with the news on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms — some subtly, with notes of support for the Gastigers and words of respect for the establishment; others, with more aggressive approaches, such as posting memes depicting red “no” slashes over circled commercial products — specifically Herlocher’s Dipping Mustard — sold by the building’s owner.

The news spread quickly, and less than an hour after the meeting at the Gastigers, the doors to the ’Skeller began opening and closing more frequently. Dave Ache was there.

“I couldn’t believe the news when I heard it,” Ache said. The State College resident graduated from Penn State in 1993 and said he has been a loyal patron of the ’Skeller his entire adult life. “I came down just to find out if it was true, and sure enough, they said it was. I guess other people wanted to know what was going on too. This place is always busy at night, but it was extremely busy Monday night.”

By 1 p.m. Dec. 5 — just 20 hours after the news went viral — sentimentalists and collectors seeking Rathskeller-etched pint glasses were sadly turned away, as the stock quickly sold out. Few colors, and even fewer sizes, remained of Rathskeller T-shirts.
Steve Houts, of Centre Hall, was lucky enough to get the size he was looking for.

“I came here a fair amount with my friends and wanted to get something to remember it by,” Houts said. “We enjoyed the atmosphere and how laid back it was. We always enjoyed the staff and how we were treated. We’re sure going to miss it.”
 

A TUESDAY AFTERNOON

At 1:30 p.m. Dec. 5, the lunch crowd had all but dispersed, but activity continued in the bar. A businessman sat in a corner booth, eyes intently on his open laptop on the table in front of him. College students sat together, at tables and at the bar, sharing stories and enjoying cold beverages — some finishing their lunches, other’s waiting for their orders to arrive from the Cajun-themed Spat’s upstairs.
Ache had ordered the jambalaya — a favorite of Spat’s and Rathskeller diners for 30 years. Spat’s specializes in Creole-inspired dishes.

“It’s a great dish, especially on a cold day like this, but everything you order here is good,” he said. “The food is good. The drinks are good. The people are good. This is like a family here. It’s going to be sad to see it go.”

Penn State students Bryan Palmer, Emma Anselmo and Bennet Kardane were awaiting a food order while seated at the bar. They said they decided to have lunch at the Rathskeller partially for nostalgia sake, but also because of the rumbling in their bellies.

“We wanted to come down and have a drink and remember this place for what it is,” Palmer said. “It’s the final week of the semester and we wanted to wind down. We come here often. I’m certainly going to miss it.”

Bartenders Aeriale Spotts and Jadot Marchman-Moosman expertly and meticulously poured drinks and moved graciously between tables and customers to deliver food orders to hungry customers.

“That’s what I’ll miss, the customers,” said Marchman-Moosman. “You get to know them and you build relations with them. They become friends that you’ll know you’ll see again — at the Rathskeller. I’m going to miss those people.”

Although the gloom of the announced closing hung over the tavern, an artificial light brightened the normally darkened, below- surface-level confines of the ’Skeller. With lights and camera on, WTAJ-TV news reporter Gary Sinderson recorded a live interview with the establishment’s owner while photographers flashed their cameras at customers, employees and the memorabilia that plasters the walls, digitally preserving nearly 85 years of memories.

“It’s good to see this place getting all this attention, but unfortunately, it’s for all the wrong reasons,” said Ache. “I just wish there was something that could be done about it.”
 

A CALL TO ACTION

A petition is circling the community to save the Rathskeller, and, with it, its rich history; however, Berkebile said such a petition attempt seems futile.

“I signed it. Of course I did,” he said. “But, to be honest, I don’t know how much good it’s going to do. It’s really a shame that all of this is about money. We do a good business here and we’ve been great friends to the community. The ’Skeller is history here in State College and history doesn’t deserve to be treated like this.”

The petition, which started circulating Dec. 4, was initiated by Penn State alumnus Dave Cole and aimed to “save the Rathskeller,” reported StateCollege.com. The online media source reported late on the afternoon of Dec. 6 that more than 8,000 people had signed the petition.

State College Mayor-elect Donald Hahn weighed in on the matter with a press release, stating his displeasure with the Neil and

Herlochers’ decision to evict the tenants, and said he wants to continue to work with the LLC to find a remedy to the deteriorating situation.

“My hope when the Herlochers purchased the building turned to profound disappointment when I heard they were evicting both businesses,” Hahn told the Gazette.

He said he frequented the Rathskeller in “his younger days,” when he was a student and while working as a waiter after college.

“Some great memories were associated with the Rathskeller. It was a great venue for musical events,” he said. “I remember many late nights with my friends seeing Queen Bee and the Blue Hornet Band and other acts.”

He also said Spat’s has been one of his favorite restaurants for years.

“Both Spat’s and the Rathskeller are important gathering places which can help keep downtown State College vibrant,” said Hahn. “The Rathskeller is especially important as an attraction, considering its long history and memories that Penn State’s large and loyal alumni base have made there.”

Hahn said State College Borough continues to work to preserve the character and atmosphere of downtown State College through a coming, comprehensive zone rewrite.

“Personally, I believe that State College must be careful about what part of its history it allows to be sacrificed on the altar of development,” he said. “Once it’s gone it can never be truly resurrected.”

 

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