State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

About Town: Duffy’s New Owners

by on December 26, 2012 7:46 AM

Cozy Duffy’s Tavern in Boalsburg is polished up for another Christmas. It has seen a lot of them in its nearly 200 years. This one is in the hands of new owners, Tracey and Darren Moriarty, a Boalsburg couple in their early 40s (and unrelated, of course, to Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis).

“We want to bring back the colonial Christmas dinner,” says Tracey Moriarty. For that dinner, which would have “things you don’t usually find,” she has done research, including in a Williamsburg cookbook. A graduate of Penn State in finance, she is the Duffy’s business manager; her husband, the general manager, is in charge of what is served. His professional cooking background is from the Elks Country Club near Boalsburg.

The two actually met at Duffy’s.

“I stopped in for a glass of wine and he was here,” Tracey says. They became engaged at Duffy’s and, in 2011, were married in its Blue Room (the dining room left of the entryway) on a day the Irishman appreciates: March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. (He wore a Kelly-green tuxedo; she, a bagpiper of Scottish descendant, played after the wedding.) A month later, they began working on becoming Duffy’s proprietors.

While the prospect of running Duffy’s “was huge and scary,” says Darren, “we never wanted to say, What if?”

On May 2, the Moriartys took over Duffy’s from Carl Hacker, who had become the tavern’s owner, along with his wife, Joanne, in 1971. Over the decades, their hospitality was well known. Several years ago, Joanne became ill with Alzheimer’s and couldn’t work; she died in November 2010.

Carl, now 81, put Duffy’s on the market a couple of years ago, but the word on the street was that he wanted the place to continue as it was and was particular about who took over.

His handful of possible buyers then — among those who had made offers over the years — were “basically just tire-kickers,” he says. Apart from keeping a piece of history alive (Hacker is a walking history book about Duffy’s and other things), he had wanted owners who would follow another tradition — be there.

“Joanne was a people person. She was at the front door, talking to people,” says Carl, who would come and go, but you knew he was around.

The two, who married in 1953, had come to Centre County from Lancaster County in 1961 for his HRB job as a technical illustrator in its publication department. The tavern came 10 years later.

Retirement may be a foreign concept. “I was with Duffy’s long past retirement age,” says Carl, who is 81 and a great-grandfather. “It’s nice to have family close. My whole immediate family lives in the area.“

When Joanne couldn’t work anymore, he “could rely” on his three children — Chuck, Cindy Graham, and Barbara Sirianni.

In leaving Duffy’s to new owners, “I’m staying at arm’s-length,” he says.

Memory-wise, however, “I miss the customers,” many of whom he’d known for years. “I miss the people, not the aggravation,” he says.

As ownership changed, says Darren Moriarty, “We worked with Carl and Chuck, his son” (then general manager). Among other things, “They showed us how to maintain the [1819] building.” Carl “knew we had a pretty strong emotional tie and would keep the traditions alive.” Then, the two “just graciously stepped back.”

The Moriartys’ starting date was a big one — Penn State graduation — but the 1,500 reservations went very smoothly. Regular customers and the unchanged 22-member staff (except for graduating PSU students) “have been really, really kind and have helped us in various ways,” says Darren.

Menu-wise, “We’ve kept the staples that put Duffy’s on the map,” he says. Physically, the place has seen a lot of elbow grease.

It’s a family affair. Tracey’s dad, Bill Hogg, has been “Mr. Fix-It.” Among many other things, the retired Penn State electrical engineer solidified some 80 of the tavern’s plank chairs. Tracey’s mom, Diane, is a hostess a few days a week. Darren’s mom, June, is a pastry chef. Darren’s son, Brad, a culinary-program student at Penn Tech in Williamsport, may join later. Tracey’s two teenagers — Jessica and Alexis Corte (the latter used to do competitive Irish dances) — sometimes act as hostesses, and clear tables.

Inside, Tracey has added ticking clocks to Duffy’s hominess. Outside, come spring, there will be an addition to the patio and more outside tables.

Duffy’s has seen many renovations over the years — especially after the fire in 1934, when the tavern was owned by Theodore Davis Boal. One of Carl Hacker’s changes was turning the upstairs rental rooms into the banquet room. The owners from 1946 until the Hacker years, Harry and Mary Duffy, left a distinctively lasting mark: the Boalsburg Tavern became Duffy’s Tavern.

In their time, “We were the caretakers,” says Carl Hacker. Now the baton is passed to new caretakers for their first Christmas and beyond.

Nadine Kofman is a native Centre Countian and historian.
Disclaimer: Copyright © 2020 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.