‘Contemporary Classic’ Tavern Blends Tradition With Innovation
For 63 years, The Tavern served dinner. And only dinner. The construction of an outdoor seating area changed that.
“We were working on that patio, and people would walk by and say this would be a great place to each lunch,” said owner Pat Daugherty. Last August, the restaurant began serving lunch from 11:30 to 3 — both indoors and out — featuring a new sandwich and salad menu.
The next major change was the addition of Sunday brunch, beginning last Easter. Coming up soon is a new late-night snack menu along with specials and happy hours at the adjacent Adam’s Apple bar. “We’re trying to reach out to more people who might like us for different reasons,” Daugherty said of his “contemporary classic” restaurant.
That’s in addition to the traditional reasons for liking The Tavern, which opened in 1948. The dinner menu changes daily with special entrees such as blue-cheese-crusted, ranch-cut sirloin and seafood sauté Parisienne, as well as favorites like New York strip steak, veal cutlet and spaghetti (one of the first dishes served 64 years ago). Dinner entrée prices include unlimited selections from the vegetable and salad menu.
Daugherty emphasized that The Tavern chefs use as many local ingredients as possible, including local jellies, jams and cheeses and feature Penn State Creamery ice cream for dessert.
Dining rooms extend the length of The Tavern buildings — an 1893 College Avenue home and a carriage house built around 1900. The walls are adorned with historic photos and prints, from old-time maps of area towns to photos of Penn State national champion sports teams and individual athletes.
“People feel comfortable here,” the owner said. “People see their friends here. It’s a place where people celebrate promotions, anniversaries, etc.”
Many out-of-town patrons return to the restaurant each year on home football Saturdays.
The Tavern’s own history dates to 1948, when two World War II veterans studying at Penn State on the GI Bill opened the restaurant, seating diners at tables and chairs borrowed from a fraternity house. The servers were Penn State students, and most still are.
“We’re proud of the kids,” Daugherty said of the servers, who have included Penn State Thon overall chairs and at least one Nittany Lion mascot. “They work hard while they’re here.”
Daugherty himself was a Tavern waiter while studying civil engineering. He worked in that field until 1980, when he bought the restaurant with Bill Tucker; Tucker retired in 1987 and remained an adviser until his death in 1995.