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New Tenants of the Rathskeller Location Discuss Their Plans for the Historic Bar

by on January 29, 2018 12:05 AM

Tom Trosko always wanted to own a bar, but he never imagined it would be the historic basement tavern on South Pugh Street where he'd spent so much time, and worked, as a Penn State student.

A fateful phone call last fall changed that.

As the All-American Rathskeller on Saturday was marking its last call under owners Duke and Monica Gastiger, who operated the 84-year-old bar since 1986, Trosko and his wife, Kelley, revealed that they would be the new tenants of the location when their lease begins on March 1.

With a long personal history at the Rathskeller, they said they want to keep it the same as it's always been, though what it will be called remains uncertain.

"Physically we have no plans to change anything," Tom Trosko told StateCollege.com on Sunday. "Our aim is to provide great service, a great environment, great music and hopefully a place people can still relive old memories and build new ones.

"This was a second home to me. I feel a responsibility to ensure that these memories continue. Kelley and I will do our part to provide the same welcoming atmosphere to all generations of Penn Staters and do all we can to make sure this establishment will be around for another 85 years.”

A 1995 Penn State graduate, Trosko spent countless hours at the Rathskeller and eventually worked there for more than two years.

"I was there so often they put me on the schedule," he said. "It was a surprise to me. I started working there and was fortunate enough to have those experiences and meet those people. It’s a part of me, of my history and a part of my time here at Penn State."

The building that houses the Skeller was purchased by the Herlocher family in June 2017. The Herlochers have said that other bidders intended to tear it down. 

In December, the Gastigers announced that they had not been offered a new lease and would be closing the Skeller, as well as Spats Cafe above the bar, in January. The Herlochers, who said they and the new tenants of the Skeller would be committed to maintaining its atmosphere, said the establishments had been renting below market rates and efforts to work out lease issues were unsuccessful. The Troskos are not leasing the Spats location.

Tom Trosko, meanwhile, had gotten to know Neil Herlocher during his time at Penn State when both played on the rugby team.

He said Herlocher called him last fall and asked if he'd be interested in renting the space if lease negotiations with the Gastigers did not work out.

"I guess I said it more often than I ever realized that I always wanted to own a bar," he said. "I suppose Neil remembered it and thought of me and gave me a call ...  To be honest we thought back in the day that [if he bought a bar] it would be a mom-and-pop little corner bar. This just floored me."

"Tom and I have been together for 14 years and this is something we’ve always talked about that we wanted as far as having our own pub," Kelley Trosko added. "When Tom sat me down and said 'I’ve gotten this phone call,' this was a dream of his and I was ready to move forward with it."

The Troskos said that through the Herlochers they have made an offer to the Gastigers to buy the All-American Rathskeller business, and thus keep the name.

"We got no response but the door isn't closed," Tom Trosko said.

The Gastigers could not be reached for comment on Sunday. If a deal can't be reached, the Troskos said they are working on name options but couldn't yet reveal what those will be.

UPDATE: Duke Gastiger said on Monday afternoon that they have not received any correspondence from the Trosko family and that they had asked for the new tenants' contact information but did not receive a response.

The Trosko family was already making their move to State College when Herlocher reached out. Tom Trosko is a landscape architect and Kelley Trosko is a marketing professional. They were living in Baltimore with their two young children and wanted to move somewhere that they could spend more time with their kids.

"Kelley and I, down in D.C. and Baltimore, we were spending three hours a day in our cars," Tom Trosko said. "We have young children and we just want to spend time with them. We’d have to leave early for work and by the time we got home it was dinner, homework and off to bed. We had no time with them."

"We had always discussed coming up here and it was just an opportune time for Tom to make a move with his landscape architecture business and for myself looking for a marketing position here," said Kelley Trosko, who now works for Penn State.

Tom Trosko's career as a landscape architect will play a role in maintaining the Skeller as it's been. His work has included historic preservation for projects such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Capitol Hill, the U.S. Marine Corps base at Quantico and the U.S. Naval Academy.

"The highlight of my career was the privilege to work on some of these landmarks in the D.C. area where you had to honor the history and tradition and past," he said. "You had to maintain these facilities just to make them function, but then you didn’t want to disrupt any of the historical significance... You wanted the structure to be around for another hundred years and you didn’t want anything to fall down. How do you do that? You have to go in and take an inventory of what you have and evaluate what potential issues there are and what needs to be done. 

"We don't want to change anything. We want it to work."

The Troskos don't know that there is anything significant that needs to be done with the Skeller location, but will know more once their lease starts and they can assess everything. 

"It works now, so we assume there’s nothing major," Tom Trosko added.

One thing they know they'll be doing is bringing a kitchen back to the Skeller premises. Because the Gastigers owned both the bar and restaurant above, Spats was also used as the Skeller's kitchen and cooking facilities were removed from the bar.

The Troskos said they are working on what their menu will be.

They also are well aware of, and understand, the reaction of many in the community when the Gastigers announced they would be forced to close.

"I get it. The bar itself is a part of them, like it’s a part of me. I’d be upset as well," Tom Trosko said. "My goal is to do everything to keep it moving on. I understand people think it’s dead but we want to continue."

A date for the bar to reopen has not yet been set, but the Troskos hope for it to be "as soon as possible."

"If we can walk in March 1 and flip on a switch, that would be fantastic," Kelley Trosko said. "We haven’t set a date yet, knowing we have to take an assessment of what’s going on."

With the notable memorabilia that had accumulated throughout the bar over the years all likely to be gone, the Troskos are encouraging community members to share anything they would like to have showcased that will maintain the historic appeal of the bar.

"We encourage the community and Penn Staters and previous alums of the Skeller if they have pictures they want to include, we would love to include them," Kelley Trosko said. "Just as you could walk in yesterday and see there were pictures of weddings of past employees and groups of past employees, we encourage people to provide them to us and we’ll showcase them as well."

Suggestions, as well as employment inquiries, can be made through their Facebook page at facebook.com/savetheskeller.

The Troskos said they know that those connections to the past and the relationships built at the Skeller are what have made it so special.

"I think it’s the people," Tom Trosko said. "The relationships that are forged there, you always remember college and you always remember the good times. This happens to be a place where there are a lot of good times."

Once the bar does reopen, the Troskos hope the Penn State and local community will continue making those connections and memories there, whatever name it goes by.

"We just invite the community to come down once we are open and enjoy an evening with us," Kelley Trosko said. 



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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