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Zeno's Dave Staab Celebrates 30 Year Run Behind the Bar

by on July 11, 2014 6:00 AM

On June 23, 1984, Zeno’s General Manager Dave Staab was over 80 miles away from State College, sleeping along a highway.

He’d just seen the legendary Grateful Dead live in Harrisburg for the first time, and was mere hours away from his first shift at the bar that would become his life's work.

Hitchhiking his way back to town that morning, Staab arrived in State College just in time for his 8 a.m. shift as Zeno’s weekend janitor. In the decades since then, Staab has risen from janitor to manager and recently celebrated his 30th anniversary with the Hotel State College, which operates Zeno’s and several other prominent businesses along College Avenue.

Staab was no stranger to the State College bar scene when he took his first position with Zeno’s. In addition to working as a janitor, he’d spent time as a dishwasher, a bartender and a line cook at the Gingerbread Man, Corner Room and Allen Street Grill after studying mechanical engineering at Penn State.

Zeno’s, like Staab himself, has an unassuming atmosphere. A basement bar located beneath the Corner Room, Zeno’s boasts an impressive selection of beer and a closely-knit relationship with the local music scene. As evidenced by the Grateful Dead story, Staab’s love of music has deeply influenced the Zeno’s culture, as did a passion for beer.

“High quality beers quickly became a focus of mine,” Staab says. With the help of local breweries and distributors, “Zeno’s became a nationally recognized destination for beer.”

Under Staab’s leadership, Zeno’s has become a staple of the State College bar scene. In 2012, Men’s Health magazine called Zeno’s “a Nittany Lion favorite,” praised its selection of beer and entertainment, and listed Zeno's as one of the 20 best college bars in the entire United States.

Through beer tastings, cask ale festivals and other events, Staab has gotten the chance to meet some of the most influential figures in the beer community.

Carol Stoudt, co-founder of one of Pennsylvania’s oldest microbreweries, has been to Zeno’s for tastings of Stoudt’s Brewing Company’s varied beers. On another occasion, Staab fondly remembers sharing a Victory Hop Devil Ale with the famous Birtish beer writer Michael Jackson, author of numerous books and creator of the popular TV show The Beer Hunter.

“I like to hear stories from customers who were exposed to great beer at Zeno's and then went on to pursue careers in brewing,” Staab says. “There's a few out there.”

Despite changing lives and meeting influential figures in the world of beer, Staab says one of his favorite things about working at Zeno’s is the simple joy of getting to know some “incredible personalities.”

“State College proves again and again to be a dynamic, involved atmosphere with more happening people than I could ever get to know,” Staab says. “And I managed to persuade one of those cool people to marry me!” Staab met his wife, Kathy, on the job. He hired her to work at Zeno's.

When not on duty at the bar, Staab enjoys fishing and spending time with Kathy, and daughter April. Staab may not know exactly what the future has in store for Zeno's, but he's more than ready to find out.

"It's been a hell of a ride so far," he says. "I'll report back in another 10 years or so."

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Michael Garrett is a freelance reporter who covers a wide range of assignments for StateCollege.com.
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