Students who arrive in State College on Saturday for the annual State Patty’s Day drinking holiday will find the majority of downtown restaurants and taverns closed or dry, Penn State officials said Tuesday.
Damon Sims, Penn State’s vice president for student affairs, said 33 of 35 downtown State College establishments, including all taverns and bottle shops, have agreed to accept monetary compensation offered by the university for a moratorium of the sale of alcohol Saturday.
One restaurant is still considering the university’s offer, while a second, Spats Cafe and Speakeasy Restaurant, has decided to forgo the money and will sell alcohol with meals, Sims said.
That means the university will have paid as much as $343,000 in the last two years to dissuade downtown tavern and restaurant owners from serving alcohol during the student-created holiday.
Borough officials have said the step, paired with other efforts, helped curtail alcohol-fueled incidents during the celebration last year. The number of citations issued and people taken to the hospital dropped in 2013 from the previous year, according to borough police figures.
“... We continue to negotiate agreements with the hope of making State College a very unattractive destination to anyone seeking a Mardi Gras kind of experience that day,” Sims said in an email.
Penn State offered a tiered compensation system this year based on occupancy, giving the largest establishments $7,500 for halting the sale of alcohol and $2,500 for the smallest. It could lead to a payout as high as $173,000.
Last year, 34 downtown establishments agreed to the incentive and received $5,000 each to make up for lost revenue, leading to a total payout of $170,000.
Spats was of those establishments that closed in 2013, but this year owner Duke Gastiger has decided to serve alcohol, citing a distinction between a tavern and a fine dining restaurant.
“We’ve been in business for 27 years — we don’t exclude any part of the market, and that includes students,” he said. “But there is a clear distinction between a bona fide restaurant and a nightclub.”
Gastiger said his customers, who are paying fine dining prices, were upset that they couldn’t order a glass of wine to pair with dinner if they wanted to.
His other establishment, the All-American Rathskeller, will close and will receive $7,500 from the university for doing so. Gastiger said he will pass a portion of the money on to his employees.
“There is some pain my employees have to endure, losing one of the better Saturdays as far as income,” he said. “This is not a time for greed. It’s a time for community purpose, a time for recognizing employees.”
The State Patty’s Day Task Force, a town-gown collaboration that includes university and borough leaders, business owners, law enforcement and students, has has been ramping up efforts in anticipation of Saturday’s event.
As in past years, the Penn State Interfraternity Council has banned social functions during the weekend, and the Panhellenic Council has adopted a no-guest policy for sorority floors at residence halls.
Students again will volunteer to perform community service during the weekend.
Sims said the community is working together to create a winter festival by next year that could replace “what we hope will be a defunct State Patty’s Day.”
“Coupled with no social events in fraternities on both Friday and Saturday, restrictions on guests in the residence halls, limitations on parties and noise in downtown apartment complexes, a massive law enforcement presence, and the single largest day of student community service in the history of Penn State, it seems increasingly doubtful that anyone looking for a drunken festival will find one in our community on State Patty’s Day,” Sims said.
Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.