Editor’s note: This story is part of the Eat, Play, Live special section.
A visit to the All-American Rathskeller bar and restaurant offers patrons a unique mix of food and drink with a side of history that dates back to the 1930s.
The “Skeller,” as it’s known to locals and Penn Staters, opened its doors on Nov. 6, 1933, just three days after the end of Prohibition. Eight decades later, the State College staple maintains the character and tradition that has made it one of the town’s most popular watering holes.
When Pop Flood opened the Skeller, only beer was allowed to be sold in bars. During the time period, Rolling Rock from Latrobe was beginning to brew beer and Flood decided to serve the brewery’s 7-ounce “pony” bottles. In the 1970s, the Skeller tradition of purchasing a case of ponies for a table began.
Each case was delivered by the bartenders to the dark-stained wooden tables that furnish the Skeller. The tables and booths are ornamented with initials and words carved deep into the wood, some of which are more than 50 years old.
In 1987, Duke Gastiger purchased the Skeller and the restaurant above, which was called the Old Main Restaurant and then renamed Spats Cafe and Speakeasy. The Spats kitchen began preparing food for both establishments and the Skeller kitchen was dismantled.
In the early ’90s, Gastiger said his parents moved to the panhandle of Florida, where they began exploring Creole dining options. The influence the cuisine had on the Gastiger family made its way to State College and onto the menu at Spats and the Skeller.
“We introduced these new dishes to Spats and the Skeller as daily specials, and because of the unique full flavors they became immediate customer favorites,” Gastiger said. “They worked themselves onto the regular menus, we added more as the years passed and now we are considered Creole-centric.”
Along with the Cajun and Creole menu items, the Skeller also serves classic American pub food such as burgers and fires. The food options are complimented with a full-service bar that has more than 30 beers.
The Rolling Rock pony bottle cases are served only on Friday, which Gastiger said is a weekly opportunity to bring back memories from the past. Traditions such as the pony bottles offer Gastiger a chance to maintain the bond with the Skeller’s storied past while providing a unique place where current Penn Staters can forger their own memories.
“Four generations of alumni have adopted the Skeller as their special place, their tradition,” Gastiger said. “In this mobile and fractured world a strong sense of place is vitally important, and our alumni and visitors tell us constantly how much they appreciate us being there for them.”
Where: 108 S. Pugh St., State College
Info: 237-3858, theskeller.com