Eat, Play, Live

Zeno’s bluegrass night: Best deal in town?

Bluegrass night at Zeno’s Pub is one of the most popular midweek places to be in State College.
Bluegrass night at Zeno’s Pub is one of the most popular midweek places to be in State College. Centre Daily Times, file

Editor’s note: This story is part of the Eat, Play, Live special section.

Can you think of a better way to get over the midweek slump than with live bluegrass music, great food, an impressive brew selection and a cool crowd, all for less than the cost of a Starbucks coffee? Definitely not. And where would one find such an oasis in downtown State College? Zeno’s Pub, one of State College’s hottest hangouts for live music, of course.

Every Wednesday, from 7 p.m. until 12:30 a.m., patrons fill Zeno’s Pub as the sounds of a true American art form, bluegrass, encompass the local bar. Known for their live music, expansive draft and bottle selections and quality pub fare, it’s no wonder that Zeno’s bluegrass night is one of the most popular midweek places to be in State College. And for only a $3 cover charge, which includes a barbecue sandwich to help soak up the seemingly endless selection of brews to choose from, bluegrass night is quite possibly the best deal in town.

Much to the delight of the crowds, the Wednesday bluegrass nights continue a long-standing tradition of live music in downtown State College, and specifically, Zeno’s Pub. In fact, despite its unassuming entrance and basement location, Zeno’s has been a staple of the live music bar scene for a long time.

“Our live music history goes back almost 30 years, starting with John Cunningham on Sunday nights,” said David Staab, who has been Zeno’s general manager for more than three decades.

Although Zeno’s Pub was already one of the top bars for live music in 2000, Staab felt a need to expand the early evening live music scene, something that was lacking in town. As a result, Staab introduced bluegrass night, a unique way to bring new sound and new talents to the scene.

“Bluegrass night started with Andy Tolins’ Bluegrass Revue in 2000, anchoring the 7 p.m. early spot, with Little Townes’ (eventually) cementing the late spot (around 2007),” Staab said.

Today, the lineup features local musicians Chris Strait and The Crooked Line on stage for the early set, followed by Haystack Lightnin’ performing late into the evening and early morning hours. Catering to the local talent, Staab confirms that these two bands are booked for the foreseeable future, but he also likes to mix it up a bit, working with Thickhead Productions to occasionally bring touring bands into town.

As expected, the popularity of bluegrass night at Zeno’s is fluid, varying a bit each semester. But recently, Staab is seeing a resurgence in the size of their Wednesday night crowd and expects the trend to continue. Regardless of who takes the stage at Zeno’s, it’s a safe bet that bluegrass is here to stay.

And unlike many things in a college town, Zeno’s Pub and its impressive live music offerings, is consistent in attracting crowds of locals, students and visitors year-round. According to Staab, no matter the season, Zeno’s is always a good time.

“In addition to bluegrass night and other live music, Zeno’s also has beer fests and trivia nights to round out each week, as well as being an everyday hangout,” he said.

So, there you have it. For a few dollars, would you prefer a cup of joe or an evening of live bluegrass music, a delicious sandwich and tasty beverages with your friends? The answer seems pretty obvious.

For a complete lineup of weekly events, specials and upcoming festivals, visit www.zenospub.com.

If you go

Where: 100 W. College Ave., State College

Info: 237-4350, www.zenospub.com

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