Food & Drink

The Phyrst turns 50

Mike Fullington stands for a portrait Wednesday at The Phyrst. The downtown State College will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Aug. 5.
Mike Fullington stands for a portrait Wednesday at The Phyrst. The downtown State College will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Aug. 5.

Compare images of downtown State College from 50, 40 or 30 years ago to today, and you’ll notice a lot of changes, but one local institution has stayed almost the same.

According to Chris Buchignani, Nittany Valley Society president of the board of directors, in the 50 years that The Phyrst has been located at 111 E. Beaver Ave., most of the properties around it have changed over several times.

“With the exception of the Rathskeller, there’s really very little other continuity,” Buchignani said. “There’s these few special places that have endured, and The Phyrst is one of them.”

The Phyrst was founded by Don Bartoletti, a 22-year-old architecture student at the time. Ernie Oelbermann soon came on board, forming a duo that would create a lasting legacy. The bar’s tradition is something remarkable, influencing the thousands of lives who have passed through the door over the past 50 years — something that wouldn’t go unnoticed when The Phyrst began gearing up for its big 50th anniversary bash.

The Nittany Valley Society and BlueWhiteTV have come together to not only record the Aug. 5 celebration, but also to tell the story of the lives behind the bar. Buchignani thinks the final production — a film set to debut Nov. 17 — will be a “really beautiful human experience story.” As the project has been coming together, he says it’s become apparent how The Phyrst is what it is because of the energy, passion, creativity, devotion and work ethics of Bartoletti and Oelbermann.

The winning combination has outlasted both founders, and continues to make The Phyrst a hot undergraduate spot even today, drawing in the current student population with its unmistakeable branding that’s been there since Day 1.

“You’ll get an authentic taste of the same college bar experience you would have found in the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s if you go down there this fall,” Buchignani said.

But what can you expect for the 50th celebration? As live music and The Phyrst go almost hand in hand, the bar is bringing back a lot of the bands that have appeared onstage there over the past five decades, including many of the rotating members of The Phyrst Family.

“It’s going to be an all-day affair that will last about 15 hours before it’s all said and done, and it’s just going to be one artist after another,” Buchignani said.

Fans of the cornerstone of college culture in Centre County will want to keep an eye out for The Phyrst 50 film debut in November, which Buchignani promises will be filled with entertaining and eye-opening tales of the lives behind, and affected by, The Phyrst. One such anecdote?

“When the bar was founded, by the time they got the place renovated, they had already borrowed money from their parents, they had spent the money they had, so they were on a really bare bones budget,” Buchignani said. “The night the bar opened, they could only afford a half keg of beer, so a refrigerator truck sat on Beaver Avenue, with (waiting) kegs. They sold the first keg, and ran the cash up the stairs, so they could buy another keg, and run it down. So that’s how they kept the bar going for the first couple of nights; they were selling one keg at a time.”

The Phyrst 50th Anniversary Celebration kicks off Aug. 5, and community members are invited to contribute to “The Phyrst 50: A Bar in a College Town” film project by joining the crowdfunding efforts at

Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at


  • What: The Phyrst 50th Anniversary Celebration
  • When: noon Aug. 5
  • Where: The Phyrst, 111 E. Beaver Ave., State College
  • Info: