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2 historic State College restaurants are being forced to close, owners say

The All-American Rathskeller on Pugh Street in State College is the longest continually operating bar in Pennsylvania.
The All-American Rathskeller on Pugh Street in State College is the longest continually operating bar in Pennsylvania. adrey@centredaily.com

The final days are nearing for two popular, longtime restaurants in downtown State College.

The owners, Duke and Monica Gastiger, want to keep the doors open, but said they aren’t the ones making that choice.

The All-American Rathskeller and Spats Cafe & Speakeasy will close, and the Gastigers must have equipment moved out by February. The Rathskeller — colloquially known as the Skeller to patrons —has been open for 85 years and was launched as a business three days after prohibition ended in the United States. Spats has been open for 35 years.

A closing date has not been determined.

“It has been a great honor operating these two iconic establishments and serving this community and its many truly wonderful patrons and friends,” Duke Gastiger said in a statement. “We are grateful for the loyalty that people — including our incredible employees — have shown us over the years. We most regret closing with such short notice, but it was unavoidable given the timeline dictated by the new property owners.”

The closure, according to the Gastigers, was prompted due to the new property owners deciding not to renew the leases. More than 60 people will lose their jobs.

A property acquisition was finalized in July when Neil and Chuck Herlocher bought the buildings for more than $6.5 million under the name of Cornelius LLC. The Herlochers initially indicated that “business there will continue as usual,” but plans unexpectedly changed.

The Gastigers said the property was leased to an unknown entity prior to the Herlochers informing them of the decision. They asked the Herlochers to give them time to sell the business to new owners who could negotiate a lease, but said the Herlochers ignored their requests.

Neil Herlocher confirmed on the phone the Gastigers were not offered a new lease and that their term at the property ends Feb. 28, 2018. He said the Gastigers were given four months notice and that they were informed of the decision after a new tenant had signed a lease. The new tenant has requested the Herlochers not reveal their identity.

The new tenant will operate as a bar and restaurant.

Gastiger said it pains him to know how many people will be hurt by the closings.

“It devastates Monica and I, and it devastates all of our employees,” he said. “I wish I could find a silver lining, but I think State College and so many people will miss both places. I’ve always preached having a sense of place and tradition, and we’re losing some of that.”

The Gastigers will turn their focus to opening ReFarm Cafe in the summer of 2018.

“We have been blessed with a wonderful community of employees, patrons and friends, and we have not reached our final act,” said Duke. “With ReFarm Cafe at Windswept, we have plans to take our innovative cooking and hospitality in a new direction with an exciting new restaurant concept for the area. We are focused on community and sustainability, and we have big plans for our next venture.”

Still, the despair of losing the Rathskeller and Spats will always sting, they said. There might be a new Spats in the future, but they said the Rathskeller wouldn’t be the same in a new location.

Duke said an alumni reunion was held this year for Spats and the Rathskeller. Former employees who came back to attend had asked the Gastigers to do some digging in their payroll records.

“They wanted me to go back and see how many employees we’ve have had since we’ve been here in 1985,” Duke Gastiger said. “There have been more than 1,600 employees. We’ve touched a lot of people’s lives. We’ve helped people start careers here, helped pay for students’ education and seen them after they’ve left and have never forgotten them. It wasn’t Monica and I. It was our employees who made Spats and the Rathskeller unbelievably great.”

Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli

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