A peek inside the Rathskeller
Five patrons reveled in their memories in a time-honored, State College tradition — meeting at the Rathskeller, for what some felt would be the last time.
They talked about their families, work and plans for the year ahead, all the while surrounded by historic memorabilia on the walls, which if they could tell stories would write books about the business that opened three days after prohibition ended and the countless people who admire it for the landmark that it is.
One couple at the bar didn’t reveal everything to their old college pals turned lifelong friends.
The one detail they left out two weeks ago when they ordered several rounds was that they are the new tenants in the Skeller’s space. They are going to run the bar. And they don’t have the same worry as everyone else.
Tom and Kelley Trosko said they “get it,” that they know exactly how everyone who doesn’t want to lose the Skeller to a corporate chain or a wrecking ball feels. The iconic State College watering hole that has served students, alumni and locals with as many experiences as pints is special to them, too.
“Why would I kill my favorite place?” Tom Trosko said.
They have patronized the bar for 30 years, have had reunions with classmates they almost lost track of and would have hated to see it change, so they agreed to be the new tenants.
“If I was not going to be who I am, I’d be concerned that it was going away, too” Tom Trosko said. “The bar is a part of the family. If it’d go away, it’d be like a relative passed. I respect it. I understand it. We want to keep it intact and keep it going.”
Tom Trosko couldn’t study in his home during college.
The rugby house wasn’t a suitable setting to complete school work, but he discovered the Skeller was relatively quiet during afternoon hours in 1988. The bar was his second home, the place where he often studied during the day and socialized at night.
He was hired five years later without knowing he had been employed.
“Apparently I was there so often that they just put me on the (work) schedule,” Tom Trosko said. “I got a call from (a manager), and she says ‘Where are you?’ I told her I was home, and she told me she put me on the schedule and that I needed to get down there.”
Tom Trosko was the doorman, the bartender and did everything but the scheduling and payroll until 1995 when his career as a landscape architect launched.
He got another phone call this past October when his family was about to move to State College. Tom and Kelley Trosko, along with their two daughters (ages 5 and 9) and two dogs, had lived in the greater Baltimore area where Tom could practice his craft preserving landmarks like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
They also wanted to change their hectic lives.
“We were missing (the kids),” Tom Trosko said. “We came up here to be with the kids, to be with this community and to raise them with what we had growing up in smaller towns.”
The Troskos also had an unexpected opportunity arise to operate a bar, something they’d always talked about, and it was the Skeller. They signed a lease after several weeks of contemplation and made an offer to buy the business and liquor license.
There isn’t a new name for the bar.
The Troskos might not have to pick one if they and Duke and Monica Gastiger, who own the Skeller, come to a deal. The soon-to-be former and close-to-new tenants said they would be open to negotiating an acquisition for the business.
They’re also aware of the uproar caused by the announcement that the Skeller would close. They said it would be weight lifted off their shoulders to announce that they want what everyone who loves the Skeller wants.
“It’s going to stay an anchor in the community,” Kelley Trosko said.
“It’s an anchor in a sea of change in State College with all of the new buildings and new things coming up, all the sterile buildings that have no character,” Tom Trosko added. “Some new buildings look like a hospital, and they’ve got no soul. The Skeller has got a lot of soul.”
The bar’s name and its owner has changed multiple times since Pop Flood called it The Greenroom and Rathskeller in 1933. The constant, though, has been the space’s atmosphere, fixtures and writing on the walls.
“That’s part of what makes the Skeller the Skeller,” Tom Trosko said. “It’s all staying the same.”
The memorabilia will change, though it will still be focused on the history of the Skeller, town and university. The Troskos are also open to having people submit ideas or pictures for the walls. They hope current employees will apply to work at the bar through Save The Skeller, a Facebook page.
Any modifications to the building will be planned on March 1, the first day of the Troskos’ lease.
“We’ll be rolling up our sleeves and taking inventory of what’s there,” Kelley Trosko said. “We’ll take everything in and have reality really hit.”
“What we do want to do is get in there make sure it’s not going to fall down or light on fire, so we want everything to be up to code, but we have no plans to change it,” Tom Trosko added. “My big thing as a landscaping architect is I’m bound to life, safety, health and the welfare of the public, so that’s first and foremost. I’m not doing anything beyond that.”
The Troskos want to reopen the bar in the spring when they hope the State College and Penn State communities will embrace them.
“We’ve always wanted to keep it as it is,” Tom Trosko said. “We’ll bring in great service, provide a great environment, great music, a place where you reflect on great memories and you can still build great memories.”
Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli