OS Staff Picks: Our Favorite State College Bars

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In many ways, State College is a lot like Texas. Whether it’s a Saturday morning tailgate or a Bryce Jordan Center concert or a simple end-of-year bar tour, we do things big in this town. For that reason, it is only fitting that State College is the home of an endless number of spots to enjoy drinks…but with a lot of bars comes a lot of bar controversy and favoritism.

Our staff is no stranger to that. So, some of our writers and editors argued why their favorite bar is the best in town, which will either end you and your friends’ debate or only further it. Here goes:

Zach Berger — The Phyrst:

It seems to me that everybody either loves the Phyrst or pretends to hate it. Nobody actually dislikes the Phyrst. “It’s dark” or “it’s dirty” or “it’s loud” or “it’s crowded” are complaints that I often hear about the State College bar scene staple. Well, yeah, of course it’s all of those things. They apply to every college bar, don’t they?

But that’s besides the point. I’m here to explain why the Phyrst is my favorite bar in town. It has the best atmosphere by far, which is thanks in part to its birthday hotspot reputation and the natural celebratory environment that has caused. There’s also the best music in town, which is live seven days a week, by the way. I have two words for you: Ted McCloskey. He’s the lead guitarist and frontman of Maxwell Strait and Ted & The Hi-Fi’s. He is also — and this is not debatable — the best and most talented musician in town by far. (If you say Jason O. is better, do us all a favor and please log off.)

The Phyrst also has the best bartenders in town, which is partly thanks to a seemingly discriminatory hiring policy. Oh, and there’s pool. Pool is awesome. And the Table Game. And a cowbell. And a fire hydrant on the bar. And food from Ernie’s.

As long as I’m at the Phyrst, there’s no place I’d rather be.

Kevin Horne — Zeno’s:

“When vessels of hand-crafted quality beer are touched together and the eyes of the men and women who hold them meet, something magical happens — a long and frustrating day brightens, worries soften, stresses chill, and friends (or soon to be friends) connect, and The Life becomes La Vie.”

Those words, written by Ken Hull in the forward of Ben Novak’s authoritative book “The Birth of the Craft Brew Revolution,” made a considerable impact on my development as a beer drinker. It was not so long ago that my alcohol palate consisted almost entirely of whatever warm, one-dimensional, mass-produced yellow fizz I could get my hands on in the basement of a fraternity house or from a friend. That’s college I suppose; keg stands, beer bongs, and questionable inebriated decisions seem to be as much a part of the university ethos as anything. And that’s okay — I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy such indulgences with unspoken degrees of frequency.

But we’re living in a world with an essentially limitless selection of high-quality spirits, and the act of having a good beer and a conversation is one of the most powerful experiences two people can share with each other. Taste a well-crafted, delicately brewed Porter, Stout, or Belgian, close your eyes, and you can travel across the world in an instant, experience new culture, and engage in meaningful fellowship.

Zeno’s was one the first bars to fully embrace the so-called craft beer revolution — certainly the first in Centre County — and it’s still the only place in town craft beer drinkers need to go. With a knowledgeable bar staff eager to provide the most experienced beer drinkers with their fix or introduce newly minted 21-year-olds to their first high-quality beer, there’s no better place to have a beer in State College.

Zeno’s, and bars like it, allow those who wish to experience beautiful manmade art from all over the world to do so without leaving their own communities. To appreciate the craft is to exist in a state of timelessness. Lovers meet, world-altering ideas are spread, and lifelong friendships blossom from across the bar table, eyes locked, pint in hand.

What could be more virtuous? La Vie, indeed.

Alicia Thomas — Café 210 West: 

Something about the gate surrounding this mecca of inebriation made me feel like it was the first bar I needed to go to upon turning 21. It did not disappoint. While the weather is still nice, AKA before eternal winter hits State College sometime in mid-September, snagging an outdoor table is top notch. Sitting inside of the gate (finally!) and watching underage passersby stare longingly at your Café tea will leave you feeling drunk with power…and the tea will just leave you feeling drunk. Those pitchers pack a punch.

Yuka Narisako — The Shandygaff: 

The Gaff symbolizes everything good in the world. It undeniably features the best music selection consisting of phenomenal throwbacks and pretty much everything else that gets the crowd going.

Whether you’re into dancing, hanging out, smoking a cig, or foosball, you can do most anything you’d like at the Gaff. Hell, on Wednesdays, you can sing your heart out at Gaffeoke night.

What’s more, the Gaff features cheap drinks that fit the budget of most thirsty college kids. With $3 tall boys and $6 liquor pitchers, the Gaff ensures that you’ll have a wild night without burning a hole in your wallet.

People may criticize the Gaff due to its smoky atmosphere, but they just hate to admit that the Gaff is the place to be. A quick look at the line outside the Gaff that wraps around to Bradley’s Cheesesteaks is proof enough.

Tim Gilbert — The Phyrst:

Everything about the Phyrst screams “YOU ARE IN A COLLEGE BAR” at you, and that’s what makes it so damn great. Look, when I go out for a night, eating good food and drinking good beer is the last thing on my mind, as a cash-strapped 21-year old. The Phyrst offers both phenomenal food and great beer, mind you, but $3 Yuengling pitchers during Happy Hour simply can’t be beat.

And the music. Live music! Every night! Even when the bands aren’t playing, the song selection on the radio is untouchable. One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer. Come and Get Your Love. I Want You Back. The Phyrst does not play shitty music, ever.

What pushes the Phyrst to true stardom, though, are its unique features that you just won’t find at another bar. Where else can you get pitchers bought for you by slamming on a table and screaming (this has happened to me during table wars)? The cowbell at the Phyrst is State as hell. The bouncers are the most reasonable in town. There’s a fire hydrant on the bar. Folks, you’re just doing college wrong if the Phyrst isn’t your favorite bar.

Ted Hozza — Bill Pickle’s Tap Room:

Although Pickle’s personality might be changing from just a place to hang out at to the new Greek bar in town, it still holds a special place in my heart.

With the location right on Allen Street and the much-improved food from The Corner Room, the experience can’t be beat for a sporting event or to just hang out at after class.

Now Pickle’s has something else that make those of you from the ol’ country — or those who act like they are — feel right at home. Country Night. It can get pretty rowdy in there with all of that flannel, but it’s one of the best times in State College. Plus, there’s almost never a cover.

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