Liberty Craft House: Not Your Father’s Bar
With recent additions such as Primanti Bros., Downtown State College is now home to 33 bars. In a market that saturated, the battle for customers is always fierce. Trying to stand out usually involves two main components in the college town landscapes: low prices and riotous atmospheres. However, State College’s newest addition, Liberty Craft House, located next to Inferno at 346 East College Ave., has found itself what is certainly a niche downtown. For all its offerings, downtown’s lack of a bar with a high-quality and unique food menu paired along with excellent craft beer and a strong liquor list was curious.
Liberty takes an experience that feels like it belongs in Manhattan and places it in State College. Zeno’s is one of the best beer bars anywhere, and the Z-Bar has itself great offerings and food as well, but Liberty instantly plants itself firmly in the conversation for beer nerds and newbies alike. With a massive selection of taps, including wine, house-brewed root beer, and coffee to go along with the many craft beers, it certainly shows off with its electronic displays. There is an air of pretentiousness about the place that may turn some off, but could be very welcomed by others who tire of the more tacky (read: undergrad) nature of many of State College’s other offerings. Our staff took in the sights and sounds and tastes and smells and everything in between, and left impressed.
I’ve been looking forward to the grand opening of Liberty since it was reported the craft beer bar was coming to State College. So when I saw a tweet from Dante’s Restaurants on Friday night that Liberty was finally open, I jumped at the chance to check it out. My first reaction as I walked through the door was the smell. It doesn’t take long to get used to but the place really needs to be aired out. It still smells like a construction site — probably because it was a construction site until a few days ago — but it was still unpleasant to breathe in musty air as I drank beers.
My first stop was to the bar, and I was impressed by the number of beers Liberty has on tap. I asked the bartender about this, and he told me there’s 47 (!) in total. The beers are listed on a moving screen that is automatically updated with data, including how much of that beer is still available, and posts from social media. I don’t know a lot about beer, but I can tell you that I bought the Ommegang Witte and liked it.
I went to go find the rest of the OS crew sitting at a booth and realized as soon as I sat down that only half the tables are within view of the screen that lists the beers on tap. I talked to my server about this, and he said the goal is for Liberty to eventually be paperless. Management hopes customers will sit at a table in the near future and download drink and food menus on their phones.
By the time I arrived on Friday night, the kitchen was closed so I can’t tell you about the food, but I can tell you that I really enjoyed the atmosphere at Liberty. The brick walls and low lighting gave it a rustic yet cool vibe. The average price for a pint was $6 or $7, placing it out of the range of the average Penn State student who is used to paying $5 for a pitcher of beer. But I can see it being really popular among graduate students and young professionals.
I would tell you about how cool the bathroom sinks are, but I assume Ted has that covered because he wouldn’t stop talking about them on Friday.
If you love craft beer, State College isn’t a bad place to live. Between Zeno’s, the Z-Bar, Kildare’s, and the three breweries within city limits, there’s plenty of places to drink good beer for a smaller town. The Liberty Craft House should become another staple in the local beer scene, with less selections than Zeno’s or The Deli/Z-Bar but more than just about everywhere else. It has close to 50 quality beers on tap (averaging something like $6 a pint) which is more than enough to keep the riffraff out. The bottle selection is as good as anywhere and there seemed to be quite a few beers available that you can’t find anywhere else in town. Really, that’s all I need to enjoy myself at a bar these days.
Liberty strikes me as a more pretentious version of Local Whiskey (with better beer and less greasy food, granted). If you can get past the ultra-hipster and nauseatingly manufactured atmosphere (the menus are attached to boards with rubber bands, for goodness sake), the place has a lot to offer. The food menu is pretty small, but it has more than enough for a decent lunch and it’s all prepared properly and with attention to detail. I can see myself coming here alone during the day to have a couple beers and do homework or something. The six TVs are a nice touch, and the digital beer list is something I’ve never seen before (the screen lists the price, pour type, and even the level of the keg). This can be hard to deal with, as the beer list is only located at one place in the entire bar, but my waiter both nights said they’re looking for ways to expand the menu to be viewed on cell phones at the tables. The bourbon, wine, and cocktail selection was also pretty robust, and if cheese is your thing these guys have a lot of it. They even brew their own root beer.
The beer selection alone will keep me coming back for more. Liberty should do well in State College for the non-Shandygaff types. As someone who goes to The Deli fairly often to drink and snack, the question for me is if Liberty can differentiate itself enough from its neighbor and business partner around the corner that I will cho0se it over the other. Yes, the beer menus don’t overlap too much and Liberty has its own local flavor, but if you just want to drink and eat and wipe your hands with paper towels without feeling bad about it, choosing Liberty over the Deli might be a hard sell for Dante’s. For now, I’ve got 46 more taps to try before I get sick of it.
When I first heard that State College was getting a craft beer bar, let’s just say that I was more than a little skeptical. With Zeno’s and the Z-Bar already filling that market’s void, I thought there wasn’t really room for a larger version of the two in town. Well, I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong.
Liberty Craft House is a true beer alcohol lover’s paradise. With 47 beers on tap, eight pages of canned and bottled beer, and probably the most extensive liquor list in State College, Liberty really takes it up a notch. With everything from Tröegs to my personal favorite, Weyerbacher, you can find almost any beer you’re looking for here. What’s even cooler is the way you order. The wall behind the bar is adorned by four TV’s where you select what beer and size you want, and tell the bartender the number associated with the beer because if you’ve ever had craft beer, you know that the names can get tricky. It’s kind of like going to a fast food restaurant, but much cooler.
For dinner, we opted to try out the Bavarian Pretzels first. To say that these were the best soft pretzels I’ve ever had is an understatement. They were not only different than your normal Philadelphia pretzel, but still soft and crunchy on the outside at the same time. Paired with homemade spicy brown mustard, these pretzels were definitely a hit with our table. I ordered a crab cake sandwich for my entrée which came with the house chips. Unlike most places north of Maryland, the crab cake didn’t consist of just a minute amount of crab and mostly filler. No, this crab cake was about 80 percent crab which was noticeable and made it that much better on top of the Kaiser Roll and Remoulade. The chips paired well with the sandwich, making this a decent portion for the price ($10), but certainly not up-to-par with the portions at other bars around town like Local Whiskey and Pickle’s.
I opted out of dessert, but Liberty did have an interesting menu. I’m sure that Zach and Noel both touched on their desserts, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. They have Stout Floats. Yes, you read that right. They’ll make a beer float for you. You can also opt for the (virgin?) version made with Liberty’s own Root Beer, but you do go to a bar to drink, so that’s counterproductive.
Now, for the feel of the place. As soon as you walk in, you notice Liberty’s clean look which almost resembles that of Tom’s Bistro in Parks and Recreation. The bar has brick walls and wooden booths on one side with high tops on the other. It really gives off the vibe that this is an upscale place to go compared to the rest of the downtown bar market. What I noticed immediately was that the crowd was almost exclusively graduate students or professors. I almost felt out of place being an undergrad there, but looking at the prices this wasn’t a surprise.
Since most craft beers run on the expensive side compared to your run-of-the-mill Yuengling and Bud Lights of the world, it can be assumed without even stepping foot in Liberty that it won’t be the go-to bar for many undergrads. It definitely doesn’t have the rage atmosphere of the Phyrst or Gaff, but it does fit its niche by going after a more upscale clientele.
That upscale clientele will definitely be impressed by one aspect of Liberty: the bathrooms. Now I don’t often get excited by bathrooms, but this one just blew me away. With waterless toilets (yay sustainability) and the coolest sinks I’ve ever used this bathroom by itself makes Liberty a must-see. I kid you not, the sink has a hand dryer built-in. That’s right, two Dyson Airblades are attached to the faucet. You need only slightly move your hands to completely dry them. Thanks James Dyson for your wizardry. Anyway, here’s a picture to prove it:
As for the bar as a whole, I will definitely be heading back multiple times, but won’t make it a habit if I plan on having any money left in my wallet at the end of the year. Filling a much-needed niche, Liberty really has taken the State College bar scene to another level.
In a town that has an excellent bar scene, State College is unfortunately lacking in great bar food. Sure, the food at Local Whiskey is top notch, and yeah, Pickles is a nice place to grab lunch from time to time. Other than that, however, the State College bar food scene is a barren wasteland of shitty wings and undercooked burgers.
With that in mind, you can probably imagine my delight when I first heard that Liberty was opening next to Inferno on College Ave. A bar that had 47 beers on tap, a long list of available cocktails, and food to boot? Count me in. Regardless, I was still a little hesitant before heading to Liberty for dinner last given my previous bar food experiences around town. What if I set my expectations too high for the newly opened bar? Thankfully after last night’s dinner, I can honestly say that Liberty is the real deal. The food is awesome. The beer selection is endless. The classy, laid-back atmosphere makes you forget that you’re only a block away from McDonald’s and Are U Hungry. It’s truly a nice escape from your typical Gaff or Café 210 experience.
So let’s start with the food. Our group started with an order Bavarian pretzels and crab balls. I’ve never been much of a “foodie,” so I won’t bore you with a description of each “succulent bite” or go into great detail on food presentation. But I’ll say this: The appetizers we ordered were great. The pretzel was one of the best I’ve ever had, and the crab rolls were good enough to make myself believe that good seafood in State College is possible. I got the macaroni and cheese for my entrée, which was absolutely delicious. It’s admittedly hard to mess up melted cheese on noodles, but take solace in the fact that Liberty does not, in fact, mess it up. I eventually closed out my meal with a root beer float, which features Liberty’s incredible house made root beer and a scoop of Meyer Dairy vanilla ice cream.
Where Liberty really shines, however, is in alcohol variety. You’re greeted with four TV screens listing the 47 total taps (most of those beer) when you approach the bar, which is a little daunting if you’re Yuengling-drinking yinzer like myself. However, the bartenders are extremely helpful and will find something to match your tastes if you’re unsure of what to order. If you’re not feeling beer, Liberty offers a wide-variety of cocktails and an extensive spirit list. There’s also a wine list, but I can’t really comment on the quality of it because I have yet to enter my wine drinking years.
As someone who frequents sing-a-long dive-y bars, Liberty is going to be a nice change of pace to the downtown bar landscape. And with a nice central downtown location, great food, and an excellent booze selection, I think others will feel the same way.
We’ve already bored you to death with details on State College’s newest bar, so I’ll keep this as succinct as possible. As an admitted and proud craft beer snob, I was blown away by the extensive beer list at Liberty, which included plenty of unique brews for your drinking pleasure. As an admitted Jew from New Jersey, I was blown away by the pickles. I’m not joking; Liberty has the single best pickle I have ever tasted. They’re clearly brined in an atypical spice mixture that seemed to include hints of nutmeg or cinnamon. They were slightly sharper and more vinegary than your typical garlic dill, but the fact that fresh dill could be seen on the pickles was all I needed to see to be sold on Liberty’s dedication to good food.
On top of that, the pretzels were delicious. The smoked wings come in a wide mix of flavors, and I can vouch that the honey-sriracha was great. Liberty was slightly pricey, but when I want to treat myself to an occasional upscale meal with some good drinks, I might not look elsewhere in State College going forward.