Friends, Rolling Rock, And Plastic Cups: An Ode To The Rathskeller
Countless stories of good times spent at the Skeller have been shared in the past 24 hours. Mine is no different, but I feel it helps highlight the sheer magic of this hallowed establishment. News of the Skeller’s closure hasn’t been easy to process, but hopefully those who read this gain a greater understanding for what this place truly means to the community of State College.
I can’t adequately recall how many enjoyable nights I’ve had at the Skeller, but one stands out among the rest. The date was September 22, 2016. It was the Friday evening before Penn State’s home matchup against Iowa. One thing I learned very quickly about the Skeller was this: it’s the place to be before Penn State home football games. Why?
Because it simply brings people together.
Not in some cheesy, cliché way, either. The generational unity that’s fostered beneath the roof of this temple of sorts isn’t found often. In fact, I’d argue it really isn’t found anywhere else in town. Generational unity is a big reason why this night in particular stands out to me. It all began with a few pitchers of beer, some plastic cups, and good friends.
We’ll start with a couple of the lovable goofballs you see in this picture. There’s me (proudly toasting a pony) with an Iowa fan I met 20 minutes prior to that picture being taken. Behind me is Mitch Gepner, a sweet human I had the pleasure of living with for not one, but two years! He’s joined by our other friend Pete Cochran. I arrived to the bar to meet them, along with some other friends, including Tom Shenot and Ben Makdad. They wanted to order some cases of ponies, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my evening.
With a handful of us glued to the table located in the middle section of the bar, Ben and Tom suggested we play a game I can only describe as “The Finger Game.” I was on board. Little did I know what was in store for the evening.
The game is relatively simple; friends gather around a single plastic cup full of beer located in the center of the table while each participating member places a finger on the cup. Then, in clockwise order, each member counts to three, and shouts out a number — the number can be the total number of fingers placed on the cup or fewer. Prior to the final number being yelled, all participants have the option to keep their finger on the cup, or take it off. If the participant yells the correct number of fingers, he or she is done playing for that round. The loser of the round must chug the beverage located in front of them.
When the evening began, about five or six of us were the only ones playing. But as we began conversing with fellow patrons, our party grew in size. What began as a few friends playing a fun game transformed into a good portion of the bar coming over to our table — each member taking turns participating in our game.
But it wasn’t the sheer size of the party that stands out to me. It’s the fact that we were all able to bond with complete strangers, all of whom were at least 20 years older than us. It started with a few “Penn State dads,” but would eventually encompass a large number of Iowa fans gathering around, taking their turns at the cup.
“Once we started playing these Iowa dads kept turning around trying to figure out what we were doing,” Shenot said. “We told them come try it, and before you know it, it’s half Penn State fans and half Iowa fans playing. We ran out of ponies, so we had to get another case. Then we ran out again, and before you know it, we’re playing with full pitchers. This one Iowa dad in particular lost, and literally housed the entire thing.”
Complete strangers became friends over seven-ounce bottles of Rolling Rock. It’s easy to say that a moment like this could’ve been replicated anywhere, but I disagree. It’s difficult to explain why, or how, but the magic of the Skeller brings people together.
Another moment was shared between these friends later on that season. Ben, Tom, and David Abramovitz were in the student section for Penn State’s miracle victory over Ohio State (I was in the press box, and didn’t leave until nearly 2:30 in the morning). But their moment of celebration didn’t take place on the field. I’ll let Ben explain:
“Immediately after Grant Haley and Marcus Allen blocked “the kick,” three seniors decided we wouldn’t be storming the field,” Makdad said. “It was the first time we had a chance to storm a field, but we didn’t care. We took a picture and looked back at an incredible scene one more time before sprinting further than any other time in our past four years as students. If there was a place we were going to celebrate one of the biggest upsets in Penn State history, it had to be the Skeller — not in the streets, not at some cheesy over-priced sports bar, and certainly not in a sweaty frat. The Skellar. In an age where cell phones seem to be the only way we coordinated where to be with friends, that one night was different. They all knew where to go.”
I’ve made too many memories to count with that group of guys in the Skeller. I made plenty more with them in the past year there, too. To Mitch, Ben, Tom, Doug Crook, Joe Settimio, Parker Rohrbaugh, Brian Wahlgren, and anybody else who had the opportunity to make memories in that bar with me, I say thank you.
To anyone reading this, I hope these words resonate with you. I hope there’s something we can do to keep this piece of Penn State history around. If there’s not, all I ask is that you raise a glass and toast this wonderful establishment. I ask that you keep the spirit of tradition alive and well, and the next time you’re somewhere with a group of friends, strike up a conversation with someone you’ve never met.
You never know where the evening will go.