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Herlochers Take Legal Action Against Gastigers Over Rathskeller Space

Photo by Morton Lin

The latest turn in the dispute over the now-closed All-American Rathskeller has taken the matter to court.

Owners of the building that housed the All-American Rathskeller have taken legal action to evict the bar’s operators before their lease ends on Feb. 28, arguing they have violated conditions of the lease — specifically that they have removed property that was required to stay on the premises.

Duke and Monica Gastiger, owners of the 84-year-old basement tavern at 108 S. Pugh St., announced in December that they would be forced to shutter the Skeller in January because they had not been offered a new lease by the building’s new owners, the Herlocher family, which purchased the building in 2017 through their company, Cornelius LLC.

That set off a volley of conflicting statements between the Gastigers and Herlochers about what happened. The Herlochers have said that the Skeller had been paying below market rates and had been operating without a lease. They contend that attempts to negotiate a new lease were unsuccessful and the space was subsequently leased to a new tenant.

The Gastigers say they were never offered a new lease.

The bar closed at the end of business on Jan. 27. Earlier this month, Cornelius LLC filed for confession of judgment, a term of the Gastigers’ last lease on the property that allows the building owner to eject them for breaking conditions of the lease.

The confession of judgment was filed in Centre County Court on Feb. 2 and served by a Centre County deputy sheriff to Duke Gastiger on Feb. 5, according to court documents.

A copy of the American Rathskeller Inc.’s last lease on the property, signed in 2010 with former building owner the Gentzel Corporation, was attached to the filing and states that alterations, improvements or additions to the premises are the property of the building owner and that the Gastigers were to surrender the location in the same condition they had agreed to keep it during the lease.

After the bar closed in January, the complaint contends that the Gastigers “in anticipation of the termination of their lease, have removed fixtures of the property, including but not limited to tables which were anchored to the floor, booths and other items permanently affixed to the property which existed at the time the defendants entered into leases with the prior owners.”

American Rathskeller Inc. responded that it has not violated any terms of the lease, which was expired. Records show the last lease the bar had, with monthly rent of $3,521, began in 2010 and terminated on Feb. 28, 2011. The response notes “Plaintiff, through its agents, has stated defendant has no lease,” and that no covenants of the last lease survived past its expiration.

The response also states that the Gastigers have only removed personal property, not fixtures. They argue that they are being prevented from removing other personal property that includes food and liquor inventory, financial records, employee paychecks, artwork, pictures and furnishings.

A lease for the new tenants of the Rathskeller space, Tom and Kelley Trosko, will begin on March 1. They have said they plan to keep the bar the same as it has been, although what it will be called is undetermined.

The Troskos said that they made an offer, through the Herlochers, to the Gastigers to buy the Rathskeller business but received no response. Duke Gastiger said that he did not receive any correspondence from the Troskos, and that he asked the Herlochers for the new tenant’s contact information but did not receive a response.

In January, the Troskos said they were hoping to reopen the bar as soon as possible but would not be sure of a timeframe until their lease began and they could see what needed to be done.

On Feb. 2, they posted a statement to their Facebook page which said, “Earlier today we received a call from our landlord informing us that The Skeller has been gutted by the current tenant. We are truly disappointed to hear of this but we are committed to preserving this historic landmark.”

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