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What Restaurants & Bars Would Alumni Bring Back To State College?

Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again,” and that’s what this week has felt like with Penn State alumni online recalling memories of case races, late nights, and cheap, greasy food.

In response to HiWay Pizza’s return to downtown, we asked alumni what restaurants and bars they wish they could bring back to life for one more night in State College. Nearly 300 people filled out our Google form, and even more chipped in on social media.

Alumni were asked to tell us what place they’d like to bring back, why, and what the first thing they’d order would be. Below are the most common responses.

Although it was nice to take a stroll down memory lane, the amount of replies and variety of responses were sobering reminders of how much of State College’s local charm has changed over the last few years.

Skeller

Photo by Morton Lin

It’s been just over a year since the All-American Rathskeller closed its doors with a legendary alumni send-off, but nostalgia is already running deep. More than 60 people responded to our poll that they would bring the Skeller back. The overwhelmingly popular response for what drink they’d order first was, unsurprisingly, a case of ponies.

“It’s what I think of when I think drinking at State. It was usually the meeting place to start off an epic evening. Lots of memories for me there.”

-Kurt Runkle, Class of 1990

“It WAS Penn State.”

-Logan Lopez, Class of 2003

“It was the one bar you could go to that everyone was equal. You didn’t dress up, you did not drink fruity drinks, you left your ego at the door (because you knew you were eventually going to have to go to the gross bathrooms). Students and alumni went there together and we all got along. Plus, I have too many memories to count in that place.”

-Jodi W., Class of 1991

The Train Station

The Train Station closed its doors in 1986, long before virtually all current undergrads were even born. As the name would suggest, the Train Station was a railroad-themed restaurant and bar. Even more than 30 years later, plenty of alumni still swear by the bar’s free mustard and pretzels, release valve drink, and French onion soup.

The release valve was such a popular drink that you can still find its recipe online, as credited to the classic State College bar. To make it, you’ll need grenadine, pineapple juice, white rum, and vodka. Conductor hats aren’t a requirement, but they’d certainly be a nice finishing touch.

“It was a great restaurant and a fixture in the downtown. College Ave. hasn’t been the same since.”

-Virginia DiRienzo, Class of 1987

Rotelli

State College is far from a hub for good Italian food, but HiWay Pizza’s return to downtown should begin to fill a void that was left when Rotelli closed in 2016 and now that Mamma Mia’s has followed suit. Rotelli served up all types of pizza and pasta for more than a decade before filing for bankruptcy and later closing in 2016.

Alumni listed Rotelli’s signature buffalo chicken mac and cheese, its penne vodka, and yes, those unforgettable rolls.

“To me, Rotelli was State College’s version of Cheers — an always welcoming basement bar situated below a restaurant and staffed by perhaps the friendliest crew in town. It was the perfect place to down a brew, catch a game on TV, or grab a bite to eat.”

-Larry Fall, Class of 1972

“Goodness this restaurant was the best — from the cheap lunch specials to the pasta dishes to the best mac and cheese (MAC AND CHEESE MONDAYS!!!) in all of State College. It really couldn’t be beat. It had the most prime location. Despite being closed, it was always busy and was a favorite by many.”

-Kayla, Class of 2019

“Does penne vodka answer your question?”

-Lauren Giavedoni, Class of 2019

G-Man

As if their nicknames weren’t enough of an indication, Gingerbread Man preceded Primanti Bros. on Heister Street and as a meeting ground for Greek lifers. Alumni praised it as a fun, cheap place to indulge beyond excess, but also for its bar food. They recalled the famous mind eraser drink as well as several deals like 35-cent drafts on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10-cent wings, and Long Islands on Wednesdays.

“Good place to get sloppy.”

-Eric B, Class of 2007

“Best bar. Gspot shots were great and the dance floor was always hoppin’.

-Jessica, Class of 2013

“Cuz fratlife bro!”

-Jamie, Class of 1997

The Diner

The rise and fall of Ye Olde College Diner is a sad tale in the recent history of State College. Once a “can’t-miss” downtown spot worthy of a shoutout in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the Diner devolved into an empty wasteland that seemed to never be open before finally closing last year. That said, the Diner’s main contribution to Penn State tradition — Grilled Stickies — remains alive and well.

Back in the the good Olde days, the Diner was open 24 hours and was a drunk food favorite among alumni. With its traditional diner feel inside and out and near-90-year history, the Diner was a landmark and quintessential part of State College.

“As an architecture student, it was a great place for breakfast after an all nighter. Also the perfect stop after a night at the bars for sweet and savory treats!”

-Shawn Plum, Class of 1997

“Grilled. Stickies.”

-Shannon, Class of 1992

“You can get breakfast after a night of drinking.”

-Marc, Class of 2010

Grillers

Grillers walked so Yallah could run and be a late-night act of communion for underagers, overagers, Greeks, GDIs, and everyone in between. Centrally located on Beaver Ave., Grillers was home to cheap and tasty-only-when-you’re-drunk delicacies. The highlight of the menu was the dollar grilled cheeses, and State College drunk food hasn’t been the same since 2013 when Grillers finally closed after a history of health code violations.

To the powers that be and drunk food gods: Please don’t take our Canyon.

“The ability to swap grilled cheese for Canyon slices was an unmatched combo.”

-Dave, Class of 2016

“Because it was the LITTEST place on Beaver.”

-Alexa, Class of 2014

“Nothing beat waiting in line for a greasy grilled cheese at 2 a.m. with your friends and then hopping on the White Loop back to East.”

-Kristin, Class of 2016

Darkhorse

It hasn’t even been a year, but Darkhorse is already sorely missed. Although Jax has proven to be a viable replacement, alumni seem willing to do anything for one last Tonto’s Demise and an order of Pazzo’s wings. For the uninitiated, a Tonto’s Demise packs a punch with vodka, rum, triple sec, amaretto, and a splash of 151.

“If you have to ask why, then you’ve never had their Pazzo’s wing sauce. It’s a crime against humanity that this is no longer available for consumption. Also, Tonto’s Demise was delicious while also being villainously high in alcohol content.”

-Mike Lucas, Class of 2011

“It was the perfect ‘everywhere has lines around the block and I just want to sit and drink with my friends to half decent music played from a circa 2010 Dell laptop behind the bar’ spot. Also great when parents were in town, always easy to get a big group in there. Jax is okay, but it’s no Darkhorse, that’s for sure.”

-John McHugh, Class of 2017

“Everyone could fit in there and there, and you could get great drinks and food for a decent price — there are almost no places downtown anymore that fit into that category. “

-Rachel, Class of 2014

Kildare’s

Kildare’s was open for less than six years, but quickly cemented itself as a popular Irish pub. One alum even called it “the only true Irish bar in town.” In addition to having one less place to drink Guinness, alumni long for $5 burger Tuesdays.

“It was a really chill atomsophere with great food and drinks. They always had good DJs, too!”

-Christa, Class of 2013

“Best nachos ever. Had the best time there with my friends, it was a weekly tradition. Also, there was an app called pocket points and you could get your nachos for free if you used the points — every broke college student’s dream.”

-Kindra, Class of 2017

“Because way back, before there was an apartment building, before it was even Kildare’s, it was Hooters on the end of College Ave. across from the Schreyer dorms, and it was awesome.”

-Nate Moorman, Class of 2017

California Tortilla

By far the most popular chain to pop up in our poll (save for the occasional Chili’s and Hooters), California Tortilla was an underrated, hidden gem on West College before its building was knocked down last year. In the ongoing Chipotle-Qdoba-Yallah-CalTort debate, CalTort won over legions of loyal customers with its cheap prices and big burritos.

Honorable mention: The Big O

Kids today (myself included) will never understand. RIP to a legend.

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About the Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci is Onward State’s managing editor, a preferred walk-on honors student, and a senior majoring in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. If you want to hear the story or are bored and want to share prequel memes, follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter or email him at [email protected] All other requests and complaints should be directed to Onward State media contact emeritus Steve Connelly.

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