Of Beers and Bars

By Chris Buchignani, July 24, 2014

The Nittany Valley Society is just a tad over two years old (founded in April 2012), so while we have, I think, accomplished a lot in a short amount of time, we are also still growing in our understanding of the unique and ambitious mission of a cultural conservancy and how we can serve it. If we do our jobs well, The NVS will eventually reflect all aspects of the distinctive experience of the Nittany Valley, from the decidedly high-brow to the timeless and mystical, but with plenty of attention also paid to those earthy essentials that make a good college town. I was recently scolded in a friendly way by one of our board members for a tendency to skew a little too “academic” in that pursuit. I’m sure any of the genuine academics north of College Avenue would bristle at such a description, but I don’t want to play the resident stick in the mud. So today I’m going to write about bars. More precisely, I’m going to point you toward others writing about bars (about which I will then wax faux-academic… I am what I am, I suppose).

An all-time favorite site among many of our directors is Black Shoe Diaries, itself something of a fixture in the extended community of the Valley that now occupies virtual spaces as well as physical and spiritual. The coterie of Penn State fans and alumni who read and comment there are a huge part of what has sustained BSD over the years, and I hope you will find some time to enjoy a recent user post and the resulting discussion thread: The BSD Bar Crawl

The author offers fun recollections/reviews of each Downtown bar from the perspective of a returning alum. Here’s a sample:

The Saloon

This is where every Junior spent their Thursdays; $15 got you cover, two monkey boys, and $2 worth of tips. A perfect night for a freshly turned 21 year old, especially with My Hero Zero blasting away. Post game, or immediately after, I suggest a stop by if you aren’t hungry.

Perhaps even better than the post itself are the 100+ comments from those swapping stories of their own time in Happy Valley. If you are looking to encounter the spirit of the place, you will find it there, in the connections made between people sharing a love for what it was, is, and will be. The recent closure of The Gingerbread Man, a fixture of the local bar scene for over 30 years, had me reflecting on the number of moments shared and memories made there. So many Penn Staters have a story from that bar (for example, I watched Barry Bonds hit his fraudulent 73rd home run there), and if not the G-Man, somewhere else. I will put a philosophical spin on the whole business, but the real fun is just in reading through those comments – maybe leaving one yourself – and appreciating the love for Penn State and State College that we share with so many others.

I would say that, at this stage of its life cycle, if there is a “point” to The Nittany Valley Society, it is to both celebrate and strengthen the fabric that connects alumni recounting a routine of bar specials that shaped their formative years two decades hence and reading the recollections of Erwin Runkle or Francis Pond about President Atherton’s visionary leadership. Revealing that there exists a beautiful combination of the lofty and mundane that makes Penn State a “real university,” a through-line connecting student strikers of 1905 to LGBT allies of today or the farmers and laborers of our rural past with modern locals rallying to renovate State High. It is all of these things in coexistence – the profound sadness attached to the Sandusky scandal alongside the boundless promise of Lunar Lion, the generational pride of the Blue Band or Lion Ambassadors, the silent guardianship of Mount Nittany and its legendary Princess – that make the Nittany Valley’s culture one worthy of conservation.

All of this is to say we can’t, and shouldn’t, exclude the keg parties, bars and beer pong tournaments. Whether your expression of that spirit fits better over a craft brew at Zeno’s or on the dance floor at Indigo, it constitutes a critical aspect of the way we remember and retell our story.