The Phyrst 50: A Bar in a College Town

The Nittany Valley Society is proud and excited to announce its first documentary film project, The Phyrst 50: A Bar in a College Town. This film will tell the fascinating story behind one of State College’s most iconic bars as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

A press announcement was sent on July 5, 2017 and can be found below. To learn more about the project, submit your own personal “Phyrst Story,” and donate to support the film’s production, visit:

The Nittany Valley Society Announces Documentary Commemorating 50th Anniversary of The Phyrst
Community Participation Needed to Bring The Phyrst 50: A Bar in a College Town to Life

STATE COLLEGE—Fifty years ago, a 22-year-old landscape architecture student named Don Bartoletti ‘67 signed a $250-a-month lease at 111 ½ E. Beaver Avenue for a bar he had wanted to create since arriving in State College four years earlier. This bar would be a welcoming place where businessmen, students, Viet Nam vets, and those just passing through could have a drink, tell a story, sing a song, argue about politics, and do so freely, without prejudice.

In 1969, “Bart” would be joined by a 44-year-old father of six, a WWII vet and engineer at one of the Defense Department’s largest contractors. Together, the unlikely duo of Don Bartoletti and Ernie Oelbermann would prove the power of a bar was not unlike that of a church. Ecumenical. Sincere.

Countless thousands love The Phyrst. Few know its story.

As part of its mission to conserve local culture, The Nittany Valley Society will reveal the fascinating 50-year history of a State College landmark in a feature documentary film this Fall.

The Phyrst 50: A Bar in a College Town will capture stories of the people who have helped a local establishment persevere in Happy Valley for half a century. Production is underway and principal filming will take place this Summer, including during the daylong 50th anniversary celebration at The Phyrst on August 5.

The project treatment describes a story that is at once unique and timeless: The greatest college bars become their communities in microcosm. Ownership, employees and regulars join wave after wave of new arrivals to forge something meaningful. Joined together through space, time and spirit, they imbue a place with a soul.

The Nittany Valley Society has engaged veteran production company BlueWhiteTV, the team behind feature-length films like the Emmy-nominated “The Joe We Know” and “365 Days: A Year in Happy Valley,” to produce the film.

“There’s this line, ‘If every generation thinks only of itself, then the world never gets any better.’ And that’s what those two guys understood through their life experiences,” said BlueWhiteTV’s Eric Porterfield, the film’s writer/director. “So it’s a story that’s universal on one hand, but on the other, it’s a rare and unique story that needs to be told about this bar that we all pass every day, not really realizing or understanding why it’s still there.”

The thread of Don and Ernie’s story will connect the shared experiences of community members for whom The Phyrst has earned a special significance. The film will feature interviews with proprietors, staff, and patrons dating back to the bar’s founding, rare images, new and archival footage, and original music. An original logo and poster design have been created by Bellefonte artist Brian Allen of Flyland Designs.

“We’ve got a great creative team behind this project. The people from The Phyrst and Happy Valley Restaurants have been extremely supportive, and we appreciate it,” said Chris Buchignani, president of The Nittany Valley Society. “But maybe the most surprising and gratifying aspect has been the outpouring of interest and support from the many people who hold the bar close to their hearts. Folks like the members of The Phyrst Phamily band gave The Phyrst its character. Their involvement has been critical.”

“It is with great anticipation that I, along with all of the Oelbermanns, await the making of the film,” said Kathy DiMuccio, daughter of long-time Phyrst proprietors Ernie and Becky Oelbermann, herself a member of the famous Phryst Phamily band. “I have been keeping Becky updated on the project weekly, and she is very excited about it. She knows how excited and proud Ernie would be. The production process so far has been very welcoming for so many of the people who have made The Phyrst become The Phyrst. The Phyrst was home to many, and no matter how many years have gone by, we always remember home with such fondness and love.”

The Nittany Valley Society’s vice president Kevin Horne said, “The Nittany Valley Society exists to deepen appreciation for our place by sharing its stories. This film is exactly the sort of project that suits our mission of cultural conservation.”

Knowing The Phyrst holds special meaning for countless Penn State alumni, The Nittany Valley Society will conduct a crowdfunding campaign to help bring The Phyrst 50: A Bar in a College Town to life. Individual donors will join early corporate sponsors like Fullington Trailways, Bacardi USA, and Nittany Beverage, the exclusive local beer distributor of the film. Contributors will have the opportunity to gain access to special perks like digital downloads of the film, recognition in the film’s credits, and tickets to the film’s exclusive State College premiere.

“The Phyrst has been integral to the fabric of life in the Nittany Valley for 50 years; this story belongs to all of us. Community members are invited to make a contribution to the project in honor of their own unique Phyrst stories,” said Buchignani. “We hope to connect the young and young-at-heart who have helped this distinctive place to stubbornly persist in a transient town for five decades. Innumerable patrons have been to The Phyrst literally hundreds of times over the years. Through this film, they’ll get to ‘see’ it for the very first time.”

The Phyrst 50: A Bar in a College Town will premiere at The State Theatre on November 17. Find more information at


The Nittany Valley Society ( is a non-profit cultural conservancy for the Central Pennsylvania community that houses Penn State University—an organization dedicated to cultivating an appreciation, rooted in a distinct “sense of place,” for the history, customs and traditions that define the Nittany Valley’s special spirit. In practice, the group aims to strengthen a sense of regional identity and enhance community experience by sharing the stories of the place in a compelling and accessible fashion, while providing context and opportunities for new stories and experiences.

The group has published six books including “Conserving Mount Nittany: A Dynamic Environmentalism” and “The Pennsylvania State University 1853-1932: Interpretation and Record.” Other projects include its annual Novak Fellowship, the Nittany Valley Heritage Walk supporting the Hiester Street “Inspiration” mural, and its support for Penn State’s first-ever, three-credit course on the institution’s history through the Stephen D. Garguilo Nittany Valley Society University History Endowment in the College of the Liberal Arts. The Phyrst 50 is its first film venture.