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Brewery regulars speak out as State College borough votes for eminent domain of longtime bar

  • By James Engel/WPSU
The Brewery façade lightsWPSU up on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023 in State College, Pa.

 James Engel / WPSU

The Brewery façade lightsWPSU up on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023 in State College, Pa.

The Brewery is a dive bar. It can be accessed by walking down McAllister Alley to a peeling wooden door with rusted locks, normally surrounded by a couple of bar-goers smoking near the dumpsters outside. And for decades, its regulars said, it has served as a mecca for those in the local service industry. Your bartender’s bar.

But in its last meeting, the State College borough council voted to begin the process of eminent domain to seize the building The Brewery has resided in for decades in order to build a new parking garage.

For its 11 o’clock Thursday night regulars, the news has been a blow and a reminder of the changing landscape of State College.

“This is one of the last non-corporate good, old-fashioned, neighborhood dive bars around,” Drew Culbert said.

Culbert lives in Bellefonte. He said he was also an avid patron of the All-American Rathskeller, which closed in 2017, and Mad Mex, which closed in 2021. Culbert said he’s been coming to The Brewery since he was 21 and working as a bartender. He said many of the regulars were “depressed” by the news.

“The local government is tearing the soul out of this community,” he said.

For Jason Davoli, the Brewery has been more than just a spot to grab a drink. He said he’s been playing there as a musician for about 15 years. Most Fridays, he’s performed for the bar’s patrons with his band Lowjack.

He said walking into the Brewery reminds him of the TV series “Cheers.”

In the last few years, Davoli said the town has changed so much, but the bar has been a constant for locals and former residents.

“Home is the word. You can kind of come back here and feel like you’ve never left in a really positive way,” he said.

Allisa Stone said she’s also been coming to The Brewery since she’s been of age. She even worked at the bar for a couple years. Since then, she said she’s remained a regular.

Stone said she started coming to the Brewery because she knew it as the spot for those in the service industry.

“If they bartend, if they make your food, if they clean your hotel rooms, they come here,” she said.

Stone said the news about The Brewery spread like “wildfire” among industry folks and was met with an immediate sense of “outrage.”

For a place like this to close is “heartbreaking,” she said.

“Every single time I come in here, it’s familiar faces. It’s love. It’s hugs,” she said. “It’s a safe space, in my mind, for State College and especially for women.”

But to Stone, the issues The Brewery is suddenly facing are indicative of some of the larger issues facing State College.

She said she often has conversations with other locals about rising rents and the new skyline in the borough.

“It’s not a small town anymore,” she said.

Stone said she and other industry workers plan to attend the borough council meeting on Aug. 21 to discuss the eminent domain proposition.

Kathleen Potalivo said she plans to be there, but she’d like to collect her thoughts first.

“It’s upsetting. Because the downtown has changed a lot in the last five years, and I wouldn’t say for the better,” she said. “And it’s just, ‘Why this place?’”

Potalivo said she’s been coming to the Brewery for a while, mostly because there’s never a line.

But the State College resident said she’s also made friends with other regulars and the owners, one of whom lives in the same neighborhood as her parents.

“I have hope because hope’s all you can have sometimes. I don’t know if it’ll work, but if nobody says anything then nothing will change,” she said.

Borough Council President Jesse Barlow recently said in a statement on Facebook that The Brewery and other businesses “are not being kicked out” and there would be more discussion during the eminent domain process.

He proposed a past model of temporarily relocating a business during construction and creating a permanent location for it in commercial space within the new parking structure.

Owner Jay Horgas said his main concerns are currently “damage control,” “comprehension” of the situation and the establishment of a “timeline.”

He said he’s willing to “listen to anything,” but there’s certainly a “trust issue” with the borough, and he’s skeptical of the proposal.

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