Notes from the Underground: NYC Penn State bar

Posted: November 17, 2011 in All Things Power Spread
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Tonic East, Penn State HQ NYC

Penn State has been the text-book definition of stability for nearly half a century.  Many things have come and gone in the world of college athletics and more specifically college football, but Penn State has always had stability in their head football coach Joe Paterno.  All of that changed in less than a week. On October 29th JoePa notched his 409th win topping the legendary Eddie Robinson, a week later former Penn State player and coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on allegations of child molestation.  The walls which Paterno had literally erected himself over the course of 61 years at the university were closing in on him quickly.  By Wednesday night the board of trustees were forced to fire him, students rioted in the streets and all of the fully over-caffeinated news outlets figured out where State College in on a map, then arrived in droves beaming news across the globe.  All this, and yet there was still a crucial game against Nebraska to be played on Saturday.

Tonic East, Murray Hill, NYC

Make no mistake, I’ve always liked, respected and admired Joe Paterno, being an alumnus and fan of a rival school made no difference to me.  So as much as it was for anyone else, I also found it quite difficult to come to grips with the events of the week.  I decided I needed to go to the Penn State bar on Saturday to discover first-hand what their thoughts and reactions to the events were.

Too much first-half shutout? Have some sun with that $7 beer.

Penn State alums and fans gather at Tonic East in Murray Hill.  It is among the larger CFB underground bars in NYC: it has two stories of internal bar space and a third story which is a semi-enclosed rooftop space with an open-sky terrace with views west to the Empire State Building.

I arrived a few moments before kickoff and found the first floor to be absolutely packed.  The general pre-game vibe was not incredibly different than any I would expect it to be for any other game.  Except for one moment, when both teams broke the pre-game schedule for a prayer at midfield.  This was really, the only significant moment at the bar.

In contrast to LSU folk, the Penn Staters like some techno with their Livin’ on a Prayer (slightly ironic), and then they also have a tradition of singing Hey! Baby by DJ Otzi.  Yes, we’re nowhere remotely close to Baton Rouge.

Nittany faithful cheering on a 2nd half comeback

Penn Staters do not have issues with wearing jerseys in public.  Similar to my Buckeye brethren, they’re selective about what the number on the jersey means and who it represents.  One of the guys I met at the bar was wearing a #11 home blue jersey, and he made it clear that it was Lavar Arrington’s number.

Generally, the people I spoke with agreed entirely with the board of trustees decision to fire Paterno.  It was clear that they were shell-shocked by the turn of events, and sad to see their idol go down so unceremoniously.  Though there was some historical perspective in the mess: like Woody Hayes arriving home in a police car or Bobby Bowden’s awkward forced-retirement/pushed-out-of-the-way, just to name a couple.  We laughed that like those guys, Paterno could have never heeded Batman’s advice, to simply walk-off as a hero well over a decade ago, at least.

Tonic East rooftop bar

The Nittany Lions were en route to being shut out in the first half, much to the dismay of a friend I had made.  After a particularly terrible sequence of i-formation runs off-tackle for little to no gain leading to a punt he screamed I SWEAR SOMETIMES PATERNO’S STILL AROUND!  Then we got back to discussing more relevant matters, such as rumors about Urban Meyer having contacted a real estate agent in the Happy Valley area.

Being inside that bar, that day (especially as an Ohio State fan – they dislike us quite intensely) provided a very strange and also historical moment to glimpse into the world of expat Penn Staters in New York City.

~Kurt

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