Category Archives: Venues

Castle Pub in Ebensburg a hit with working-class crowd

Photo by Cody McDevitt. The bar inside the Castle Pub in Ebensburg.
Photo by Cody McDevitt.
The bar inside the Castle Pub in Ebensburg.

By CODY McDEVITT
codym@dailyamerican.com

A blue-collar feel prevails at Castle Pub during the day. 

It’s the group of people who speak plainly and to the point. 

And it’s a nice change of pace for those who are accustomed to the more swank places. 

“There’s not a lot of pubs in Ebensburg,” Manager Mark Bennett said. “It’s different. We’re trying to do more with the food. And the castle theme is unique. Not a lot of bars (are) like it.” 

Castle Pub, at 122 North Center St. in the county seat, is a smoking establishment that features 11 drafts on tap and a number of macros and craft beers in bottle form. The food is typical bar food, with the highlights being wings and the stromboli. 

Though the bar is associated with the tougher men out there, it also offers musical entertainment for the kids who want to hear a good band or deejay.
 
“We do what we can to accommodate everyone,” Bennett said.

Downstairs is a non-smoking bar that employees and drinkers refer to as “the dungeon.” And there’s a dancing room upstairs for people who want to boogie. 

The restaurant recently transitioned into new ownership. Gene Hagens took over the business in June of last year. The customers kept coming with the change of leadership.

Brian Ponch, 54, has been a longtime frequenter of the establishment. And he plans on continuing to be. 

“I think they’ve done a good job with this place,” Ponch said. 

“It’s a nice place to come after work. I enjoy the blue-collar crowd that comes in when I’m here.”  

Boulevard Grill a haven for polite society

Staff photo by Cody McDevitt Boulevard Grill, at 165 Southmont Blvd. in Johnstown, is a good spot for cocktail and food aficionados.
Staff photo by Cody McDevitt
Boulevard Grill, at 165 Southmont Blvd. in Johnstown, is a good spot for cocktail and food aficionados.
Staff photo by Cody McDevitt Bartenders serve a variety of beers to the customers at the Boulevard Grill. The food ranges from exquisite to more common fare.
Staff photo by Cody McDevitt
Bartenders serve a variety of beers to the customers at the Boulevard Grill. The food ranges from exquisite to more common fare.

By CODY McDEVITT
codym@dailyamerican.com

A little before happy hour at the Boulevard Grill, two older men with mustaches sat and chatted while ESPN played on the television and Elton John played over the speakers. 

It was a laid-back vibe that comes from the relaxed people who patronize the place. And it’s usually the same on most nights.

The Boulevard Grill, located at 165 Southmont Blvd. in Johnstown, has been a staple of Johnstown’s nightlife scene for a long time. It’s developed a crowd that includes some of the prominent movers and shakers of Johnstown, while at the same time appealing to people who are young professionals making a name for themselves. 

This is partially why it so easily attracts polite society to its premises.

“Everyone here is friendly,” said Crystal Flenner, bar manager. “We have good service, good food and good beer. And we don’t put up with nonsense.”

The appetizers range from fries to more exotic creations such as crab-stuffed portabella mushrooms. The steak selection includes sirloins, tenderloins and Delmonico cuts. Diners can choose to add brie cheese, butter and onions, or crab with hollandaise as a topping.

Among the seafood selections, they offer spicy jambalaya and Honey Ginger Ahi Tuna.

The Grill also features daily specials that include steak on Sundays, meatloaf on Mondays, chicken pot pies on Tuesdays, fried haddock on Wednesdays and ribs on Thursdays. Friday is martini night, with specialty martinis costing $6.50.

The restaurant also features a speakeasy type of lounge. Among the specialty drinks made there are a chocolate-covered cherry martini and a whole slew of cocktails ranging from the exotic to the traditional. They have kept up with the craft cocktail revolution that has hit the bigger cities.

They have 18 beers on draft, with nine craft selections, according to Flenner.

Pasquerilla family members are among the prominent people who come in. Joan Pasquerilla has been a longtime frequenter of the Boulevard Grill.

“It’s all ages. And I love the staff,” Pasquerilla said. “They’re wonderful.” 

Hot Spot: Woodside Bar & Grill

WoodsideBarGrill


By CODY McDEVITT
codym@dailyamerican.com

A game played on background television as the crowd at the Woodside Bar & Grill bantered back and forth about how their week was going and what they wanted to do on the coming weekend.

It’s that way most nights of the week, which makes the place a good option for people to party or let their hair down.

Woodside Bar & Grill in Johnstown is four years out of a large renovation that aimed to make it a destination nightspot in the city. And, by most measures, it has established itself as a good place to catch a game, drink some craft beers, and dance with friends and other singles.

Sports is the theme of the main building at the restaurant, located at 430 Highland Park Road. A massive television screen is the focus of the wraparound bar inside. Signed jerseys by prominent athletes from the area decorate the walls. Iconic Steelers linebacker Jack Ham and former University of Pittsburgh star LaRod Stephens-Howling are among the athletes whose regalia gives the place a unique feel.

The bar can be difficult to find if you are coming from the Somerset area, as GPS will take you up a back road that is not maintained during the winter. That’s the biggest drawback of going there if you’re coming up from the south and don’t know where you’re going.

Different crowds come in at different nights. During the week, sports fans arrive to catch a game. On the weekend, partiers mingle with other bachelors and bachelorettes.

In terms of alcohol there are 50 different craft beers, an assortment of flavored vodkas and a slew of cordials that can make for interesting cocktails. The food is usual bar food fare, with the wings among its best options.

The patio is available for smokers, and it is used to stage acoustic bands in the summer. The dance hall across the patio doubles as a nightclub for dancing and a banquet hall for private functions.

“It’s a new establishment that creates a Pittsburgh-type vibe that no one else in this town offers,” said Rob Barmoy, owner of Woodside. “We offer something no one else can offer due to size of the building.” 

Stella working to beautify Cambria City

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

Cambria City Flowers owners Chad Pysher and Steven Biter understand that ideas are like flowers: They need their roots in order to bloom.

Pysher and Biter have created a new company named Stella Property Management and Event Production. The company specializes in repurposing culturally significant and historical properties that are no longer in use while respectfully maintaining each property’s roots.

The company is named after Pysher’s 95-year-old grandmother, Stella Ketchessin. He said that the grace with which she carries herself matches the company’s desired aesthetic.

“Everyone always says that my grandmother is a class act,” Pysher said. “I think her strength, her elegance and her interest in always wanting to take care of people and making their experience something they’ll never forget is her trademark. That’s exactly what the company is based
on.”

Brides and grooms who have had a wedding reception at The Grand Halle along Broad Street could tell you that Pysher and Biter take an interest in satisfying their clients. Since Aug. of 2012, Pysher and Biter have been decorating the venue for not only weddings, but also corporate events, private parties and various fundraisers. They are officially known as The Grand Halle on Broad Street’s event managers, but some couples may prefer to call them creative masterminds.

As event planning opportunities continued to arise over the past two years, Biter and Pysher realized that they needed to create a company that was a separate entity from their flower shop. That’s when they announced at this year’s Cambria City Ethnic Festival that Stella Property Management and Event Production was going to become a reality.

From providing management and booking services for various cultural organizations to owning and managing its own properties, Stella’s efforts are grounded in developing spaces and events that benefit the quality of life for not only the people of Cambria City and Johnstown, but also the entire region.

On the property development end, the company specializes in booking and promoting events, building budgets, creating a plan of action for developing property and more.

Event production services include weddings and private parties, community events, corporate meetings, fundraisers and galas, outdoor festivals and the like.

“We’re open to anything,” Pysher said. “This is a fresh new look on developing properties and producing events. I think the focus is on changing with the times and using the best resources we have to move ahead.”

Currently the company owns two properties in the Cambria City neighborhood: The Green, and what is soon to become the company’s official headquarters at 419.5 Brallier Place.

Stella’s corporate office is tentatively scheduled to open in March. The office is to include hosting and planning rooms and a special showcase room for event production services.

The showcase will be the only one of its kind in the central Pennsylvania region that utilizes the best event resources from around the country and the latest technology to give their clients a modern experience in event planning.

“We’re in the process of getting the building restored and modernized,” Pysher said of the former home, which is located behind the WagnerRitter House and Garden. “The outside will be very distinctive. This will be something different in the neighborhood, but we still want to maintain the character of the house.”

“It’s a different approach to the urban office. I know the neighbors are very happy that we purchased it, and the person who sold it to us is a very dear friend. We’re very respectful that this is a place
where a family was raised, and what we want to do with the office is show that you can retain the historical essence of Cambria City while adding a modern aesthetic.”

The Green, located at 701 Chestnut St., is scheduled to open next summer. The concept of The Green is to utilize the empty lot for events such as picnics and concerts.

Martinis on The Green, Art on The Green and Gourmets on The Green are a few of the events Pysher and Biter are hoping to organize. Beginning next June, they also plan to host a farm-
to-table dining experience featuring fresh, organic food.

“What is lacking in the neighborhood is this type of green space, and we want it to be an organic event space,” Pysher said of The Green. “The fence is going to be made from different types of bamboo. Our whole idea was to go with the name The Green and make it truly green. It’s a sustainable type of environment, and it’s modern and unexpected.”

Pysher and Biter have high hopes for Stella because they live in the Cambria City neighborhood and are invested in its renaissance.

“We’re not just owning to own, but to own to truly transform the neighborhood. There’s a big purpose driving this,” Pysher said, “and I think we bring a modern outlook on how things can be reused. We have a lot of ideas and if we can do something that will help bring another business here, that’s what we want to do. We’re not people from the outside looking in. We wake up in Cambria City every morning, and we know it has the potential. We want to develop Cambria City not only as a historical district, but also as an arts district.”

As they move forward, Pysher and Biter will be working hard to ensure that each building retains its roots.

“You shouldn’t negate the past,” Pysher said. “I think when people do, they fail. I think if the original intent of the building is considered and then that is taken and just re-worked, it fits better. It seems more authentic. You’re keeping true to what it is, but thinking about it in a new way.”

Owning and operating their small business — as well as acting as The Grand Halle’s event managers — have given both men an opportunity to learn what customers appreciate.

“I think we’ve learned to identify what is important and valuable and focus on that while maintaining integrity,” Pysher said. “I think people want to see others do things for the right reason. Businesses should expect to have some kind of responsibility to the community. There’s a mutual influence there.

“Our business is about creating experiences. I think that’s what we do best. Whether it’s through developing properties or planning events, when someone comes in to the Stella office, we want to empower them. We want to help them form a plan.”

Through Stella’s inception, Pysher and Biter are forming a plan — and it’s a plan that caters to friends, neighbors and visitors near and far.

“People keep saying they want change and they wantnew things, and that’s exactly what we’re giving them,” Pysher said. “I think they need to experience this — it’s not something that every city has. We’re creating a unique concept. People say Johnstown is 10 years or 20 years behind
the times, so we would like to catch it up.”

They’ll be accomplishing this by keeping in mind Pysher’s grandmother’s wise words.

“She taught us that if you’re going to do something, do it well and do it like you mean it,” Pysher said. “She says that you have to listen to people, understand what they want, learn what they love, recognize what they need and respond to it.”

VOMA’s Adam Mundok sees opportunity in Johnstown

When people hear the name  “Adam Mundok,”   the Venue of Merging Arts (VOMA) likely comes to mind, and rightly so. For the past six years, Mundok has worked to transform it from a church to a non-profit arts venue where workshops, art exhibits, plays and live music performances are held year-round.

Mundok, however, is more than just a man behind the scenes of one of the most popular venues in Johnstown. He’s a writer. He’s a producer. He’s a musician. And, for a short time, he was a Californian. But let’s make it clear that his roots are here. Never mind that he went to high school in Hershey. He’s a Johnstowner through and through. Five generations and counting.

After earning his high school diploma, Mundok was accepted into the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he struggled to find a major that seemed to be the right fit. Eventually he settled into the communications program and began to get involved on campus.

“While I was there, I just tried to pursue my interests. I took a lot of writing classes and I got involved with a civic organization called Circle K. I also joined the programming board; I was in charge of hiring the bands and entertainment for UPJ, which is obviously a pretty direct parallel to what I’m doing right now.”

By “right now,”   he was referring, in part, to this year’s Cambria City Ethnic Festival, which is scheduled for next weekend. VOMA has a hand in bringing well over a dozen bands to its Third Ave. stage, and Mundok is instrumental in helping to make that happen.

“There was no stage there before. Bottle Works and Art Works were there and they were doing some things, but it wasn’t what it is now. I knew Third Ave. needed a stage and VOMA needed an event to generate revenue. That was my opportunity,” he said.

Speaking of  “opportunity,”   it didn’t come knocking back in the 1990s. Mundok first had to build the door. So in 1996, following his college graduation, he traded Johnstown for Wilmington in an effort to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker.

“I made a bet with myself. If I landed a film gig, I would start a career in filmmaking. And I did. So I let that become my life path, and I started pursuing that as an interest and a passion,” he said. For five years he remained in North Carolina, working on the sets of “Muppets from Space”   and  “Black Dog”   (among others) on various soundstages within Screen Gems Studios before deciding that Los Angeles was beckoning.

And so another bet was wagered: he would give himself five years to see what heights he could reach in L.A. Plus, it would give him plenty of time to see how the city’s wheels spun underneath the hot pavement and massive buildings.

Soon after his arrival on the West Coast, Mundok landed a gig as a production assistant on  “The Jamie Kennedy Experiment.”   He also worked to produce press junkets through Telefilm, Inc. for big-budget movies (read: “Bubble Boy,” “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Death to Smoochy” ), putting him in close proximity to stars such as Jake Gyllenhaal, George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Matt Damon.

His time spent with the late Robin Williams during the  “Death to Smoochy” press junket was especially memorable.

“I was in a room with him all day. I felt that he was a very warm and compassionate and sincere individual,” Mundok said.

“He remembered the entire crew members’ names.That’s rare. At the end of the day, he shook my hand and said, ‘Nice to meet you, Adam. Thank you for all your hard work.’”

Despite the thrills of working in the entertainment industry, Mundok decided that it wasn’t enough, and his chances of making it big were slimmer than he would’ve preferred.

“I got to a point where the industry was sustainable, but for as good as you are, luck will always be an X Factor. It’s a variable that no one can control,   he said.

“I just always felt that I was standing at a roulette wheel — you might be at a really high table, spending a thousand bucks a roll, you know, but it’s still luck . . . there was some skill involved, but I never felt fully in charge or in command because that industry requires a lot of people. With music, you think it’s hard getting four guys together, but try getting 40 together to do a film with no budget. And everybody has to be passionate about it for it to work.” He reiterated that working with big stars, however, made him no better than anybody else.

“I’m not perfect; I’m very imperfect, but it’s been my passion and persistence that has gotten me anywhere. Anyone who hears of an accomplishment or accolade of mine . . .that just means that I was passionate about something and very persistent. I wanted to go live in L.A. and see behind the curtain, see who was pulling the strings. I saw what I needed to see, but at the end of the day, I’m not better than anybody. I struggle.”

After five years and a failed reality TV pitch to studio executives representing Disney, Paramount, MTV and others, Mundok packed his bags and flew back home to Pennsylvania. When he returned in 2006, his focus shifted from movies to music.

“I had a lot of connections with a lot of local bands and a lot of people were supportive of VOMA as an organization, so I put all my eggs in that basket,” he said.

So far, those eggs are still intact.

Though he currently has a full-time job that has more to do with cars than with music, Mundok is happy with what has become of his re-established life in Johnstown. Music and art is what it’s all about right now. A typical week involves “one night making music, one night working on VOMA and weekends producing shows,” he said.

Being around music — whether he’s playing, listening, or producing — has always been part of Mundok’s life. His father was a musician in the band Kindred Spirit; he played rhythm guitar and sang. His brother T.K. fronts the local band Black Cat Moan, and they were on this year’s AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival lineup.

Some of Mundok’s own music is scheduled to be released early next year. The EP, titled AM2, has paired Mundok with Striped Maple Hollow member Adam Milkovich. Together they’ve been working on original songs that feature an array of instruments, including the mandolin and dobro.

When the album is released, audiences can expect to hear many songs that share the same theme: time.

“A lot of my songs are about time: how it moves and what we choose to do with it. Most people bide their time or waste their time or spend time in ways that isn’t productive. We can live our time and be proactive with it,” he said.

While Mundok played down his talents when it comes to musical instruments (he plays rhythm guitar, harmonica, drums, saxophone and percussion), he emphasized that producing is an interest that comes first.

“First and foremost I’m a producer,” he said. “I want to be an audio engineer and music producer. That’s my main focus right now, and has been for the past eight years.”

In addition to the EP, Mundok is also wrapping up a collaborative book project with his friend Briant Laslow. The fantasy fiction novel—tentatively titled “The World of Cambra”—has been five years in the making.

As for VOMA, he’s got high hopes for not only the organization, but also the city in which it’s headquartered.

“VOMA is a place that’s very dear to my heart because of the community. That’s why it exists. It’s not because we have money, or have been given money. It’s a community arts center. Actually, I prefer the term social benefit organization. That’s more concisely what it is. If you want to write a play and perform it, you have a place to do it. If you wrote an orchestral score or a punk rock song, VOMA is there for you. You have one less excuse to say, ‘I’m not going to perform.’ Be creative. Express yourself,” Mundok said.

“I don’t have kids, so my art is like my children. I’m concerned about the whole community like it’s my own child and I don’t think a lot of people think like that. My grandfather would walk through Cambria City and pick up a piece of trash and I would think, Why did he do that? I asked him one day and he said, ‘Because this is our neighborhood and we have to take pride in it, no matter if anyone else does or not.” Though Mundok does what he can to help build a better community, he also wants his work to speak for itself.

“I don’t want to be famous or even ‘Johnstown famous’—I want to say and do things that have relevance through my music and through my art,” he said.

Celebrating 75 Years – A decade ago, this Roxbury landmark was facing demolition. Now it’s thriving.

Laborers — many of them immigrants — used 2,203 tons of stone, 969 barrels of cement, 576 tons of sand and 192 tons of slag to create the towering structure known as the Roxbury Bandshell.

Located at 1430 Franklin St. in Johnstown’s Roxbury Park, the bandshell was built during the Great Depression to honor the people of Johnstown and their resilience following the city’s flood in 1889. Tim Burns, a Johnstown attorney and a founding member of the Roxbury Bandshell Preservation Alliance, said that the bandshell is not only special to the city, but also the United States.

“There were 20-some bandshells built, and the Roxbury Bandshell is the last one (from that era) standing in the United States,” Burns said. “I was recently talking to a man who enjoys taking pictures of the bandshell — he told me he’s obsessed with it because there’s nothing like it.”

Burns — who also serves as solicitor and vice-chairman of the preservation alliance — said that despite the bandshell’s unique history, Johnstown City Council members had given the go-ahead in 2005 to have it torn down. A citizen’s group was formed to prevent the loss of what they and others considered a significant piece of the city’s history.

“During the summer of 2005, the city had demolition trucks at the site, and I filed the lawsuit to block it — the way we stopped it was like something out of a movie,” he said.

Burns mentioned that the preservation alliance now has an excellent relationship with the city.

“It’s ancient history, that whole battle,” he said.

Back in March of 2006, the Roxbury Bandshell Preservation Alliance was formed to help promote what the bandshell has to offer the city in terms of music, history and education.

Over the past eight years, the preservation alliance has raised and invested nearly $400,000 into the bandshell. It’s theirs to operate for the next 25 years (a common misconception is that the preservation alliance owns it, but that’s not the case).

Recent renovations have included a chemical cleaning (“We didn’t know how dirty it was until we saw how clean it looked,” Burns said) and a thorough re-pavement of the stage, which Burns said now looks like it did back in 1939.

Renovations are ongoing. This year they are working on adding a handicap ramp. In the future, the group aspires to focus on the skating rink and the bandshell’s interior.

“The skating rink is right in front of the bandshell, and we’re hoping to raise separate funds to move it back so there’s more room in front of the stage,” Burns said. “We also want to get the interior renovated.”

Following their formation, the Roxbury Bandshell Preservation Alliance set up a fund for the bandshell through the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies. Donors can make tax-deductible donations payable to the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, c/o Roxbury Bandshell and send it to their Johnstown office location (116 Market St., Johnstown PA 15901). All donations received go toward future preservation efforts.

Burns said many people take notice of the work that preservation alliance members have done to preserve and maintain the bandshell. “I believe now since we’ve gotten it cleaned and refurbished, people are impressed,” he said.

Nowadays, the bandshell plays host to an annual Summer Concert Series. It’s popular not only amongst music fans, but also the musicians themselves.

“We have a waiting list for bands to perform,” Burns said. “And they all volunteer to perform — their performances are not paid. Everyone volunteers. We’re very thankful for that.”

Sponsored by AmeriServ, this year marks the ninth year for the Summer Concert Series that draws hundreds of people to the bandshell each Sunday afternoon throughout June, July and August.

“Each year, usually half the bands are new,” Burns said. “There’s something for everyone: polka, rock, alternative, country.” Burns said that he is glad to see people of all ages — including a new generation — enjoy what the bandshell has to offer.

“It means a lot to see the people there every Sunday, having a good time,” he said. “People have even gotten married there. The bandshell is creating a lot of positive memories. I think there’s a lot of pride in it. It’s an excellent symbol of the city’s resilience. We’ve survived floods, there’s an economic renaissance going on downtown . . . it’s just a unique structure — it’s one of the major historical sites in the region and people want to keep it going.

“I think this generation is really embracing it — we’re making history now. This is living history.”