No matter how long you’ve lived in Erie, it is nearly impossible to not fall in love with some of our unique locations. Whether it be a store, a park, a restaurant, or a tourist attraction, Erie offers several locations that we are proud to call our own. Our landscape is changing. Many new and exciting developments are occurring downtown that will change the fiber of our beloved city for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, this will coincide with the loss of many beloved downtown locales.
With that in mind, we were inspired to create a new series. We Remember Erie will celebrate Erie’s past while keeping an optimistic eye on the future. The locations of the past shape who we are both individually and collectively and who we are shapes the future. Please join us as we celebrate the locations in our past that left an indelible mark on our lives.
This week, we begin with Antler’s Pub:
When I moved to Erie in 2007, I believed that I was on the cusp of becoming a wealthy titan of industry. Fresh out of college with a few friends in the Erie area, I believed that we would all eventually become a force that would change this city forever. Unfortunately, my arrival in town coincided with the economy collapsing and an undesirable job market for a bunch of arrogant twenty-somethings from the local State College. The economy, coupled with our complete lack of ability and applicable real-world skills, forced us into low-paying jobs with odd hours. While we now understand it to be part of the process, we then felt betrayed by an economy and an education system that had set us up to fail.
So what do you do when you’re broke and single in a new city? If you’re me, you play a lot of Halo and you drink cheap beers with your friends. We looked everywhere for our new spot. Everything was compared to the bars of Edinboro. Shabby as some of them may be, they were special to us. Our new home seemed to provide insular locales where we felt like outsiders. Bartenders would blow us off to wait on the guy behind us because they knew him from high school. Our particular group of Edinboro ex-pats seemed relatively small in comparison to these large groups of people that had seemingly known one another for a lifetime. We assumed that we would never find a dive to call our own until softball provided us with a first home base in Erie.
Being invited to the Antler’s softball team seemed like an interesting time-killing hobby at the time, but our lives would be significantly different today if we never joined that team. This weekday team had way too many players. The older guys would insist on playing at the end of the game. Us younger members of the team were forced to watch helplessly as they squandered the leads we had built on the opposition. Every week, we would drive out to softball fields around the city, drink beer, make some plays, and watch our hapless squad string together impressive fall-from-ahead losses. After the games, we would meet at Antler’s to pretend we weren’t frustrated by another heartbreaking loss.
Eventually, the season ended and we continued to show up at Antler’s. Anyone looking to find us on the weekends only had to head down to West 4th and Sassafras for dollar bottle night. We knew all of the bartenders, the specials, the regulars, and which items on the menu to avoid. It was our social hall. Our home base. Our beloved dive.
When friends from out of town would visit Erie, we would always end up at Antler’s. Many of our visitors didn’t understand the charm of the place. They saw the disgusting bathroom, the torn leather bar stools covered with duct tape, and the dangerous flight of stairs that was constantly wet. We saw an unpretentious haven that allowed us to find comfort in our new surroundings.
A watershed moment in my life happened at Antler’s.What started as a personal nadir ended up being one of the greatest days of my life. It was a late January day in 2009 when I went into work at 8:00 AM. Ready to discuss the Steelers victory over the hated Baltimore Ravens that sent them to a Super Bowl berth the previous day, I entered the office ready to gush about football. Instead, I was told of our company’s dire financial situation had worsened to the point that our services were no longer needed.
That night, my friends took me to Antler’s in an attempt to improve my mood. The bartender had also invited her friend to the bar as her day had also taken some unexpected turns. A pothole had caused extensive damage to her car causing a large repair fee. I talked to the bartender’s friend for a while and our shared misery eventually turned to jokes and laughter. We exchanged numbers and went on our way. Ignoring the unwritten rules of male desperation, I sent her a text that night asking if she would like to meet up somewhere that weekend. That text started a relationship that has resulted in 9 years (and counting) of marriage.
I wasn’t the only member of our group to meet this fate at Antler’s. Two of my other friends met their wives there. All of them dragged their future wives in there at one point in time. Our beloved dive provided the setting of our metamorphosis. Our patronage started as arrogant kids in search of a respite from the realities of adulthood. We left as adults that were prepared to make a real-life for ourselves.
Our tenure as regulars at Antler’s ended before the business closed in 2011. Our regular meetings had become less frequent. Changing priorities at home and in the workplace prevented us from continuing the tradition. Some of us moved away, but the ones who stayed struggled to find the time. We all stay in touch, but I can’t remember the last time we were all together.
I can’t say that this is an uncommon story. Seemingly everyone can tell a similar tale of that weird time in your 20’s between the carefree days of adolescence and the encroaching tide of responsibility. Those days when we leaned on our friends while navigating an exciting, and sometimes frightening, chapter in our lives. Most can reminisce about a locale that served as the home base for their post-college escapades. Mine was Antler’s Pub.
Years later, some of the old Antler’s crew rebuilt the old softball team. The younger players were now in their 30’s. the older players were gone. With no sponsor, the team was once again named Antler’s Pub. New players thought it was ridiculous to name a team after a closed business, but the rest of us knew we had unfinished business. In our final tribute to that moment in our lives, we presented the former owner of Antler’s with our championship trophy. We did not celebrate at a bar after the game.
13 thoughts on “Antler’s Pub: We Remember Erie 2/13/2020”
Many years before it was the Antler Pub it was Jerry Emlings Antler Restaurant. I remember eating there with my parents. And I’m in my early 70s…lol
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I know that building has been there for a long time. It’s now part of Gannon as The Knight Club. My son went there last week for a school function. I had to fight the temptation of telling him all of the crazy things I had done there.
My cousin Gary was the owner. I remember when he purchased in the early 80s. My parents and I helped him clean it up and get it ready to open. I spent hours polishing that brass foot rail at the bar. When I turned 21 it was the first place my dad took me to have a drink. I have fond family memories of Antlers.
I wish I could have seen the place back then.
I was the owner during the time you speak of. There were many great memories with your group and others like it. The common bond of antlers will always be family.
You know damn well we appreciate you, Dave. Thanks for the great times!
ANTLERS! Man, I worked there first for Chris while Dave was deployed then Dave. I worked security, learned to bar back, bartend and I DJ’d there over the years. And, the original Antlers Pub softball team was my brain child made possible by Dave’s financial support, and I managed that team to 3 consecutive 2nd place finishes (Damn Sprickman team) before I gave up the reigns when I moved to VA! Antlers will always be special, the bar is gone but the people are what made it great in the first place!
Jimbo! It was good seeing you over Christmas. We had some good times at Antlers.
I currently run The Knight Club (formerly Antlers) for Gannon University.
We really have tried to keep the atmosphere similar to what it used to be!
We have kept the Budweiser Inlays in the floor, same walls, same floors/ceilings, we even have Antlers signs hanging around on display.
Feel free to stop in and reminisce for a few minutes if you’re down around 4th & Sass 🙂
I think I’ll have to do that soon. Thank you.
Great article. I am the daughter of the original owner, Judy Emling. My Dad, Jerry Emling founded The Antlers in 1938 and owned until his death in 1965. My Mom owned the Antlers until 1971 when she sold the restaurant. My brother managed it from 1965 until 1971. Happy to know that The Antlers is still on the minds of many.
Wow. Thank you to your family for providing a wonderful spot for Erie over the course of decades!
I worked at Antlers in 1972 when Ed McCormick owned it and before Gary Lillis bought it. I watched when they remodeled it and add space and a downstairs bathroom. They had a pool table and juke box. It was “the hangout” for the Gannon FBs, the basketball team, and several frats and the locals. I was back theree in the 8os and talked to Gary Lillis and learned he was the owner. When I worked there Gary was the doorman. There’s a hell of a lot more stories than this one.