Talking to people at the Grey Lodge Pub on Groundhog Day morning, I heard a common response: Before bar owner Mike “Scoats” Scotese made it a thing, nobody had really given a shit about this holiday.
I mean, yes, it meant something to the folks in Punxsutawney, the official home of the day’s official mascot. And it meant something to me when I was third grade, coloring groundhogs at my desk. But as an adult? Lol.
However, Groundhog Day has always mattered to Scotese, who’s been throwing a morning-into-afternoon February 2 party at his Mayfair bar for 16 years running.
The event isn’t just another excuse to drink good beer, several revelers told Billy Penn. Now, they wait eagerly for the holiday each year.
“My family always was into Groundhog’s Day when I was growing up,” said Scotese, who was raised near Holme Circle. “My family’s always had an appreciation for the absurd… My grandfather would give my parents a huge Groundhog Day card. When you’re a kid your world is really tiny. That Mr G. greeting card always stuck out in my mind.”
This morning, Yards president and co-founder Tom Kehoe arrived at the Grey Lodge bright and early to help kick off the festivities.
“He is the only the person who could pack a bar at 7 am,” Kehoe observed about Scotese, as Troegs sales manager Nick Johnson nodded in agreement. Yards sales manager Rick Anstotz was also a fan: “It gets weirder every time.”
The event is Hawaiian shirt-themed, in lighthearted defiance of February weather, and features “a mix of really rare exciting beers and beers you can drink a pint of — you know, a nice breakfast beer,” Scotese explained, smiling.
“We might even plan [the beer list] two or three Groundhog’s Days ahead,” he added.
Another bar patron, Tim Flocco, took the whole day off. Since his child’s day care wouldn’t be opening until after the party got started, he and his wife dropped the kid off at grandparents’ the night before. It was Flocco’s 40th birthday, he noted by way of excuse — but it turns out people taking off for Groundhog Day at the Grey Lodge is not unusual. Neither is driving in from the ’burbs. “It’s a pre-Super Bowl tradition,” said John O’Brien of Sicklerville, NJ.
Every guest was handed a lei as they walked in the door, and noisemakers were offered as Phil’s shining moment neared. By 7:15 a.m., scores of people has assembled. Nearly every seat on the first floor was taken, with a couple dozen standing as the ceremony unfolded on PCN. The bar cheered as Phil predicted winter.
Though attendance was good, patrons said it was nothing like when Groundhog Day falls on a weekend, when the bar is packed elbow to elbow. Scotese low-key prefers the weekday ones, for that reason.
After the prognostication is over, people drink and eat. I had the French toast made from Stock’s pound cake (yeah), which came as three thick slices sizzled up with a side of bacon.
Plus, there’s a slate of entertainment. Each hour has a different contest or show.
Like a hula hoop contest…of course. No competitor managed to make it past even four seconds of twirling, except the reigning champ, who kept it going close to 90 seconds until the judges assured her that was more than enough.
For the first time this year, there was a puppet show. It had a political theme:
“We’re going to build a wall around Punxsutawney,” said puppet Trump. Puppet Phil was unfazed: “Like the Mexicans, we’re good at building tunnels.”
“Crosswords? Puppet show? What more can you ask for!” one woman rejoiced when the puppet vignette finished.
As the morning waned, people sifted in and out. There was a dance-off with the Carlton as the featured move. (Yes, that was as funny as it sounds.)
Patron after patron described the event to me as “tradition.”
But Scotese is humble about his elevation of the mundane holiday into a beloved annual party: “It’s kind of neat what we’ve been able to do here.”