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Bars where Pete has had a drink

Friday, March 10, 2023

#5033 - Kaufman Tavern, Zelienople, PA - 3/9/2023

Kaufman Tavern, Zenienople, PA
On this day I planned to make my way to a historic bar in Erie, PA, and as that pub did not open until 4 pm, I picked a few additional stops along the virtually due north drive from Pittsburgh. The first of these was a bar in the borough of Zelienople, in a historic hotel that had been closed for many years after a disastrous fire, and reopened in late January 2020. I had barely seated myself at the Kaufman Tavern bar when a woman with a camera came in and asked the hostess if she could view the speakeasy. Wait. SPEAKEASY?!?!?

Kaufman Tavern, Zenienople, PA

Indeed, in an underground space once positioned as a cigar bar and doubling as the wine storage room, the hotel/tavern had established their speakeasy, open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays. After the serendipitous discovery of its existence, I tagged along for a little tour from one of the employees. The speakeasy lies within the pleasantly antiquated, exposed rock foundation of the building, and is decorated with period paintings, vintage artifacts, and old photographs. As our hostess provided a bit of sometimes violent history of the building, of course I had to ask about ghost sightings. And indeed the young woman herself has seen many signs from "Elizabeth," the one-time owner's wife purportedly murdered by her husband for infidelity, and noted that her brother had seen "Mr. Kaufman" in the walk-in freezer. She pointed to a lamp that often flickers when we talk about Elizabeth, and added that only after her brother's sighting they learned that Mr. Kaufman had committed suicide in that very space. The ghostly activity has been confirmed confirmed -- in the sense that believers use the term -- by paranormal investigators, and the hotel has featured dinner presentations on their work

Stairway to speakeasy
Kaufman Tavern, Zenienople, PA

This particular spot on the route from Erie to Pittsburgh is said to have hosted a hotel and/or tavern since a tavern was constructed in 1837 by John Randolph. Zelienople itself was founded by Baron Dettmar Basse from Frankfurt Germany, who purchased a tract of 10,000 acres in the current Butler and Beaver Counties upon his arrival in 1802. The borough was named for his eldest daughter, "whose chosen name was Zelie (her given name was Fredericka) which she named herself after her favorite doll." (wikipedia)

In 1902 the hotel on this spot burned down and was replaced by a new owner. "The Kaufman House was built after the fire of 1902 by Henry Stokey and operated it as a hotel [named the Grand Central Hotel] until 1920, when he sold it to the Union Rubber Company, who used it as housing for workers at its plant in Zelienople. Union Rubber sold the house to E.F. Kaufman in 1924. Kaufman remodeled and modernized what he called the Kaufman Hotel, making it a popular stop between Pittsburgh and Erie. In 1974, Ellwood City native Ken Pilarski bought the hotel and renamed it Kaufman House. In his tenure as owner, the Kaufman House had four dining rooms, a coffee shop, a banquet room and a lounge." (

Kaufman Tavern speakeasy, Zenienople, PA
Closed for virtually a decade after an October 5, 2011 fire, the Kaufman had long been central to the community of Zelienople and surrounding region. "When people from Aliquippa or New Castle wanted to impress a date, they went to Kaufman House for dinner, he said, and then to Pittsburgh for a show, but would return to Kaufman House for drinks." (beavercountytimes) "“Always, it was the crown jewel of Zelienople,” current owner Jason Eisenreich explained.

For this reason, after Ken Pilarski, the owner during the 2011 fire, struggled to get the place reopened, the borough itself invested. In December 2015 the Butler County Tourism Foundation purchased the building. When they couldn't put together the backing needed to restore the place, the borough itself about it in 2017, with the aid of a state grant. The borough would partner with local developer Patrick Boylan with a lease-to-own agreement, and a plan for the borough to cover exterior work, and Boylan to fund the interior. (ibid)

Borough Manager John Pepe confirmed the importance of the effort. "How much money it brings to town, I couldn’t tell you that, but I can tell you that the other businesses in town, whether they are restaurants or not, all rely on each other. Of course they do. That’s the way economics is and they relied on the Kaufman House because it was just a key piece – a cornerstone, if you will -- of the entire economic structure of the town, which is why it was so important to preserve." (ibid)

I do not know exactly what years the location featured a bar, nor how similar previous versions of bars resemble the one that now greets you as you walk into the front door. But the current version includes 40 beer choices on tap and fairly upscale food choices for both locals and hotel guests. After my visit to the basement speakeasy, I had a very fine soup du jour and some nice honey jalapeno hummus. I hope to visit the speakeasy while in operation on some Friday or Saturday in the not too distant future. It seems well worth risking the vengeful spirits residing within.

105 S Main St, Zelienople, PA 16063 - (724) 452-8900
Est. Jan 2020 current incarnation, 1924 Kaufman Hotel/House/Tavern - Building constructed: 1903/1924
Previous bars in this location: Grand Central Hotel
Web site:  - facebook 
Reviews: beavercountytimescranberryeagle - yelp - tripadvisor - pittsburghmagazine - butlerradio 

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