2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

An Evening of Post‑Football Desolation With the Steelers Nation

An Evening of Post‑Football Desolation With the Steelers Nation

Beer at Z’s Tavern

From September through the Super Bowl, Z’s Tavern is the place to be on Sunday in east Erie. The Pittsburgh Steelers Nation is out in force, hollering, high-fiving, drinking Budweiser by the pitcher. But what happens after the final snap, when everyone packs up their Terrible Towels and goes into NFL hibernation? I stopped by one Sunday in late February to find out.

Two men were standing at the bar with twelve-packs. They paid the bartender, bantered a bit, and took off.

“That’s a lot of our Sunday business this time of year,” said the bartender. “Grab and go.”

He seemed surprised when I ordered wings. “There’s no game on,” he said. “Just Oscars crap.”

A TV announcer was blathering about the dress Jennifer Lawrence was going to wear to the Academy Awards. I sat down next to the only drinker in the room, a bearded, burly fellow. He remarked that the broadcast would benefit greatly if Ms. Lawrence showed up without any dress at all. Then he belched, and started texting.

Things got quiet. The bartender leaned against the wall with one leg up, nodding off like a flamingo. I listened to the traffic on Buffalo Road, and studied the sports cards under the plastic bar top. The plastic was yellow with age. Most of the players on the cards were probably dead. After a while, three college girls entered. This wasn’t unusual. Penn State’s Behrend campus is just up the hill.

“You can always count on Z’s to be open,” one of them said. “I love this place.”

I asked her how long she’d been coming to Z’s, and she told me since she was a kid, when her dad took her to watch the Steelers games. She pronounced Steelers “Stillers.”

Some actor was on TV, talking about his bowtie. I asked the other girls if they were regulars, too.

“I guess,” one of them said. “We all go to Behrend. But I’m from Buffalo.”

“Buffalo? You probably don’t come here for the Steelers then.”

“No. Ew.”

The Stillers girl gave her a shove.

A half hour later, a guy in a Roethlisberger jersey walked in. He looked up at the TV. His perplexed expression was that of a man suddenly and unexpectedly denied sports.

“Oscars,” I said.

He grunted, and grabbed a newspaper off the bar. The headline read “Oscars Mania.” He threw it back.

The girls were drinking some kind of fluorescent shots.

“Leo was awesome in that bear rape movie,” said one.

“Yeah,” said another. “But his beard was gross.”

The guy beside me put down his phone. “DiCaprio was okay,” he said. “But I’ll take Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl. Transgender is huge right now.”

“Ew,” said one of the girls.

A transgender biopic discussion? In Z’s Tavern? Lack of football will do strange things to a Steelers fan.

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