‘Papa,’ owner of Sports Garden, former Otters looks to sell both establishments

A deserted five-story building sits in the center of downtown Meadville at the corner of South Main and Chestnut Streets. This building is the former home of one of Meadville’s most popular bars, Otters Pub & Grill, where hard times, declining patronage and an oversaturated market drove the establishment out of business.

“It is a shame it is closed. If I were young I could make a million dollars out of that building,” said John Fakos, owner of Otters.
Known as “Papa” to many members of the student body, Fakos owns two of the dominos that will likely fall in Meadville’s constantly-shifting bar scene.

In addition to owning the entire building that was home to Otters, Fakos also owns the liquor license and business connected with Meadville’s Sports Garden.

Fakos has been trying to sell Otters for over two years, but numerous prospective buyers have balked at the high price as well as the extensive amount of work that the building requires.

Jerrod Wilson, a 2004 Allegheny alum, was previously a prospective buyer.

“The man was asking way too much,” said Wilson.

Wilson, who currently lives in Meadville, said that Fakos would probably be more successful if he were more flexible about the terms of sale.

“He needs to stop trying to package the two [properties] together, and venture into either a partnership or a realistic negotiation,” Wilson said.

But Fakos has been unwilling to part with one bar and not the other.

Fakos has two sons: one is an Allegheny graduate and the other helps operate Sports Garden. Despite sending his sons to college in the area, his younger son went to Edinboro, Papa does not consider this his town.

Fakos stays in a Meadville apartment, but adamantly insists that he is not at home there. Papa maintains that his home is in Pittsburgh. Wilson speculated that Fakos is likely looking to leave Meadville altogether.

Fakos has perpetually grown frustrated with the lack of patrons that frequent his bar.

Recent graduate Dave Montibeller, ’12, said that in his experience, Fakos typically seemed frustrated about the state of his businesses.

“I used to go by and have a drink or two on a weeknight, and he would always be reminiscing about how great his establishments used to be,” Montibeller said.

Wilson seconded Montibeller’s sentiment.

“It used to take ten minutes to walk through the room at Sports Garden, starting Thursday night, and ending the wee hours of Sunday morning. The place was always packed,” Wilson said.

Others say Fakos has certainly not lost all hope.

Fakos employs a DJ at Sports Garden on Saturday nights, student Sal DiLisio, ’13. DiLisio said that Fakos is still motivated to make the bar somewhere college students want to be.

“He is always looking for ways to improve the bar, and he takes a lot of pride in being a staple in the college students’ nightlife,” DiLisio said.

But many competitors are striving to utilize the same customer base Meadville provides. The Chestnut Street Pub and Grill opened last spring, taking over the space that once housed Compadres, a popular Mexican restaurant (another Compadres location still exists just outside of town). Last semester, one of Chestnut’s owners went ahead and purchased the legendary Penny Bar.

The owner said that he looked at Otters, but opted for the Penny Bar after estimating that Otters would require over $100,000 of work.

“It definitely needs work, but it is the best spot in town, and people love it,” Fakos said of Otters.

He added that the building has lots of potential to be developed into something other than a bar.

“Whether students want to come or not, Otters is different, you could make it a nice bed and breakfast, you could make it a restaurant downstairs, rock and roll one floor, country the next floor,” Fakos said.

Though he targets Sports Garden toward college students, Fakos said he ultimately struggles to understand what ultimately gets students in the door.

Joe Pierce, ’14, said that he enjoys spending his Saturday nights at the popular Sports Garden.

“I like Town Tavern because it is smoke free, but I just go where everyone else goes,” Pierce said.

Students will frequent different bars, and owners will struggle with the fluid change in destination. Regardless of popularity, if Fakos gets his wish and sells his two establishments, Meadville’s nightlife scene will undergo another series of changes.