Every February 2nd, we observe easily the oddest of all North American holidays, Groundhog Day. For the past 130 years, this hallowed hour of seasonal revelation has been treasured by Canadians and Americans alike, except for Bill Murray.
On the second day of the second month, a marmot named Phil, the high prophet of a species National Geographic calls “giant ground squirrels,” either ends or extends the winter using only the courage he summons to face the darkest of fears — his own shadow. But Punxsutawney exists the other 364 days of the year too, you know, although it’s economy is pretty much wrapped around Phil.
Great show! Party’s over? Hardly. Though the town’s live-in population has been steadily decreasing over the past two decades, the Pennsylvania state government reports that more than 20,000 fans make the Punxsutawney pilgrimage each year. And given that an East Coast frost fest naturally demands liquid insulation, spirits tend to ride high before, during and after the rodent rapture. It’s not all about imbibing however; Punxsutawney also offers plenty of great food and intriguing destinations. But first…
PREGAME (YOU’LL HAVE TO WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR NOW….)
Over the last few years, an all-night tailgate has been taking place in the local Wal-Mart parking lot, near which free buses await to the haul attendees into town the next morning. Grills, thrills and spills, this one isn’t in the local visitor’s guide, but word-of-mouth has it the participants are a generous and welcoming bunch.
Punxy Phil’s Family Restaurant is said to serve the town’s best classic Pennsylvania breakfast, including trademark flapjacks and breakfast meats – hence their subtitle, “Cakes & Steaks”. Affordable pricing, huge portions and a friendly diner staff make this an easy hit for all ages, tastes and types.
Lily’s is another great hometown eatery, known not only for their storied brunch, but a hearty lunch and dinner menu as well. To beat the winter wind, try the stuffed green pepper soup or house chili, and for full course, hot turkey or roast beef with potatoes and gravy. Best of all, Lily’s includes an adjoining bakery with family recipe sweets.
For a paced, sit-down dinner experience, the freshly renovated New Anchor Inn offers artfully shaped booths, mood lighting, real cloth napkins and fine Italian fare. The house-made lasagna, pasta and pizza keep the place crowded though, so call ahead.
With its formidable craft beer menu, killer bar eats and character to spare, visitors and locals alike swear by Dirty Ehrma’s Cornerside Tavern. Stay simple with Erhma’s House Hot Sauce wings, or for a full plate, try the North Fork Moose Sandwich (relax, it’s roast beef). And before the tab closes, grab a souvenir shirt or three.
Positing itself as a beer-centric “Urban Kitchen”, the pleasantly out-of-place Station 101 Pub and Kitchen is a slightly more sophisticated option for cocktails and small plates. Enjoying a Kobe burger and an aged sour beer on the site of a former gas station overlooking I-80 simultaneously confuses and amazes.
Crazy Horse Saloon and Grill, a happy haunt in the center of town, offers unbeatable lager and snack deals in a raucous room full of worn stools, jukebox rock and billiard ball collisions. And surprise…great Mexican food! The best burrito in town lives here.
Groundhog Club Headquarters is home to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, a non-profit that promotes the holiday across the country. Their HQ hosts a number of Phil related events as well as a must-stop gift-shop. You know you want those Groundhog salt and pepper shakers. Bet your father-in-law would love that logoed ashtray.
Punxsutawney Area Historical and Genealogy Society holds loads of local heritage, including exhibits on town settlers and Pennsylvania’s founding industries. With a great preserve of Native American relics, as well as lumber, coal and rail memorabilia, it makes a great afternoon for museum buffs.
With 17 wineries along its stretch, Groundhog Wine Trail is an adventure for vino lovers of all levels. Along the route, the forests of the Pennsylvania Wilds provide a peaceful, rustic backdrop, and if your quest runs late, the cabins of Wapiti Woods are the perfect choice for a memorable overnight stay.