Story and photos by Lauren Dantella, Point Park News Service:
Behind an inconspicuous, red-brick facade, hundreds of animals appear to be frozen in battle and sinister stances. These animals, however, are merely skins of those hunted from around the world.
The late Joe Snyder left his vast collection of hunted animals, skins and skulls at his watering hole, Joe’s Bar, in Ligonier, where locals and tourists come to gape at roomfuls of his prized possessions.
Snyder and his wife, Marcy, first bought the bar in 1962 when they noticed the building up for sale, said bar manager Holly Vargulish, 39, of Ligonier. They originally had no intention of giving it such a unique theme.
Snyder had always been an avid hunter and became interested in exotic animal hunting through the Safari Club, an international group of hunters. As his fervor grew, so did his collection of taxidermy, and he began to display them around the bar.
“He loved the hunting trips and would take his grandson, Keith,” said Vargulish. “His favorite was definitely Africa.”
Joe Snyder died in 2008, and his wife still owns the bar, though her grandson is expected to own the bar next.
Vargulish discussed the collection under an elephant’s head spanning about 10 feet wide and suspended on cables between the two floors. The first floor contains a wrap-around bar leading into a room of five dining room tables where dozens of horned heads peer out from behind a glass wall.
A spiral staircase connects to the second floor, which Vargulish said used to hold apartments but is now used to make room for the collection. Three rooms with green, textured carpet and wood fixtures house seemingly endless exhibits and Snyder’s awards.
In the very center, a leopard battles an orangutan, and in a corner, a squirrel dressed as Robin Hood shoots a bow while a snake is coiled back with its fangs displayed. Across the room, another leopard loftily poses with its young.
Aside from the proudly displayed collection, the bar contains no fancy frills or allurements, no specialty foods or drinks or even a website to attract guests. Vargulish said that guests travel far simply on word-of-mouth advertising.
“Joe and Marcy grew up in the Great Depression, and they never believed in any of this technology,” said Vargulish. “People just come in, they post pictures on the Internet, and people have come in to see it from as far as Germany.”
Vargulish says the bar’s patrons are about half tourists and half regulars and locals.
The unique collection is a must-see, Vargulish said, although not everyone approves.
“We’ll have vegetarians and vegans come in,” she said.”They’ll go upstairs and look at everything, and then come down here and say things like, ‘It’s so terrible.’”
Vargulish said she too was raised vegetarian, but after seven years of being the bar manager at Joe’s, she has become comfortable with the attractions.
“I would much rather see them running around in the wild,” Vargulish said, “but I’ve just gotten used to it.”