Hanover mainstay is on the verge of a remodel this Spring, putting a larger focus on live music, craft beer and fresh eats.
So, a guy walks into a bar … and everything comes full circle.
At The Winner’s Circle in Hanover, that’s just how owner Tom Hufnagle intended it to be.
“I’m very laid back,” Hufnagle says. “My ownership style is, ‘Lets all hang out and see what we gotta do’. I’m pretty passionate.”
Hufnagle’s passion is obvious, but so is the friendly, cozy atmosphere that struck me as soon as I walked through the door.
Seated in a booth near the bar, I noticed that everyone is sitting together.
There are stories being shared, jokes being told and not one person is glued to their cellphone or the TV screen. This is no accident, according to Hufnagle.
“We’re a conversation bar,” he says. “I know everybody in here, and on certain nights, everybody knows everybody. If they don’t, they’re going to by the end of the night.”
In these days of dating apps, themed bars and DJs, it can feel like something’s been lost when going out for a night on the town. The Winner’s Circle harkens back to a simpler time when pleasant chatter, cold beer and live entertainment were the only necessary ingredients for a good Friday night.
Hufnagle prefers word of mouth over advertising. There’s a smokey, rough-hewn feel to the room itself, while the beer selection is top-notch. And most importantly, the people behind the counter are helpful, sincere and friendly.
“Most people say, ‘Never hire your friends,’” Hufnagle explains, “but my friends really are my family. If I didn’t have the people around me that I have, I couldn’t do it. It’s not about me, it’s about the whole process – the whole circle of friends.”
A York County native, Hufnagle has been learning how to run a bar since he was a kid. His grandfather was a bar owner, and his father owned the Winner’s Circle before selling it in the late 1980s.
When the opportunity arose, Hufnagle bought it back in 2006 and ran it singlehandedly until he was able to hire support staff.
“When we bought it, the fanciest beers were Coors Light and Michelob,” he says. “We’ve come a long way.”
And it didn’t hurt that his taste for craft beer was about to become the next big thing.
According to the Department of Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the number of brewery permits issued nationwide has more than doubled since 2008. In Hanover alone, there are currently two breweries, with another two scheduled to open soon.
In order to keep up with this growth, the bar acquired the two neighboring buildings and has completed blueprints and architectural surveying for a full renovation, which will triple the bar’s size.
Renovation work is slated to begin in this spring. The biggest addition will be a fully furnished restaurant with 33 taps and a small balcony overlooking the stage area. The new section will be non-smoking and kid friendly, serving classic pub cuisine and a few special items.
“There will be infused foods, but not over the top,” Hufnagle explains. “It will be hand-crafted, and we want to draw as much local or farm-to-table food as possible.”
The renovations will also incorporate many local and recycled items.
“We want people to walk in and know every inch of the place had somebody’s hands on it – basically living art kind of stuff with all recycled materials,” he says.
The Winner’s Circle also acquired an outdoor patio behind the building. To access it, there are entryways from both the restaurant and bar sides, making it essentially (you can probably guess) a circle.
To top it all off, the bar regularly features nationally touring musicians as well as local performers. A double major in vocal performance and music education, Hufnagle is enthusiastic about live entertainment.
“We’re really focused on music,” he says. “We try to keep the cost low to try and build a scene.”
Open mic is hosted by Eric Costello every other Monday, and Vinyl Night – held every Thursday – has been gaining momentum for three years.
Perhaps the most anticipated event, though, was The Winner Circle’s first-ever ticketed show. On December 3, Michael Glabicki – lead singer of the ’90s alternative band Rusted Root – gave a solo performance, with Pittsburgh based artist EMay as the supporting act.
Pittsburgh rock/jam outfit Derek Woodz Band plays tonight.
With all of these changes taking place, Hufnagle thinks it’s about time to renovate the name, too.
“We’re definitely in transformation, getting ready to come out of the chrysalis,” he says. “We’ve always been the Winner’s Circle, but we’re going to rename it The Circle — most people call it that anyway. We’ll stay the same, we’ll do a lot of programs to support locally in Hanover. It’s a circle of friends and family.”
• 5 East Walnut Street, Hanover; 637-0000
• Monday-Friday, 3 p.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday, 1 p.m.-2 a.m.; and Sunday, 12 p.m.-2 a.m.