Richard Rattner wraps the inside of Shadyside's William Penn Tavern with hundreds of bobbleheads.
Enter the William Penn Tavern in Shadyside on almost any night when the stereo’s pumping, and you’ll find more than 400 characters swaying their heads to the music. And that doesn’t include any of the patrons.
Those are just the bobbleheads, the collection of the tavern’s owner, Richard Rattner. He estimates that approximately 430 bobblehead figures line the walls of the popular Bellefonte Street spot. Plus, he has more than 100 more in his collection at home. That spring-loaded population of over 500 bobbleheads has sprung up over the eight years that the William Penn Tavern has been in business.
Richard started his collection with just a few bobbleheads, including Roy Gerela, the Steelers kicker from the 1970s, and Roberto Clemente, who was a neighbor and occasional Wiffle Ball playmate when Richard was a child. His collection hit full stride when he opened the William Penn Tavern around the corner from his family’s former business, the venerable William Penn Hat and Gown, which was a Shadyside landmark. Sports memorabilia was an integral part of the tavern’s decor since the beginning, so adding bobbleheads was a natural choice.
He started finding bobbleheads at Albert’s Gifts in the Strip District, which is still his primary resource. While his collection started with sports figures, he soon started adding non-sports bobbles.
First, there are the cartoons, including one Richard says he identifies with: Stewie from “Family Guy.” Stewie’s joined by Snoopy, Donald Duck, Betty Boop, the Flintstones and Jetsons, Wimpy and Mickey Mouse (from “Steamboat Willie”). Non-animated entertainers are animated in bobbleheads, too, including Mick Jagger, Sammy Davis Jr., James Dean, James Brown, the Three Stooges, Liberace and Cheech and Chong. Historical and political figures are some of the most unusual, including Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, George Bush and Bill Clinton, Sigmund Freud, and a few that Freud might have liked to analyze: Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro and Al Capone.
Richard’s favorites were gifts, including the Grateful Dead dancing bears, H.R. Pufnstuf and a 2-foot-tall Underdog bobblehead given to him by a customer who worked on the 2007 Underdog movie. And best of all? Richard’s employees gave him a bobblehead replica of himself; that’s one of the few that Richard won’t let out of his grasp. “This is a fun collection; we don’t take it too seriously,” he says. “If someone wants to take one down from the shelf and get a closer look, it’s fine with me.”
The stars in Richard’s bobblehead field are the sports figures, mostly from the ‘Burgh. The University of Pittsburgh is well represented (he has plenty of loyal clientele from Pitt) and, not surprisingly, there’s lots of black and gold. Some figures have been signed, especially by Steelers who’ve come to the tavern. (“They love my wings,” he says.)
One local legend even noticed he was absent. “Years ago, Sidney Crosby came in and noticed I didn’t have one of him. I took care of that pretty fast,” Richard says, smiling and pointing to one of his Crosby bobbles near the bar that’s proudly holding the Stanley Cup.