The new Lark Tavern opens

The new Lark Tavern reopened quietly on New Year's Eve.

Eighteen months after fire closed the Lark Tavern, a new version of the popular bar/restaurant on Madison Avenue in Albany has opened.

When you walk in the door you'll recognize it. Sort of. You might get that sense of wait, I've been here before -- haven't I?

The new owners -- Ryan Hancox, his wife Mary Silverstein, and their partner Laura Bianchino -- have redesigned a bit. There's a brand new kitchen and a nook for a piano bar that used to be a storage closet. And the structure itself has pretty much been rebuilt on the inside. Overall the new Lark Tavern looks like a modernized version of its former self.

We stopped in to check it out and meet the new owners.

When Mary Silverstein was growing up, her grandparents owned a bar at 288 Lark Street. Ryan Hancox's parents were accountants for Florence Maugere, then owner of The Lark Tavern. "The Maugere's were like family. They were like my grandparents," says Ryan, who also owns Lou Bea's pizza on Delaware Ave.

Mary spent a lot of time with her grandparents. "Every Saturday my grandfather would take me to dance class and then we'd go over to 288 and do inventory."

Ryan spent many of his Saturday's at the Lark Tavern. "Every Saturday I'd go to breakfast with my dad and we'd come over to Lark Tavern and get the books."

"So we joke," says Mary, "that we were probably hanging out around the corner from each other and playing as kids."

They met on a blind date years later.

Ryan says he had an opportunity to buy the business from the Maugere family when he was in his early 20s. "I just wasn't ready for it then."

He bought Lou Bea's, and later went to Siena and became a financial consultant. Before the Lark Tavern fire he says he'd expressed an interest in buying the bar, but it wasn't for sale.

The building is still owned by Mike DiNapoli. After the fire DiNapoli and former Lark Tavern owner Tess Collins -- who has many fans in the community, and many would says she was the soul of the bar -- had a rather public battle over ownership of the bar, the building and the name "Lark Tavern." Collins has since moved to McGeary's in downtown Albany. [Tablehopping] [Tablehopping]

DiNapoli renovated the Lark Tavern with input from the new group.

Lark Tavern -Bar.jpg

The renovation essentially consisted of building a new building inside the facade of the old building. "When we first came to a gentleman's agreement to move forward together," says Ryan, "I came over and was walking around in my suit and wing tips and the dirt floor and the brick walls were all that was left. The contractors basically said that if a beer truck had backed into the building, it might have collapsed. Some sections of the brick were so deteriorated we just concreted large swatch of the walls."

But Ryan, who is also on the city planning board, didn't want to see it knocked it down. "There's a lot of wonderful architecture in this city. It's not always possible to save every building but if you can do it, we believe in saving it."

History of the Lark Tavern.jpg

Ryan says he loves history. And he's passionate about Albany. "I've only lived on two streets in my life. And they're both in Albany. It's a great city, full of great characters." The house he grew up in, used to be a speakeasy. "When we bought the house in the 70s, you'd ring the doorbell and a light would flash on and off in the basement. Old guys used to come by and ring the bell and ask to come in and see the place again."


Ryan with business partner Laura Bianchino

Ryan and his partners wanted a speakeasy kind of feel to the new Lark Tavern. They're also going back to the tavern's tradition of live music. Laura says musicians have already been stopping by to talk about performing. They're also planning happy hour music, including a piano bar on Thursday and Friday.

There are 11 flat screen TVs around the bar, but Ryan says he doesn't expect them to be on all the time. "We're looking into trying to get some local artists together and have some of their work on the screens."

They built a kitchen in the back of the building where the coolers used to be, and put on an addition for new coolers.

Dan McKay, the new chef, came from McGuire's. That's him above, in the kitchen with Ryan. They'll have standard pub fare --Lou Bea's pizza ($15.99 and $12.99), sandwiches and wraps (around the $10 mark) and salads (around $7-$12). They're also adding full dinner fare like fish and steaks.

Lark Tavern menu.jpg

McKay wants to put a homemade, gourmet twist the food. "We're working toward making as much as we can right here. Even the pasta eventually will eventually be made in house."

Everything in the place, right down to the rest rooms -- with extra stalls and NYC subway tile on the walls -- is new in the Lark Tavern.

So the question is: can the Lark Tavern be the Lark Tavern without Tess?

"People obviously were passionate about the previous place," Ryan says, "and that's a wonderful testament to the great work Tess did here -- that people cared about her so much. And we're happy she's found a place and has that following."

"You know, you don't think you like a change," says Laura, "but when people see the investment that we've made in this place, they do like it."

"We've poured our heart into this place to make it beautiful and make it a place that you'd want to come," says Ryan. "It sounds corny, but we put our heart and soul into it. We think people will see that."

The Lark Tavern is opening Friday for its first lunch. The bar had a soft opening on New Year's (its liquor license took effect December 30), and is now open every night.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Soapbox: The Lark Tavern: where everybody knew your name
+ Fire at Lark Tavern

Find It

Lark Tavern
453 Madison Avenue
Albany, NY 12210

Comments

Couple of thoughts:

-288 Lark is now DeJohns, not Oh Bar.
-It looks kinda... shiny. Where's the dank? I miss the dank.
-Nothing says "I love and respect Albany's history" like decorating with NYC subway tiles.
-Snark aside, best of luck to them!

Editors: You're right about the address. Fixed. Thanks.

Bring on the nasty gossip-sourced comments about the owner of the building and how he screwed over the former tenant!

After the fire and the fiasco afterward, I could never support any establishment associated with Mike DiNapoli, including the new Lark Tavern. I feel many others feel the same way.

A round corner booth? What is this? Denny's?

Meh, not a fan. It's not the Lark Tavern that I grew to love over the years. I can respect the changes and the modern look they're trying to achieve but half the main reason why it was such a staple when Tess ran it was because it was one of the few remaining bars that had that "vintage Albany" feel to it. It had character and a personality all on its own which made it stand out from other places.

This is a far cry from that and looks like Pearl St. threw up inside.

But good luck to the new owners, the place has potential. I just hope they and their future patrons realize they have some very big shoes to fill.

Dinapoli lost my business in multiple ways. Good luck on lark with this monkey on your back.

Looks nice, but in a generic by-the-numbers way. This could be a bar in any city.

Looks really nice-love the piano bar idea!

Ouch, everyone. To the person saying "Pearl St. threw up inside," let's not forget where Tess relocated to. I loved LTs when Tess was there, but I haven't been to McGeary's yet - I don't care for Pearl St. and don't often have an occasion to go there.

I'm excited to have another Lark/Madison option finally opened up. A piano bar at happy hour!? That sounds worth checking out. Now if only I could kick this cold of doom ...

I wasn't a regular at the previous version of the Lark, but did stop in now and again. With Justin's not offering jazz any longer, could this be its new home?

People will have a short memory of any building owner conflict and the Lark Tavern (looks beautiful in my opinion) will prosper.

That's OK, Albany, go ahead and complain. I'm still griping that they tore down the Chateau Lounge to make room for the Knickerbocker Arena.

Would we rather have another empty store front in Albany? DiNapoli was never going to take Tess back -- no matter what his reasons. I'm happy we have a local with Albany roots who has taken over the building. I'm looking forward to seeing their success.

I stopped in last night to hear some music and to have a snack. Both were excellent. I will be returning tonight for a full meal to try out the rest of the menu. The owners were very nice and it is apparent that they are very passionate about Albany and about providing a nice atmosphere for their customers. It is important to support local small businesses that have just opened their doors (and provided many new community members with new employment). Congratulations and best wishes.

Blegh it looks like a fancier version of an Applebees or some other sports bar. 11 flat screen TVs?

I agree with Ercan's comment. When Tess ran it, it was always packed. Events were very eclectic, and the community supported them. Lots of events raising money for charities, too. Why wouldn't the owner want a thriving business to continue? I won't be going back to the Lark.

@ Ercan and Ike:

The Lark Tavern bashing is getting old. If you're still hung up on Tess and what used to be the weirdo members only club known as Tess' Lark Tavern, do us all a favor and stay down at McGeary's. It was a successful bar with out Tess for many years before she threw her name up on the sign and it now will continue to be.

Be happy an ugly burned out building is now something nice to look at and most importantly, it's making tax revenue for the city and state.

The place looks great! I for one am excited that there is another bar/place to eat on (by) Lark that is not owned by Dejohn. I will be there soon! The kitchen certainly looks cleaner than the old Lark Tavern's did.

As an Albany (Center Square) resident, I'm excited to have a new (old) establishment in the neighborhood. I agree with much of what I read above: No, the charm isn't the same. No, Tess won't be at the helm of the ship. No, it's just not going to be the same. Fact is this: an old Albany landmark was destroyed by fire and everyone have to move on. Would it be best to see the Lark boarded up and continuing to deteriorate for years to come? Or town down and what's left of the history gone all together? I say hats off to the new owners and the wonderful job they've done saving this historic landmark.

Oh, and as for the Tess Collins/Mike DiNapoli drama.... they are both good business people. After the fire they couldn't come to an arrangement that benefited each of them, so they moved on. Tess is doing a wonderful job at McGeary's and I'll continue to support her, and if the Lark offers great food and spirits, I'll have many good times there as well.

I'm a longtime supporter of Tess. I think she got shafted by DiNapoli. I have negative feelings toward him, but those are seperate from my desire to see people like Hancox et al succeed in our city. He's a local guy starting a local business. I think it's hypocritical to try and bring him down. We *want* businesses in this city, not vacant lots!

I think this place looks great. The kitchen, the addition of more bathrooms, the care taken in preserving the facade are all good things to see.

I also like this: "But Ryan, who is also on the city planning board, didn't want to see it knocked it down. "There's a lot of wonderful architecture in this city. It's not always possible to save every building but if you can do it, we believe in saving it."

TVs are a deal breaker for me. Thanks, but if I wanted wall-to-wall LCDs blaring sports contests, there's the Recovery Room.

I see valid points on both sides. Tell you what...I am going to get hammered in both those bars this year.

Opportunism doesn't always get you a win. Sometimes it makes you look bad- and in my opinion, this time thats what has happened.

I haven't ordered a Lou Bea's pizza since I found out they partnered with DiNapoli, whom I also moved my business from and I certainly won't support this new venture. Its like dating someone that cheated on their ex with you and thinking they won't cheat again with someone else.

There is a lot more wrong with Albany than an empty building being rehabbed...this was another continuation of the death of any good culture that survived on Lark Street.

I'm sure those 2 know A LOT about jazz to properly run that part of the business. (they don't)

@save pine hills- stay in PINE HILLS and out of Center Square.

So many assumptions being made here! Who ever said sports events were going to be blaring from every TV? One of the new owners specifically said that wasn't going to happen--that he wanted to display the work of local artists on some of the TVs. Great idea to give exposure to our many talented local artists!

They preserved at least the outside (which was all that survived the fire) by building a new "inner layer". So, it's new and shiny. There is no other choice but new and shiny! The building was a total loss for insurance purchases (meaning it cost more to restore it than the building was worth).

It looks beautiful to me. The ceiling is absolutely stunning!

It seems the new owners have put a lot of care into fixing the place up. They have nothing to do with any dispute between the building owner and the former business owner. Why are people trying to link them?

A burned out hulk vs. a beautiful new business for Albany-is there anyone who would rather it stayed a burned out hulk?

As far as Tess Collins being community-minded and hosting benefits etc, how do you know the new owners won't have the same sense of community?

Give them a chance. I have a feeling this place will be terrific! I haven't been in yet but I do plan to stop in soon, maybe this weekend.

Good luck to them!

Bring back Franks Living Room ...

Everyone's got a point (except the dude who said the old Lark was a "weirdo member's only club" - that's just too stupid to even address), but all that bs aside, the place does seem rather sterile and lacking in personality. I feel the same way about center square pub, it's just a boxy open space with matching tables...seems like wasted potential to me. But maybe that's just how things are, new places always seem generic just cause time hasn't been able to work any character into them yet.

Being shiny and new is one thing -- liking it or not liking it is really a matter of taste or opinion. What is NOT a matter of taste or opinion, however, is the ridiculous placement of the purely decorative strap hinges on the front door. Look at the first photograph. The non-functioning black strap hinges are just randomly screwed onto the door, with no relationship to the actual -- brass -- hinges. At all.

Come on people. This is a historic district. I appreciate the effort to look kind of ye ole, but understand what a hinge is and where it goes and screw it on in the right place, for chrissakes. This is embarrassing. Fix it! And throw a third hinge in the middle, where one belongs, while you're at it!

I like open businesses vs boarded up burnt out buildings.

Now I just want to hear more about the Chateau Lounge! Best of luck to all involved ^_^

This just in: New Lark Tavern isn't dirty enough. Matt Baumgartner to hold a fundraiser.

Anyone wanting to get together and complain about how Chekhov's eleven TV's will *not* be playing sports can meet me at O'Heaneys... first round's on me.

Listen to all the whining and complaining. Politics aside, it looks fantastic. To me this looks like a prohibition era bar (how he intended it), with alot of detail and character. NOT a generic Pearl st. box.

Are you guys looking at the same pictures I am?

Going there for dinner tonight.

@sdr...i actually went to school as a jazz performance major :-)
not sure if jazz is a direction we will go in, but i'm all for it and i know a little something too.

@Pike: Actually, the teacup booth is a staple of the 1950's-1960's classic NYC restaurant, as is the banquette. So it is actually more vintage than Denny's.

I was a regular of the Tavern when Tess ran it and I personally look forward to never spending a single dollar in this new establishment. The renovations have left the bar with zero character and personality. I am going to be boycotting the new "improved" tavern and will encourage others to do the same. If you want a drink or some spectacular food, I advise you to head to McGeary's instead.

It's "members-only". Not either of the versions above.

@David: Frank used to date my mother in law and we've spent quite a few nights by the fire listenting to stories from Frank about his notorious "Living Room". Is it true it had a dirt floor?? And do you happen to remember the address? We're at 160 Quail now and I believe he was on Quail St....was always curious exactly where it was and my MIL can't remember. I've seen it mentioned on another localblog about a year ago - people must have loved Frank's! The man himself was always the character. He's in Florida now, so you might just have to open up your own F'sLR!

Wow, you pro-Tess people crack me up. She has ruined McGeary's, turning Albany's main Irish bar into a dump. And in case you missed it, LT burned to the ground, so it's going to look brand new because it IS brand new inside. Also they said they won't have the tv's on all the time, and are looking to showcase local art on the screens. I say welcome back LT, you've been missed.

We stopped by on Monday - It's really nice inside, and no longer smells (they discovered during the renovations that there was problems with the sewer lines under the bar). I'm looking forward to checking it out as a piano bar and to see/hear the live music
.

"There are 11 flat screen TVs around the bar...'We're looking into trying to get some local artists together and have some of their work on the screens.'"
Here's some videos to get you started ;)

My thoughts:

(1) Sadly, the character the old Lark Tavern developed over the decades was lost forever in the fire. That you can't rebuild.

(2) All new places will have a degree of gloss, and admittedly it is a bit jarring to see the Lark Tavern looking so brand spanking new. Give it some time and that shine will be knocked down for sure. From a construction/design point of view, it looks like they did a darn good job (though the neon light over the bar may be a bit much...). Love the wood wainscotting and brick together.

(3) While I personally cringe at the whole piano bar thing, I know a lot of people love it. May turn out to be a very good decision on their part.

(4) I can appreciate the loyalty shown toward Tess, but vowing never to step foot in the place b/c of DiNapoli seems silly to me. Don't take it out on these new owners.

(5) As as far as the character of the old Lark Tavern goes, let's remember some of the aesthetic changes Tess made when she first bought the place: that ridiculous fake viney stuff that hung from the light fixtures in the back room (ugh), those tackily-painted fluted columns on the stage, the looks-so-good-when-they-do-it-on-those-HGTV-design-shows randomly placed tile job on the table tops that ended up being about 60% grout (and were so uneven that I had to pick where I set my glass so it wouldn't tip over), the beer list written on that mirror (which was almost impossible to read). Hey, Tess was always super nice to us and I liked her a lot. But the character of the Lark Tavern got a kick in the teeth when she took over (and to be fair, the food improved, like, a billion-fold). The place kinda looked like it was accessorized by the gavone Italian grandmothers in my neighborhood in Queens when I was growing up in the 80s. You know, the ones with the plastic on the furniture...

(6) the cook is from McGuire's? Nice.

(7) The old Lark Tavern is gone forever. I will miss it. We need to think of this as a whole new place that's similar to that old place in many ways. Best of luck to the owners.

I love Tess and what she did with the Lark. And I was so irritated about what happened to her that I stopped going to Dinapoli opticians. But I'm not going to hold it against the new owner. I went to the Lark long before Tess owned it and dug it then too. Frankly, I've really missed the space in the Center Square neighborhood. There are few places that are that large that you can bring kids to for a sunday lunch and I really missed it. So kudos to Ryan and Co. for fixing it up, it's an asset to the hood.

These folks have worked hard to create a nice place and from the pics it looks great. I look forward to visiting for F&B. Don't punish the new owners for reopening the LT. It makes zero sense.

Visited for dinner last night; the wood interior is gorgeous, the piano music was fun to sing (quietly) along with and not too overpowering. Overall, everything was well done, excluding my perfectly cooked medium-rare burger, and I will definitely be back soon, especially if they keep up with $3 happy hour drafts (the Dirty Penny ale is delicious)

Haters will hate, but I think it's the vehement protests against this place that made me want to check it out so badly. What's that saying about bad publicity?

I'm so happy to see lark tavern open a new chapter. Going there tonight.

I'm going to go to Lark Tavern every day and spend hundreds of dollars just to piss of the hating hipsters.

Reminds me of when Crossgates expanded the early 90s & everyone decided to boycott it because it destroyed the karner blue butterfly habitat. Or when Walmart expanded a couple of years ago and everyone decided to boycott that because it was taking customers away from mom and pop stores. So, clearly Lark Tavern has a lot to worry about because both of those businesses are suffering greatly.

That wasn't sewage stinking up LT, it was Axe from across the street at Lionheart.

Went to the "New" Lark Tavern tonight for dinner with friends. I came home starving! The decor and atmosphere were beautiful but the food was disappointing and the service was poor. I ordered a dinner Cobb Salad (no bacon) with honey mustard dressing on the side. The salad ingredients were fresh and delicious but was too small of a portion to satisfy a dinner hunger., and NOT worth$11.99 at all. I could of went to Jurors and got a satisfying "small" Cobb Salad for $8.25. The waitress was slow and inattentive. The bartender also had trouble making me a martini. What a martini??? I wont go back there to eat. I hope they do better with the music. Very disappointing! :(

All this bickering, get over yourselves people and get off of Tess' "you know what"!

If you consider yourself an 'Albanian' and someone who resides or frequents Lark St. or any other area in Albany, how in the world can you not support, or at the very least wish well for the backers of a new establishment. I know I know, it's not "new"....I get it!

I'm glad I rarely find myself in Albany anymore-folks try so damn hard to portray this image of "not caring" but in essence, they're a bunch of bickering whiners!

It's unfortunate.

I was visiting Albany this weekend and stopped at the Lark Tavern Saturday night for a hamburger and a beer. My wife ordered a salad and coconut shrimp. We thought the food was great.

Let me get this straight. A bar burns to the ground. The new owner rebuilds it to suit his vision. People moan about how it's not the same place. Sigh. This is just the pathetic response I would expect from die-hard "Albanians." Would you please stop whining about the past so that the rest of us can enjoy a future with fewer boarded-up buildings, mediocre restaurants and limited cultural offerings?

Simply put, I don't like it. Its boring and predictable. I wasn't suprised by anything other than it was empty, quiet, and the lounge singer was deplorable. We got 3 menu's and in an empty bar nobody came over to see if we had questions or wanted to order food. So we didn't. I won't go back. If I want Pearl Street I can go there.

I predict these things with almost 100% accuracy after 15 years in the business.

Epic Fail.

die-hard "Albanians" are who decide what makes it and what doesn't in that neighborhood. Cater to the crowd, not your dreams. If that is your idea of "business" build a bar in your basement. When is the last time you saw a guy in a suit at a bar on Lark Street? That is what it looks like they envisioned, news flash, guys in suits don't head to lark street to drink and eat.

> die-hard "Albanians" are who decide what makes it and
> what doesn't in that neighborhood.

I love Albany and I've decided to give the new place a chance. Hope it's fine with you.

> Cater to the crowd, not your dreams.

Or stick to your vision (be it artistic, culinary or whatnot), refine and hang in there while self-appointed die-hard Albanians bark up the tree. If it fails, at least you tried.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. On the night I tried the new Lark, the old would have been packed. I started going there in 1995 and have seen it through a lot of changes. Some I liked, some I didn't, but it was always the Lark Tavern.

If you are going to completely change a place, start with the name. I understand the name and why it is what it is but they in now way "honored" it with the decor. People hear that name and they have an expectation. It simply is not what you expect. Truthfully I may have been more excited about it if it was completely new. Just my opinion...

Nowhere did I say don't go or don't bother, I said I won't be back. By all means check it out, and if you like it, head to Pearl Street, you will LOVE it there.

From a business standpoint, if I found myself in the awful position of opening a restaurant or bar I wouldn't have done so much to change a place that was killing it on a nightly basis. I own my own business, I know what it is to give it all up and chase your dream having done it successfully. Again, in my opinion only, this was a mistake. If it turns out to be incredibly successful I will be happy to be wrong.

I'm not a Tess freak although I do like her overall. I am not a Lark Tavern freak, although I liked it. I am a fan of Albany being successful. I own my home in the city and have a stake in its ultimate failure or success. So hardcore Albanian, guilty as charged. I am about filling empty buildings with something that will last, something that makes a neighborhood better. Personally I don't think that neighborhood needed another bar open until 4am.

Okay, I have lived in Albany all my life and spent many years on Lark St. Enjoying the bars and restaurants that have come and gone over the years. I have always liked Lark Tavern for the atmosphere and the food. Good music, drinks and food. Well then it burned up and this was my first visit since they rebuilt. Well I won't be back, the building is nice but feels like its a chain trying to be all dank, jazzy cool they way it used to be. The food was horrible, the quote on quote crispy fries were so soggy and not crispy at all we left pretty much the whole basket. The nachos were horrible, the meat topping was cheap and the cheese was no better then the cheese from a can and the chips were so salty it was over whelming they were just bad. Then the wings first off it wasn't even a full dozen, or even 10 it was 8 wings for $9.00 way over priced. We ordered medium, once again disappointed the sauce was so spicy and salty that I had one and my friend took just a bite of one. I can't stand when cooks kill everything with salt and I can see that's what the new cooks and owners are going for. Then to top it all off the menu stated that all appetizers were half off Mon-Fri. from 4pm-7pm. We get the bill and we were charged full price for the wings, when we asked the waitress about the price she looked at us and then the bill and said "oh the wings are not included in that special and I said oh okay, then maybe you should state that on your menu. Over all do not waste your money on bad, low quality food. No rush to go back.

My grandfather, Donato, opened the Lark Tavern after prohibition was repealed. Donato sold it to Glen Maugere who was killed in NYC. His family took it over and had some terrible medical problems. Gail Maugere was the only one left. She sold it to Tess. During that whole time the Lark was run on tradition from my grandfather on down. Now, it is no more. There will never be another Lark Tavern. I stopped at the "new" one last year. The menu had the "history" of the place. What a joke, no history. The bartender was wearing sandals and was about as personable as a wet dishrag.

DiNapoli and the rest of the crew. You are dead to me!!

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