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The major design themes: stone, wood, and green. Even though it's new, it feels cozy.

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From the back, looking toward the front door.

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The building was gutted and completely renovated, opening up the second floor -- where an apartment was previously -- for the bar. Not pictured: a nice spot with a fire place on the second floor.

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Looking down on to the bar.

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Stopping in at the Madison Pour House

Madison Pour House exterior

The new Madison Pour House opened this week after a long renovation of its space in the commercial strip where Madison Ave and Western Ave converge in uptown Albany. The craft beer bar is offering a rotating selection of 40 beers on tap, along with two casks and a selection of 60 bottles it's aiming to grow to 100, and a handful of pub snacks.

As many of you know, the Pour House is in the spot formerly occupied by the Albany location of Mahar's, a longtime favorite of beer enthusiasts, known for some of its idiosyncratic ways. When word spread early last year that the building had been sold to a group already operating three other restaurants on the block, and that Mahar's would be closing, it ruffled a few feathers. Mahar's had some passionate fans.

So we stopped into the Madison Pour House this week to get a look at the rebuilt space, and talk for a few minutes with one of the owners about their plans for the new place, and winning over fans of the former spot.

Brian Viglucci is one of the owners of the BM&T Management Group, which owns the Madison Pour House, as well as Cafe Madison, The Point, and Junior's. All four establishments are on the same strip on Madison Ave.
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What's the idea you were working with here, what were you trying to build in the new place?

Obviously, the place before, Mahar's, had a great reputation and we're trying to develop our own reputation as a far as a craft beer bar. We're trying to build up our own style, behind serving people. You know, a big part of us is the design of the place, the layout of the place. We've built something that we hopefully will enjoy, hopefully that our staff will put the heart in the place, but the big thing is the customers that come in, they will create the personality of the place.

So, what the Pour House is now, probably over the next month to two months to six months to two years, you'll see changes that we get through our customers giving us ideas, our customers saying we miss this or we like this or we've seen this somewhere else. And just learning stuff as far as making it more efficient.

Madison Pour House looking down on to bar

Mahar's had a lot of fans, and it was a very distinct place. It had its own way of doing things. And there were some people who were a little upset or miffed about the way everything went down there at the end with Mahar's. So how do you plan to win those people over?

I met a couple of them last night [at the grand opening]. We've met several of them over the last year and a couple months. We're not going to be Mahar's. We are going to offer great beer, which Mahar's did.

I met a guy last night who came in and he was a Mahar's follower, and he said, "I can't get a beer" -- last night was very busy -- "there's no service pick up area." He goes, "That was the one good thing that Mahar's had." So, I said, that's an excellent idea. I'm here, I'm trying to watch people get to the bar, and it was difficult to get to the bar. So I sat down with him, I talked to him for probably 15-20 minutes, met with [Dan Savage], our general manager, have a call into our designer to try to figure out how to create a service spot at the bar, make it easier for people to walk up and grab a drink. So I thought that was a great idea.

We're just going to try to be who we are and do we what we do well. A lot of people take criticism and don't listen to it, or get defensive about it, but that's not us. At the end of the day, if they want to give us a chance, fantastic. But at the end of the day, if they're not going to give us that chance, then there's not much I can do about it.

Do you think that's a big issue, that a lot of people are going to hold that against you? Because, fairly or not, there were some people who felt that you bumped Mahar's out of their spot.

[A few bits of background: At the time of the sale around the beginning of 2013 Mahar's owner Jim Mahar told the Times Union that he felt "a little betrayed and kind of shellshocked" by how the previous property owner handled the sale of the building, a point Mahar echoed when AOA contacted him about it at the time.]

That's the story that was in the paper and stuff, and I'm sure that's the story that certain people will tell.

We were brought the opportunity to buy Mahar's [the building, not the business itself] [by] the grandson, who took over the property once I think it was his grandmother passed away. We said we love Mahar's, we love the concept of Mahar's, we think it's a good fit for the block, go offer them first. If you can't come up with a deal, come back to us.

Probably a month later, six weeks later, he came back and said he couldn't put a deal together with them. So he said, "Do you guys want to buy it? Or we're going to put it on the market."

Well, obviously, we like the neighborhood, we have quite an investment in the neighborhood, and we wanted to make sure if somebody did buy that property, that it would be something that fit into the neighborhood, and we liked the idea. A lot of the staff, as well as lot of the customers were coming down to us, saying the handwriting is on the wall, they're not getting any more drafts, the business is going down, the place is falling apart, they're going to be around for a couple weeks more or whatever it was. So that was hearsay that we heard. So at that point we decided we wanted to buy the property. The guy told us a number, we agreed to it, and we bought it. That's the truth, that's our side of it.

Once we bought the building for that price, we couldn't rent it to him at a number that he would afford to pay. And the building was falling apart. It was literally falling in, the floor was falling in, there was rot in the basement, the plumbing was not great, there were electrical wires sticking out of the wall, the upstairs apartment the roof was caving in. So we basically had to demo the whole place.

And me and Mahar have talked, too. We've emailed. We've talked. In the emails I have from him, he doesn't seem like he's all too upset about it. In the emails I said to him, this is what's going on, we were presented an opportunity to buy the place, we were told that you had an opportunity and refused, when would you like to move out? He gave a date he'd like to move out. We didn't charge him rent the last few months so he could save up money. So, you know, we did our best to make it work.

Madison Ave strip of restaurants

Your company has invested a lot of money in this block, now with four places [Junior's, The Point, Cafe Madison, Pour House]. When you looked at this spot, what was it about this spot that made you confident about investing -- and continuing to build?

We like the block. We like the neighborhood. We all grew up in this neighborhood. It's a walking neighborhood.

I think with the addition of The Point we were really able to get people from other areas to start coming to this block. You know, where Junior's is more people who live within a mile radius, The Point brought people from Guilderland, Voorheesville, more of the five-to-ten mile radius. People saw this area as a nice place to go out at nighttime, to maybe to go between the Point and Junior's. There's probably a percentage who will go to both places. We figured if we could add another place where maybe people at the Pour House would go to The Point, but maybe not to Junior's. Or people at Junior's would go to the Pour House. And maybe create a destination where people would hang out for a Friday night or a Monday night, maybe. Or we throw bridal showers during the day at The Point, well, the husbands and future husbands go over to Junior's and watch the game during the bridal shower. So it kind of creates a little entertainment district in the heart of Albany.

In 2000, when you started Junior's, could you imagine that this strip would turn into what it is today?

No. Probably not. It's funny, though, I did have a Saint Rose business plan [from college], which mapped out my three-year, five-year plan. And it was always to grow in the restaurant business. It showed where I would be after three or five years with Tony [Lounello] and Mike [Viglucci]. Where we are now is very similar to where I wanted to be, but I had no idea it would be all in one area. So I thought it was pretty funny to read the business plan.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Find It

The Madison Pour House
1110 Madison Ave
Albany, NY 12208

Comments

Beautiful. Love the open ceiling, beams, stone wall and upstairs.

I'll still miss Mahars, but they did a really great job with it... can't wait to check it out in person

Oh god, this hurts my soul to look at. I've still got a bad taste in my mouth over the way Mahar's was forced out.

Looks like Gaston's from Beauty and the Beast

Yeah, this is not a good thing for anyone with great memories from that old watering hole. And what about that poor (pour?) soul staring at a screen all alone on the second floor. Someone buy him a beer, please.

If what they say is true, that the building had been falling in on itself - whether or not the state of it was the renter's or the rentor's - Mahar's would have been forced out anyway and it sounds like it would have been in pretty short order.

Business is business, and I have no connection to any of the new group's places, but Mahar's at the end was not the great bar with the great reputation. It was going downhill steadily (and dramatically) for a long time, and you can't put that on the owner of the building (that side of it all went down in just a couple months, apparently.)

I'd be happy if Mahars and it's clientele would invest in a vacant storefront at Quail and Madison. It's hurting...

If everything they said was 100% true, I still think it's a dick move to open up a beer bar in its place. You will not get me in there.

If everything in this interview is true (about him telling the old owner to try to sell it to Mahars first), i'd give this place a chance. I say that as a great fan of Mahars.

I like the second floor too.

@slacker, it quite clearly states in the interview with Brian V. that they DIDN'T force Mahar's out. Mahar's couldn't reach a deal with the previous owner after BM&T told the owner to give Mahar's first refusal.

Yes, but have they mastered the dead-eyed stare Mahar's patrons used to get when ordering incorrectly?

If bill the bartender was offered a job. I would come back

Imagine a place that was falling down, didn't welcome new customers, treated people paying them like crap and had nothing unique to offer as they were just reselling beer other people made, couldn't stay in business. I just don't see the flaw in their business model.

I can almost guarantee you that Mahar's had no financial means to buy the place. Had they run their place better, they probably would. Blaming this on Viglucci is a idiotic joke, it really is. Mahars was run absolutely awful.

Based on what I've heard, everything in the interview is NOT true concerning buying opportunities made available to Mahar before the Viglucci deal was struck. If Bill Dean ends up working there that would take the curse off and is literally the only thing that would make me ever consider going in the place. Otherwise, not interested.

I don't understand how people are still not over the supposed "forcing out" of mahars.

I loved mahars and I miss it. I live 3 blocks a way and I was a regular. But all the regulars knew the writing was on the wall. The place was amazing back in the day, but the last couple of years were way downhill.

Mahars himself said to me he didn't care, since he didn't like a place that was so crowded and popular. He had already moved on to castleton. There is no doubt the place would have been closed within a year regardless of bmt etc.

Anyway, I just got back from the pourhouse and I think it's great. It is most certainly not mahars. If you are going expecting mahars, you will not like it.

But it remains a place with great beer and a warm atmosphere. Where folks can actually talk and enjoy conversation with good but not overpowering music in the background. In these ways it is like mahars, and that is all that matters. A great addition to the neighborhood.

It looks lovely but no one there will welcome me home when I walk in. I'm sure it will make new fans but it would break my heart without Bill.

looks like an irish bar would look if it were in disney world... do we get mickey ears at the door?

to bmt: BRING BILL BACK! break the curse, give me back my home! until that time, i'll see everyone at lionheart.

I've seen many of my favorite bars come and go in this town, from my college days (Lamp Post, Long Branch, O's, Franks Living Room, etc.) If I VOWED to never again enter these places under their new ownership, I'd have no place to go. Things change, bars change, get over it.

Ciaran is back behind the stick on Thursdays.

It's too bad some people won't give a new place a chance solely based on the fact that it has replaced something else but hey, that is their right. There are places I am not interested in going, my reasons are my reasons and everyone is entitled to their opinion. One bar can't be all things to all people and it shouldn't try to be. And while I understand being upset when a place you've frequented for years and loved and felt was "your place" is no longer there I don't understand the anger that is still clearly seething in some over the change. Anyone who knows even a little bit about what happened here knows that Jim Mahar was almost an entire year behind in rent by the time he moved out and the business itself had been going downhill even longer than that. The writing was clearly on the wall and had been for some time. So if you still feel the need to be angry about this (though I'm not sure why you would given it's been a year since this all went down) the person to be angry at is Jim Mahar...he's the one who let you down. He admitted he didn't care anymore and he just plain gave up. It's too bad but like a previous poster said, things change and businesses change...that's life. It would be nice if we all could move on and wish The Pour House & BMT well in the new venture.

don't worry, everyone in Troy had a meltdown about Holmes and Watson closing and Finnbar going in.....now "everyone" loves Finnbar. I'm sure they will forget sooner or later.

For those that loved Mahar's and had such an emotional connection to it; Did any of you ever talk to the staff or the owner about what you clearly saw as problems that could potentially end his business? You all knew they existed. If I loved a place dearly and knew the owner or knew staff members I would tell them about the issues and I would be doing them a favor. You have a tale of two bar/restaurant owners here. You have one that employed rude staff and let their place fall into shambles and you have one that through quality product is building a small restaurant empire. I went to Mahar's once and was treated poorly and never returned. I have never felt like that once at a Viglucci establishment and can't wait to try the Pour House.

I agree with a lot of the comments that Mahar's at one point was the beer bar that everybody enjoyed going to and try new exotic craft beer. Times have changed and bars like the Bier Abby and The Ruck have upped the ante and Mahar's couldn't keep up. As someone who enjoyed Mahar's for what it was back in the day I look forward to trying the Pour House my only questions are they going to put bar stools up at the bar?

What's the fuss? Mahars was a dump and the bartenders were rude.

Paul - well said.

I miss Farfields!

I was in the Pourhouse the other day and enjoyed it. The beer selection is quite good - not phenomenal, but really solid, with a decent amount of style diversity (no Belgian triples or dubbels, though, which was a little surprising - though they did have the Tilquin Gueze ands Scaldis Noel on tap, though, which were both excellent). Hopefully, they continue to maintain a high standard in re: the number, quality and diversity of beer they offer on draft and rotate their beer selection often. If so, they'll be around for a long time.

They should definitely put posts up on their Facebook page whenever they tap a new keg that's of any note, at all. I can virtually guarantee that will get people coming in more often then they otherwise would, and would actually be a service to their customers (if they're going to have something like Duchesse de Bourgone, Chimay Triple, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, Old Rasputin or some other such brew on draft, I'd like to know about that before it's kicked).

I had some of their food - a toastie with house made chips and pickles on the side - and liked it a lot. Nothing fancy, but it hit the spot and was very satisfying.

The staff was friendly, responsive and relatively knowledgeable about the beer and food offerings.

I really liked the atmosphere of the place - warm and relatively comfortable. I love the fact that they have an upstairs room - it provides a good amount of extra space, they have table service up there and the fireplace is a nice touch.

A couple of relatively minor suggestions, in case someone from there happens to read this:

(1) I was glad to see that the possibility of adding a "customer ordering only" area at the bar was mentioned in the interview above, because that would definitely be a welcome improvement. It's not a huge place, of course, so when it's a bit crowded, its basically shoulder to shoulder people along the bar and it was tough to get in there to place an order. An "ordering only" spot (like Mahar's had) would certainly be helpful.

(2) The place really needs coat hooks - and they should be all over the place. It's obviously cold out, so pretty much everyone was wearing a coat, and there was nowhere to put them - I heard several people remarking on that. I and the people I was with had no place to hang our coats, either while standing at the bar or when seated upstairs. Most people had to keep their coats on the whole time they were inside, and those who took them off were just laying their coats on the floor, or precariously draping them over the upstairs railing overlooking the bar and hoping they didn't slip off and hit someone below. You should really add coat hooks along the bar itself (like they have at the Lionheart), between all the tables upstairs, and if at all possible, on the pillars downstairs.

Re: Mahar's and its closing - I was a big fan of Mahar's back in the day, and had been going there since 1993, but as others have noted, it had declined noticeably in its final years. As much as I once loved the place, and still miss it, it really seemed like it was only a matter of time until it closed, anyway.

At its height, it had one of the best beer selections I've ever seen, anywhere (to this day), but by 2012 its once long list of tap selections was getting noticeably shorter, and while still good, was no longer remarkable. Quite frankly, it was being outshined by several other beer-centric pubs in the area by 2012. I really thought the change there was obvious and a couple of other people remarked on it to me long before Mahar's closed.

The change in quantity and quality of the beer on tap there was to the point that I told a friend in mid-2012 (many months before the building was sold) that I suspected Mahar's was going to be closing in the not-too-distant future, either because Mahar had decided to close of his own accord or because they weren't doing enough business to stay open. I couldn't think of any other reason why there would be such a noticeable decline in the tap selection - especially with the opening of so many other relatively high quality beer-centric pubs in the area that were natural competitors for the same clientele. I was honestly surprised when Mahar claimed in that Times Union interview that he was only closing because he was getting kicked out of the building - it really looked to me like he had been planning for a while to possibly close the Albany pub and just focus on the Castleton location.

Personally, as much as I liked Mahar's, I find it hard to blame BM & T for its closing . . .

I miss Mahar's. I had so many great times there...I just wish I could remember even one of them.

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