Tuesday, October 28, 2014

No more Mahar's?

If you’ve been around the Capital District beer scene for a while, no doubt you’re familiar with the name Mahar’s. This was the eponymously-named bar that opened on Madison Avenue all the way back in 1989 and ran until 2013. Beer lovers in this area tend to have at least one fond memory of the venue, since it was pretty much the only place around here that served craft beer (until recent years, that is).

In July of 2010, a second Mahar’s Public Bar opened in the sleepy village of Castleton-on-Hudson in southern Rensselear County. When the Albany location shuttered in February of 2013, most news stories and blogs on its closing mentioned the Castleton location in passing. I remember seeing so many comments on these articles to the extent of “There’s a second Mahars? How did I not know this?” Perhaps that sentiment is indicative of why this Mahar’s is now closing as well.
Back in September, Jim Mahar sent this message out to his mailing list:
RETIREMENT
FOR THE PAST FEW MONTHS I’VE BEEN HANGING AROUND THE CASTLETON BAR.  READING, WATCHING GAMES AND OLD MOVIES AND RECEIVING GUESTS FOR A PINT OR TWO OF RAVENSHEAD DRAFT BEER.  SINCE WE ARE ABOUT TO LOSE THE BUILDING, WE ARE SELLING OFF ALL THE FURNITURE, DECORATIONS AND EQUIPMENT.  MY FINAL PROJECT IS COMPLETED – AN ENGLISH BITTER BREWED (FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 100 YEARS) WITH HUDSON RIVER WATER.
ALLEN STREET PUB
OUR FRIENDS AT THE ALLEN STREET PUB HAVE ACTIVATED THE ALBANY MAHAR’S BEER TOUR.  THEY ARE CARRYING A NICE SELECTION OF DRAFT, CASK AND BOTTLED BEER.  IF YOU DID NOT PICK UP YOUR MUG BEFORE WE CLOSED YOU WILL FIND THERE.  CHECK OUT THEIR WEBSITE AT WWW.ALLENSTREETPUB.COM.
RAVENSHEAD BREWERY
BRENNON CLEARY CONTINUES TO FIGHT FOR A FRESH START SINCE THE COHOES PROJECT ENDED.  WE HAVE TURNED OVER OUR WEBSITE, ITSONLYBEER.COM TO HIM AND ARE ABOUT TO TURN OVER THIS MAILING LIST AS WELL.  A KICK START WILL BE POSTED WITHIN THE WEEK – KICKSTARTER.COM – RAVENSHEAD BREWERY
According to my sources, Ravens Head has been brewing in the building that houses Mahar’s for some time. I notice people have been checking into their brews at both Mahar’s and the Allen Street Pub on Untappd for about a year and a half. It seems that Ravens Head would like to buy the building at 15 South Main Street, but who owns that property and what’s happening with it remains a mystery as of now. The Ravens Head website is poorly designed with typos galore and broken links. I could not find a Kickstarter for Ravens Head anywhere.

I’m not sure it’s a good idea to start a brewery in that location, anyway. The Stewart’s shop right across the street just closed. In fact, Castleton-on-Hudson seems to be on the verge of becoming a ghost town, according to this story by Chris Churchill. If a staple New York business like Stewarts cannot survive there, what makes Ravens Head think they can? That building would seem to be too small to house a full production brewery, and the location is not ideal if they want to do a brewpub (or even keep the bar as is). Even though Castleton is just seven miles south of Rensselear on Route 9J, there’s just nothing else in the vicinity that would attract patrons there. With the downtown Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga, and Troy scenes flourishing with craft beer bars and microbreweries, I doubt there will be much a reason for residents of those areas to trek out to Castleton just for one brewery. That’s probably why they didn’t go all the way out there for one bar, either.
What do you think:
  1. Did you ever visit the Castleton location? If so, how did you like it compared to their Albany bar?
  2. Should the Mahars try opening another bar in the Capital District? If so, where?
  3. Have you ever had any of the Ravens Head brews?
  4. Should Ravens Head open a brewery at that location?
MY MEMORIES OF CASTLETON MAHAR’S:
I visited it a few times and I enjoyed it for the most part. It’s a much different vibe than the Madison Avenue bar. Whereas the Albany location was usually frequented by professionals and college students, the Castleton bar harkened back to times where the village pub was the place everyone came to socialize. I literally saw entire families with children in there (kids should not be allowed in bars, IMO).
Depending on when you visited, Castleton Mahar’s could be just as packed as a downtown bar at Happy Hour, or as empty and quiet as bar in the middle of nowhere (which is what it was, essentially).
This location actually had something of a food menu. I would almost always order a “toastie” (Panini) which would come with a side of macaroni or potato salad, potato chips, and a pickle spear for only $5.
The beer selection was not that great, though. They only had about 10 taps, with Guinness and Strongbow almost always on and the rest populated by snoozers such as Middle Ages and Davidson Brothers. They did offer their own beer “tour,” with the same rewards at the same intervals as the Madison Avenue tour. In fact, I was up to 40-something beers on my tour, which is a bummer because I only needed a few more to get the Castleton Mahar’s t-shirt.
I would usually go on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon at lunch and spend a couple hours there. I’d stick with half pint pours on all my drafts, as there was a limit of four beers per day you could add to your tour. Also, drinking 40oz over the course of a few hours means I could still drive home afterwards.

It was interesting that the Mahars themselves – Jim, Laurie, and even daughter Caitlin – would tend bar there. I was a regular at the Albany location from 2007 until its closing and I never saw them. Bill, Murph, Gene, Kirian, and Jeremy were the bartenders I knew.

When the Castleton location opened I vowed to visit it bi-monthly, which eventually become quarterly, and then became semi-annually. Craft beer bars have been popping up in the Capital District like weeds in the last few years, and established locations have been stepping up their selection as well. Between The Bier Abbey, The Ruck and Madison Pour House, there really isn’t any reason for me to take the trip out to Castleton for beer. I suspect the vast majority of craft beer drinkers in the area feel the same way, and that’s probably why Castleton Mahar’s is now folding.