How can the Madison Pour House fill Mahar’s shoes?

Ways that the Madison Pour House can fill Mahar’s shoes


No one wants to admit this, but beer culture will continue to thrive in Albany long after Mahar’s shuts their doors tonight.  For so long, it seems that Mahar’s has operated in an economic vacuum by creating a beer club environment for their friends.  That client base is one thing that Mahar’s had going right, but that was largely due to the dedication of the regulars and long time patrons of the bar.

Today’s post isn’t so much positioned to expose where Mahar’s failed, but to make recommendations for the Madison Pour House.  So that they can continue a legacy of beer connoisseur culture at the Madison Avenue Split.  The Albany beer market has evolved over the past couple years.  Today we have several specialty beer bars in Albany Proper. The Merry Monk, Olde English Pub, Gastropub and the City Beer Hall are just a couple that have opened up shop within the last couple years.  They offer comparable selection, but also add value by pairing pub fare with their high brow ales and lagers.
I’ve made recommendations to the guys behind the bar at Mahar’s, but it seems as though they sat stagnant for too long and allowed the rest of the city to play catch up.  Having earned a Mug, I’ve spent plenty of time making sense of Mahar’s business model while enjoying casked condition stouts and porters.  Below are a couple recommendations that I’ll provide in this open forum for the Madison Pour House to ponder over.
1. Keep the Beer Tour
What made Mahar’s special was their beer database.  The software isn’t anything too complex and could easily be recreated, but the Madison Pour House needs to update the algorithm as much as they will need to update the old, dusty interior.  The beer tour is great because it keeps people coming back, one of the flaws of Mahar’s beer tour is that it wasn’t smart enough.  There are several ways to build out a more sophisticated beer tour, a way where by BM&T Management can leverage their assets on the Madison Split block.
2. Build a Smarter Database
I chose Mahar’s as my bar when I moved to Albany in 2006 because I knew that was the best pub for me to get up to speed on beer culture.  Mahar’s database has tracked and associated 180 beers with me, but never did Mahar’s database use that database to add value to our relationship.  The Madison Pour House needs to have a database that is capable of making recommendations to their patrons.  This is to say that a relational database needs to be created so as to correlate customer trends.  Build a database that is capable of tracking what time of day the customer had the beer, the origin of the beer, the style of the beer, the alcohol by volume, who brewed the beer.  Having this information will allow the database, and application to show customers that you’re capable of making sophisticated decisions without having Bill behind the bar.
3. Leverage Assets on Madison Ave
As many of you may know, BM&T Management largely owns the Madison split block.  Some may think that is a local monopoly, but I say it works because the company has managed to cultivate several unique locations that are all within walking distance.  As it stands today, someone drinking a beer at Mahar’s would have to walk over to Junior’s or the Point to grab a bite to eat because of Mahar’s limited food menu.  My recommendation to BM&T Management here is to have the option for the Madison Pour House Beer Tour carry over into any of the other locations.  This would be strategic because it could extend and integrate the beer culture throughout Cafe Madison, Junior’s and the Point.
This isn’t to say that the other locations need to have the same level of detail when it comes to beer connoisseurs, but the option should be made available to patrons that wish to drink on their Madison Pour House beer tour when they’re casually dining at one of BM&T Management’s other locations.
4. Use the Beer Data
Mahar’s did little to nothing to take advantage of all of their rich data.  There are several ways that Mahar’s could have used their data to build revenue streams.  Say if Mahar’s took their slowest day of the month and turned it into an event where customers were able to drink a beer that they’ve already had, and make it count towards their beer tour multiple times.  This could be beneficial for the Madison Pour House because it can be used to determine which types of beers that customers are more likely to choose when they have the option to drink beer that has already been crossed off of their beer tour.
Assuming that the Madison Pour House does keep the beer tour culture, allowing customers to drink from their beer tour list could provide multiple advantages.  First, it would ensure that the beer inventory continues to be consumed, but without penalizing customers whom have already had that given beer.  Second, it can show customers value by giving them a reminder of what they have had before.  Currently there isn’t a way for me to tell which beers that I did have at Mahar’s and the business could be missing out on a potential sale if that item was listed.  Thirdly, allowing customers to see what they have purchased in the past shows them what they have invested into the businesses.  This is important as it could build a long standing relationship with the business.  Finally, allowing customers to purchase beers that have already been purchased could be marketed as a special event.  It wouldn’t be an every day phenomenon to let customers have beer tour items counted twice.  This could be used to drive customers into the the establishment on a particular slow day, and could be used for a marketing campaign.
5. Keep Using the Beer Data
Having a rich database can inform business decisions.  If the BM&T Management Group had customer level data for their Madison Pour House, that could be carried over to the other Madison Avenue locations, they would be able to anticipate trends and better manage their beer inventory.  No one else in the capital region would have as much rich customer data as the Madison Pour House could provide.  Even if the Madison Pour House had to build their data from the ground up, without having Bill and Mahar’s original dataset, they would be able to more accurately collect data that better reflects what the beer connoisseur market looks like today.  The value here is that the Madison Pour House can use their beer tour data to determine return on investment for different styles of beer, as well as different breweries and any other traceable item within the database.  The Madison Pour House could leverage this data in order to make smarter business decisions and to ensure that their beer menu is the most carefully cultivated one in the Capital Region.  This is vital to the Madison Pour House as they have big shows to fill – let’s not forget that Mahar’s is a multiple time ‘best beer bar’ winner in the area.
6. Add Charcuterie to the Mix
Okay, full disclosure here.  This is a purely selfish recommendation.  Personally, I love pairing beer with cured meats and cornichons.  However, the market is evolving and BM&T largely caters to anyone looking to dine out.  The Madison Pour House needs to be strategic in capturing their niche.  Ultimately BM&T Management Group needs to be able to fine tune the Madison Pour House so that it doesn’t cannibalize any of their other locations.  A unique, small eats menu would be perfect for the Madison Pour House because it cuts down on the amount of cognitive dissonance that could be faced by customers.  If the Madison Pour House wants to keep Mahar’s current customers, they need to ensure that they can take what Mahar’s did and make it better with a much needed face lift.  A full menu might not be the most important piece to the Pour House’s dynamic, but some locally sourced charcuterie from the Cheese Traveler, located on Delaware Ave, could really enhance the beer culture and experience as a whole.

Albany’s Beer Culture will Survive

Mahar’s has a long standing reputation among my friends and the professors that I have studied under.  It’s hard to deny the impact that the place has had on me, but I believe that Madison Avenue needs to continue to develop economically.  It’s a pocket in Albany that has only been on the rise and I firmly believe that the Pour House has the potential to push the revitalization further.  Unlike other mug owning members of Mahar’s beer tour, my mug was never etched.  I would love it if the Madison Pour House kept the rich beer tradition going at the Madison Split in Albany, with or without the mug.
Thanks a ton,