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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 20, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 20
Madison Pub birthday celebrating 25 years
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Madison Pub birthday celebrating 25 years

by Anthony Greer - SGN Contributing Writer

Madison Pub, one of Seattle's most laid-back and comfortable neighborhood bars, celebrated their 25th anniversary on May 14.

'We had happy hour all day and pretty much had a good time,' Roland Hyre, Madison Pub's current owner, said. 'We gave away money prizes every hour on the hour, and at 10 p.m. I walked around and gave everybody a coupon for our 25th anniversary T-shirts. I ended up giving away about 200 of them. That was pretty much it - no marching bands or clowns or anything else like that.'

While the celebrating continues and the '25th Anniversary' banner still hangs over the bar, the Pub's staff and patrons have experienced an abundance of changes, expansions, and managerial transitions. Despite this, the Pub has remained very similar in its appeal since its opening a quarter-century ago.

In May of 1986, Chet Herald bought a small tavern on Madison Street, remodeled it, and turned it into a Gay bar with red and black d├ęcor and simple tables that made people feel at home.

'What I fell in love with when I first walked into the Madison Pub was that it was a neat and tidy neighborhood bar,' Michael Lull, who was hired by Herald six months after the bar opened, said. 'I asked Chet if I could work there, and he said yes. I really liked the idea that he wanted to keep it as everybody's living room, complete with pool tables and dartboards. I think that the concept's carried on to this day.'

Lull went on to buy the Pub from Herald in 1995, after working there for nine years.

'As a bartender there, I loved it,' Lull said. 'I enjoyed bantering with people and I just enjoyed myself. I tried to be a friend and listen when they had troubles. Once I bought the place and started managing it, it didn't really change much. At one point in my life I felt like I had more friends than just about anybody. I think that most people that work there or have worked there genuinely like the place.'

Joey Perkins, a bartender at the Pub, agrees. 'This bar is like my living room, and I think that a lot of us feel that way.'

Lull said that even though he was the owner and the staff were his employees, he rarely called them such. He liked to think of the whole staff as his co-workers. 'I wanted to make them feel as if they were an integral part of the bar, and I genuinely thought that each of them were.'

About five or six years ago, Lull was looking to retire and had Hyre take over as manager. Hyro became the official owner on January 1, 2011 so that Lull could retire in Ocean Shores.

'He pretty much did everything and was the obvious choice when I sold it [the bar],' Lull said.

Hyre first started working at the bar in March of 1992. 'I got out of the navy in '91 and spent six months kicking back and not doing much of anything, and this was my hangout. They were looking for a barback and I honestly had the time, so that's how I started here. I did a couple of barback shifts and then starting bartending, and that's just how it went.'

Back in the '80s and '90s, the Pub only sold beer and wine, but because so many other bars had hard alcohols as well, the staff decided to make the transition in 2000 to have a full bar.

Not everyone on the staff was enthusiastic about this change.

'I fought tooth and nail to keep from having hard alcohol here because I was afraid that it was going to effect the flavor of the bar,' Perkins said.

Shortly after Madison Pub stocked their shelves with vodkas, rums, and other liquors, Lull was given the opportunity to expand the size of the bar.

'I give great kudos to Chet,' Lull said. 'I think he did an excellent job making the place look comfortable. When I had the opportunity to more than double the bar, I used the same wood, the same accents, etc. The basic feel of the place - the red and black - is exactly the same, and I intended to keep it that way.'

For those that never stepped inside Madison Pub before 2002, the bar looked just as it does today, but was about half its size.

'When you walk in, there's a wall to your right. If you extended that wall to the bathrooms, that was the whole bar,' Lull explained. 'We left the rest of that wall in place and redid the entire other side, and in one morning we took that wall out, and by the time everybody showed up it was all wide open. It took us a long time to build up a solid core or regulars, and by the time we did and then expanded, we had people lining up at the door.'

Despite these two drastic changes, Madison Pub only grew in popularity, but also successfully managed to keep its same flavor as a neighborhood bar. So what keeps the Pub open and busy after 25 years?

'I think a lot of it has to do with the longevity of the staff,' Hyre said. 'Having that continuity really makes a difference.'

Hyre has worked at the Pub for 19 years, while Perkins has been there for 16, with most of the staff following just shortly behind in experience.

'The longevity of the staff kind of makes us feel like a family,' Hyre added. 'This is a good place to work. We give regular pay raises, our paychecks never bounce, we have health benefits. & We're also very picky about who we hire. If we know someone's not gonna fit in or work out, we don't keep them on staff for long.'

Lull also had some insight about the successes behind the bar. 'We've been consistent. If you liked Madison Pub 20 years ago, you can still come in and like it today. ... We've had the same type of management throughout the entire time, and we really do value the customer.'

'I think that five years from now, this bar will be exactly the same or look very similar and that's the nice thing about it,' Perkins added.

After 25 years, the Pub certainly has a lot to look forward to. While new bars and clubs open and close around it, Madison Pub has captured a sort of nostalgia that keeps its employees happy while working there, and its patrons returning regularly.

'That place was my life for a long time,' Lull said. 'The 25th anniversary was the first time I'd been back since I sold the place. It was a little emotional coming in not as the owner, but the bar wasn't very different and the party was a lot of fun.'

For now, the Pub's staff looks forward to the summer months, as well as its next anniversary.

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