After nearly four years of renovations, Mac’s Tavern opens St. Paddy’s Day weekend in Uptown Butte.
The weekend will be a soft opening featuring a limited bar and food menu. Afterward, the bar will close until the following weekend.
Opening Mac’s on one of the busiest weekends in Butte is risky, but bar owner Becky McLaughlin said she didn’t want to miss St. Patrick’s Day.
The tavern is Irish-themed, after all.
Becky owns the business with her husband Dr. Glenn McLaughlin, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Community Hospital of Anaconda.
For the couple, starting up the business has been a family affair, involving, among other friends and relatives, their sons Will, Jonathan and Matt and daughter Emily.
All four of the McLaughlin children will have roles at the new tavern, which has been a labor of love for the Butte family as they struggled, or rather, persisted, in renovating the pre-1884, two-story building that houses the tavern at 125 N. Main Street.
The final product is polished, but the McLaughlins took quite a journey to get to the finish line. And now the opening day is finally here.
St. Pat’s won’t entirely be sink or swim for the McLaughlin family.
Matt and Jonathan both previously bartended at Club 13, while Matt also poured drinks for the former occupant of the Mac’s building, Main Street Saloon.
For Matt, bartending was always a side gig. His primary work was in construction and mining. However, an injury to the nerves in his arm left him unable to work with his hands. He was just 25 years old when he got the news.
“After two years and two different surgeries and rehab, (doctors) told me to go ahead and file for disability,” said Matt, "but I’ve always had a job, I was always working, so (I was) just desperately trying to find something to do.”
Main Street Saloon closed sometime prior to 2015.
One night, after hearing the bar and building were up for sale, Matt jokingly told family members they ought to buy the place and start their own tavern.
But what started out as a joke became a reality in 2015 when the McLaughlins purchased the building with the intent of starting a family business.
To make their vision a reality, the family had to contend with some very old bones at 125 N. Main St.
Built before 1884, the two-story building is one of the earliest substantial structures in Butte, according to the National Register of Historic Places, and renovating it wasn’t going to be easy.
Despite being occupied just years before, the building was in very poor condition, to the point where the family wasn’t sure it was structurally sound.
When they opened the doors of their newly purchased building, they were met with rotting floors, plumbing and wiring that needed to be replaced, structural deficiencies, and just about everything that keeps developers up at night.
Like a Butte version of the game whack-a-mole, every time the family overcame one issue with the building, another one seemed to come up, including needing to repair the building’s crumbling back wall, where brick columns had turned to sand in some places.
“Essentially this building was ready to collapse,” said Jonathan, noting the precariousness of the brick columns.
In all, it took the family nearly four years to renovate the building, spending any spare time they had between their day jobs chipping away at plaster to expose brick walls, stabilizing the building with new supporting structures, rebuilding floors and replacing the roof, among many, many more improvements.
However, the McLaughlins never thought of giving up despite the significant time and investment they found themselves putting into the building. They had a vision they wanted to achieve, and more importantly, they had each other.
“We were doing it for our kids,” said Becky, reflecting on her and Glenn’s commitment to seeing their vision through. “When you have kids, you would step in front of a bus for them.”
The McLaughlin family was always a close-knit crew, but work on the bar brought them even closer.
In addition to the physical labor, there were details they needed to figure out together, from deciding which kind of glasses to buy to coming up with a motif for the bar top.
At times there were disagreements, but in the end, the McLaughlins ended up with something that was a true collaboration — one that represented their collective vision.
And that’s not the kind of thing you give up on, the family said.
For Matt, work on the building has been a form of physical therapy.
He had once been told he would be lucky if he could recover flexibility in his hand. But by the conclusion of the renovations, one wouldn’t have suspected Matt had ever had an injury at all.
A walk through Mac’s Tavern today reveals a structure totally transformed.
The McLaughlins milled and harvested timber at their family ranch in Clancy, which they used to create the glossy bar, back bar and tables, giving the bar a rustic yet modern feel. For the bar’s top, the family used hammered copper and an epoxy glaze. A doorway that once led to the adjoining building, meanwhile, now frames a mural by artist Cassie Vauthier depicting a brothel scene.
Mac’s is also equipped with a small stage, replete with a modern sound system and the capability of recording live performances.
Although the kitchen isn’t as glamorous as the main room, it’s a testament to the family’s ingenuity.
When faced with the reality that the kitchen was too small to house the family’s ambitions for the menu, the McLaughlins built a food-prep kitchen in the basement and connected the two facilities with an electric dumb waiter.
Becky is the brains behind Mac’s menu. Surprisingly, she wasn’t always skilled in the culinary arts.
“I didn’t know how to cook when I met my husband because my dad always cooked for us,” said Becky.
Her father Jake Earnhardt was the proprietor of a food truck in the 1980s, long before the concept was made cool by bearded hipsters.
From the truck he ran a catering business, with Becky and Glenn helping out on the weekends while Glenn was going to medical school in Ohio.
The McLaughlins' first encounter with the Big Sky State came when Glenn landed a position at Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls. One day some friends invited the couple to visit them in Helena.
“As we were driving on down through the Wolf Creek canyon there, we pulled off to the side a little bit, looked around, looked at each other and said ‘this is where we need to be,’” said Glenn.
Glenn and his wife ended up falling in love with the area, eventually purchasing a ranch in Clancy.
The family later moved to the Mining City so their children could attend Butte High and Montana Tech.
Over the years, Glenn and Becky became globetrotting travelers, acquiring a taste for cuisines from all over the world, while Becky honed her cooking skills.
To honor her father, Becky tracked down a spice company that formulated a proprietary blend for her dad’s business. She’s resurrected the spice blend, which now seasons several of Mac’s dishes.
Another family member who’s being honored through the business is Glenn’s father, whom the tavern is named after and whom the family referred to simply as “Grandpa Mac.”
Mac was known for his piano playing and, according to the family, he often found himself at speakeasies entertaining patrons. Mac went on to become a mechanical engineer, putting himself through school with his piano playing.
When it came to coming up with a concept for the tavern, Becky wanted to have a place where people could both eat and drink.
The tavern offers something a bit more than well drinks and macro brews, while the imagination behind the menu goes well beyond French fries and chicken fingers.
Becky’s vision for the menu was one of “good food in small portions,” resulting in several tapas-sized offerings. Becky also hopes to cater to the lunch crowd, offering sandwiches, soups and other fare for a quick meal.
Matt has come up with his own eclectic menu for the tavern, offering 24 beers on tap, a majority of which will be craft brews, and signature cocktails fashioned with craft spirits. Thirty-six wines are also on the full menu.
Matt has pulled out all the stops for Mac’s cocktails, offering fresh-squeezed juices and making his own syrups and even his own tonic water.
One of Matt’s favorite cocktails on the menu is the Flannel Shirt, which he described as similar to an old fashioned but with cherry bitters and orange simple syrup. Another favorite is the Mac’s Nog, which he crafts using Wilcoxson's ice cream, brown sugar, bourbon and black rum and tops with a pinch of nutmeg, cinnamon and turmeric for color.
As for the bar’s food, one of Becky’s favorites is the Mac’s Grilled Sandwich, featuring corned beef and caramelized onions cooked in dark beer, Worcestershire sauce and brown sugar. The sandwich is served on rye bread and is topped with a mellow Dutch cheese.
The menu will feature bar food too, including chicken and waffles and beer-battered onion rings topped with a stout-beer drizzle.
The St. Paddy’s Day menu can be found on the tavern’s website at macstavernbutte.com. The family plans to close for a week following St. Pats and reopen the following weekend, at which time they’ll launch the full menu.
When asked whether he’s worried his investment will become a bust, Glenn, with a cool demeanor that only a doctor can have, said he’s not sweating it. He doesn’t hope the bar will take off, he knows it will.
As for Emily, she said what’s most important to her is making a good first impression.
“We want it to be right,” she said. “We’ve all put our heart and soul into it. We want to make sure we can make everyone happy.”