From the ashes of a structure fire, the craft beer-slinging phoenix has emerged.
So a guy walks into a bar … that, just three months prior, was a burnt-down shell of a building.
Last October, Shady McGrady’s was robbed and set ablaze, leaving owners Scott Thomas and Giovanni Barone – and a legion of the Midtown pub’s faithful following – heart broken.
But while the police and fire marshals got to work investigating the arson, Thomas’ mind was immediately focused on resurrecting the no-frills neighborhood haunt that, in the four and a half years since he and Barone purchased it, had garnered quite the name for itself among Harrisburg’s beer-drinking crowd. Finally, after three months of repairs and renovations, Thomas unveiled the new Shady McGrady’s last month to a crowd that had grown anxious to see their favorite pub reborn.
“After being closed for so long, I knew we couldn’t come back half-assed,” explains Thomas, who, for the pub’s reopening night, featured 18 taps dedicated to beers from Dogfish Head Brewery and held a raffle for a Pabst Blue Ribbon-themed doghouse.
“The number we were expecting for the grand reopening would have been our second highest night. But we actually ended up doubling that number. It was the most beer we’ve ever sold.”
Thomas admits that the new look of Shady McGrady’s is, well, anything but “shady.” He even goes so far as to use the word “corporate” as he explains the more uniformly decorated interior, from the bar’s brand-new logo design – prominently featured on one wall – to its matching blue and yellow color scheme.
“People won’t recognize the place,” he says, noting especially the 16 brand-new high-definition televisions that crown the bar area and the freshly laid porcelain tile floor.
But don’t let the clean aesthetic affect your nostalgic memories of Shady McGrady’s, a pub that Thomas boasts has something for everyone. While the bar’s skin might look a little different, it’s heart remains dedicated to serving up one of the best selection of beer in Harrisburg.
“I would say that this bar has the greatest combination of beer in this area,” says Thomas. “You can come in and drink a Pabst, or you can drink a Founders or a Dogfish Head. Some places just sell micros and turn their nose up to a regular domestic beer drinker, or vice versa. But we’re not like that.”
It’s this all-inclusive approach that has made Shady’s a popular destination for a large demographic of locals. Thomas notes that the bar’s “regulars” range from plain-clothed locals to suit-clad professionals.
“You can come in here not knowing anybody, and you’ll be friends with someone immediately,” he says. And he’s not kidding.
Take, for example, what happened during the period of time when Shady McGrady’s was closed. According to Thomas, one of the bar’s customers kept the neighborhood vibe alive by building a bar in his home and inviting the other regulars over for beers and conversation while they waited for Shady’s return.
“They called it Shadier’s,” says Thomas with a chuckle. “The regulars all went there. I brought over some signs to help decorate. Some nights, you’d stop by and 16 to 20 people would be sitting at the bar.”
Luckily for that crowd, the new bar top at Shady McGrady’s features 20 stools – enough to accommodate the whole Shadier’s crew. Additional seating comes by way of eight high-top cocktail tables that are plopped around the pool table area, as well as four more adjacent to the bar.
And with 48 taps, Shady’s is a microbrew-drinkers paradise. During my visit just two weeks after the reopening, 13 Dogfish Head beers remained on tap, including high-octane brews like the 120 Minute IPA (15-20 percent ABV) and Hellhound On My Ale (10 percent ABV) to the more eclectic Palo Santo Marron brown ale and Pangaea ale. Other selections included 21st Amendment Brewery’s Allies Win The War! English strong ale, Bell’s Hopslam ale and Delirium Tremens. Four large coolers also feature a wide variety of craft and domestic beers available to-go, including microbrew singles that can be mixed and matched for a six-pack.
“The people that drink the micros come here to enjoy their beers in a setting that’s a little more ‘bar,’” says Thomas. “Usually, the beer geeks that like the expensive beers have to go to places that are more like a library where they’re afraid to swear out loud.”
And as the new life of Shady McGrady’s continues to take shape, Thomas has plans to add to the bar experience. As if the half-price microbrew happy hour (on weekdays from 4:30-6:30 p.m.) wasn’t enough, he’s also looking to develop pool and dart leagues – and even skee ball tournaments – to help spice things up, as well as a series of fundraisers benefitting local dog shelters.
In a town full of dance clubs and party bands, Shady McGrady’s stands out as a pub dedicated to providing its customers more than just a good beer, but a good time all around.
• 204 Verbeke Street, Harrisburg; no phone
• Monday-Friday, 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 12 p.m.-2 a.m.
• Facebook page