When I first moved to the Quad Cities over 25 years ago, I was working at an audio video store in Davenport that used to do a lot of home theaters and projection television systems. The owner of a local bar in downtown Davenport came in one day and wanted us to put in a projector in his place. After my first visit to his bar, I immediately fell in love with the place that had been around since 1934. For a number of years, Mac's Tavern was my "go-to" place for a beer in downtown Davenport. Ownership had changed and I've since gravitated to other places in town to have a beer, but every once in a while my wife and I will still head to Mac's for a cold one. One evening not long ago, we decided to have something to eat, as well.
Bill "Mac" McLaughlin is the "Mac" behind Mac's Tavern. He opened his eponymous tavern after Prohibition was repealed and owned it for 14 years before selling it to Dick and Bert Jensen. The Jensen's owned Mac's for 32 years before they sold it to Rocky Eddleman and Wally Planner in 1980. The partners owned it for a couple of years before Eddleman sold his interest to Planner. Two years later Planner sold Mac's to the Oake family - Buzzy, Bev and their son Greg. The Oake family ran the place for six years before selling it to Bill Collins in 1990.
Bill Collins was the one who entered the store where I was the G.M. looking for a projection television for Mac's Tavern in 1991. Bill is a big, gregarious guy who held court at Mac's in the 1990's serving politicians, law enforcement officials and lawyers, all of whom worked at the nearby Scott County Courthouse. I drank many beers one evening with a former Quad City area sheriff, got to know one of the local prosecutors over time, and made a number of friends hanging out at Mac's early on in my days in the Quad Cities. Soon, Mac's was the place for me to hang out on Friday nights after work. Or, well, really any night, for that matter.
When Bill Collins put the bar up for sale in 2003, one of his regulars - Mike Lonergan - heard that a prospective suitor was looking to "modernize" Mac's Tavern. Knowing that gutting and "updating" the tavern would make the place lose its appeal, Lonergan bought Mac's to keep it the way it was. Well, I should say that when Lonergan took over, he actually did do some remodeling - but for the benefit of the old-style tavern. Lonergan redid the ceiling to expose the original tin ceiling panels, he polished up the original tile flooring, he put in new booths replacing the uncomfortable ones that had probably been there since the 1930's, he bought the space just to the west of Mac's and has turned that into an overflow/events room, and he refinished the 45 foot long curved bar and the matching back bar. And much to the approval of my wife, he remodeled the bathrooms that were small and dingy until just a handful of years ago. (In 2014, Lonergan's longtime manager of Mac's Tavern, Gary Rowland and his wife, Sasha, bought an interest in the business.)
It was an unseasonably warm weekday evening when we made it into Mac's for a bite to eat. We were able to park out front on 3rd Street (see map) below the bright neon art deco sign hanging on the front of the building. To me, Mac's looks the same has it did when I first walked in the place over 25 years ago. The neon accent lighting along the soffit around the long narrow tavern as well as the soft lighting over the booths gives Mac's an alluring and soothing glow.
The bar where I sat many times is the prominent feature of Mac's. There are a number of flat screen televisions interspersed around the tavern that are usually tuned to a sporting event. We took a seat in a booth in the back of the place and our server came over to give us a couple of menus. For some reason, Mac's was unusually packed for a weeknight evening. There was only one bartender and one server. And the server was overwhelmed.
The decor at Mac's Tavern is pretty interesting. Bill Collins was a big backer of the annual Grand Parade that is put on by the St. Patrick's Society of the Quad Cities in conjunction with St. Patrick's Day. (Click here to see some pictures of the Grand Parade.) It also turns out that the Grand Parade is the only Bi-State St. Patrick's Day parade held in the nation. It starts in downtown Rock Island, it comes across the Centennial Bridge into Iowa and ends up in front of Mac's on 3rd Street. It's usually a crazy time when the parade is going on and Mac's is ground zero for the festivities in downtown Davenport. Bill began to collect the official posters for the Grand Parade when he was the owner in the 90's and Lonergan has carried on the tradition.
It's basically just pub food at Mac's Tavern - fish and chips, burgers, sandwiches, Irish stew, a pub steak and a slew of appetizers. They have nightly specials from time to time and that's what Cindy ended up getting that particular night. It was a pasta dish that had chopped chicken breast meat, asparagus spears and chopped tomatoes that were under a topping of melted mozzarella and grated parmesan cheese. A small piece of toasted garlic bread came with the entree. She was pleasantly surprised with how good the taste of the pasta dish was.
She also got a dinner salad to go along with her meal. Well, actually, it CAME with her meal as the waiter - who, as I said, was stressing out because he was the only server - completely forgot about bringing out her salad beforehand. It was a basic salad with lettuce greens, sliced onions and chopped tomatoes. It came with a basic Italian dressing.
I went with the reuben that Mac's calls the "Mad Irish Reuben." It consisted of house-roasted corned beef topped with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and a sort of spicy tasting 1000 Island dressing. The sandwich was on toasted marble rye bread. The taste was also good, not great, but good for a reuben. I also got an order of onion rings with the sandwich. They were the frozen kind from a food purveyor, but they were still pretty good in taste. I was happy enough with what I got for my meal that evening.
Our server continued to be overwhelmed and stressed during our time there. I wanted another beer, but he was busting his ass waiting on tables and getting food out to patrons. He never came back to our table once other than after we were finished and he wordlessly dropped off the check. I can understand him being a bit surly because he was the only server, but it was sort of a puzzling predicament as to A) Why Mac's was so packed on a mid-week evening; and B) Why there was only one server.
The service this evening - or lack of it - notwithstanding, it's always fun to go back to Mac's for just a beer or even for a sandwich. The food isn't anything fancy - but it was good, the atmosphere is lively and welcoming, and other than the understaffing problems we had on this visit, the staff is usually friendly and accommodating. Oh, yeah - we'll keep going to Mac's. It's been a part of my life since I moved to the Quad Cities years ago and it's one of the more iconic places to visit in the area.