After a month of renovation, Maxine’s Tap Room on Block Avenue opened its doors April 1 for a full room of eager drinkers under a new partnership that hopes to bring the legendary bar back to its former glory.
Unfortunately, in recent years, the best thing about going to Maxine’s has been how desolate it was, a forgotten brick building where a small group of friends could go drink and not be disturbed. But that’s not the way Maxine would have liked it, Hannah Withers, part of the new ownership said.
The new partnership of owners are friends and local business owners, Hannah Withers and husband David Gitchel who own Little Bread Co., and Rebekah and Matt Champagne who own Terra Tots on the square and Hammer and Chisel.
The renovations included tearing out the ceiling which revealed a skyline, new light fixtures, liquor cabinets, framed mirrors, and gracing the walls with Maxine memorabilia including the embroidered stool that she sat on for over 50 years and pictures of her with the Budweiser Clydesdales and her first bar.
They have also changed the drink menu to be more liquor-oriented, focusing on vintage cocktails made from scratch, Manhattans and Old-Fashioneds, as a throwback to what was popular when Maxine opened her first bar in the 1950s as well as adding five locally-brewed beers to the drafts and nine domestics and imports, Withers said.
“It’s a tricky thing to mess with [renovation] when people have an iconic image of something that is important to them. Then I know change can be hard. But we tried to do it tastefully and respectfully,” she said. “Maxine was the bar. It was her character that brought people in here.”
Maxine Miller opened her first bar as a single 24-year-old in March 1950 using money borrowed from her family. Within a year, she had paid them back. By the early 60s, she moved to the brick building on Block and stayed there until her death in 2006. She was a drinker, a smoker and a gambler. But she had no qualms about pulling patrons by their collar or ear and telling them their mothers would be ashamed to see their behavior. If they were 86’d, they had to write a handwritten letter to be allowed back inside. There’s still a stack of those letters, Withers said.
“She was a hard-nosed, shrewd businesswoman. But at the same time, she was a mother figure to a lot of people,” Andrea Foren, Maxine’s great niece and benefactor of the bar said. “She was very loyal to her friends and family and if you ever wanted to see her, you just went to the bar.”
There are some people that will never step foot in the renovated space, who will leave their memories of the bar with a time Maxine was serving, Withers said. While she respects that, “It’s such a great building and she was such a character, and I don’t think she deserves to just fizzle out and not be here with us anymore.”
Maxine’s is open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday.