McElhenneym Olson open neighborhood watering hole
It was bound to happen: You star in a hit TV show about a group of friends who run a bar in Philadelphia and sooner or later you’ll be opening a bar in Philadelphia.
It took two years, but the life-imitates-art destiny has been fulfilled for Rob McElhenney and Kaitlin Olson, the multihyphenates from FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” The pair are an off-camera couple — so much so that they’re expecting a drive-by from the stork in the next month.
Last week, McElhenney and Olson opened the doors to Mac’s Tavern, a watering hole located in a 300-year-old building in Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood. The place is named after McElhenney’s “Sunny” character but the proprietors have taken pains to limit the bar’s overt connection to the series. The goal is to make Mac’s a genuine neighborhood hang-out, an Irish bar with good beer on tap, better-than-average gastropub eats and a well-stocked jukebox.
“We knew that if we made it ‘Sunny’ themed it would become a tourist trap, and people would come in but they wouldn’t stay,” McElhenney said. “We didn’t want a place that would be like the bar in the show, which is a shithole. This is going to be a nice place to come and hopefully still retain a neighborhood feel.”
The venture came about when three of McElhenney’s friends from his grade-school days in Philly approached him about partnering on a bar. He’d thought about the idea in the past but figured it would be too hard to manage a business in Philadelphia from his home in Los Angeles. But with three partners who live in the city, joining in made sense for McElhenney and Olson. From there, it took another two years to get all the permits and whatnot approved by the city and its formidable Historical Society in order to make renovations to the site.
The “Sunny” trappings in the decor are very subtle — like a sign on the office door that reads “Pirate” rather than “Private,” in a nod to a story thread from an episode.
Olson took it upon herself to make sure the ladies’ room was ultra-fabulous. For starters, she mandated that the men’s and women’s facilities be switched because the guys had much more room.
Mac’s has an intimate capacity level of 130. They’re working on a permit to have live music — for now the jukebox and the occasional acoustic perf will have to suffice.
The “Sunny” gang turned out for the June 23 opening-night bash, which played out more like a movie premiere, given the show’s popularity in its namesake city.
“It was a weird juxtaposition to start,” McElhenney said. “But our goal is for this to be a great old-time neighborhood Irish bar.”