Variety, creativity part of pub’s plan

  • Owner Kirk McNeil (second from right) and Jim Whittemore (right) of Pelham sing during during an open mic segment of the Festivus celebration at Area 23 on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Jon lines up a shot during a darts tournament at Area 23 last Thursday.

  • A Leinenkugel Cranberry Ginger Shandy from Area 23. Concord Insider file

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

‘It’s not just a pub,” said the owner of Area 23 Pub in Concord, Kirk McNeil. “It’s an experience.”

I love that. I like when a pub, a bar, a cinema or music venue strives to be more than just a “get em’ in, get em’ out” type of joint. And for McNeil and his strong-minded, forward-thinking, hearty staff of creative people, there seems to be a sense of, not just service, but purpose, that goes into any working day.

And, well, it has worked – big time!

Area 23 Pub, located in the Smoke Stack Center on North State Street in Concord, has a little bit of everything going for it. There’s the Gonzo flair, inspired by the late, great writer, Hunter S. Thompson. There’s the creative food: the Korean ribs and Surprise Sandwiches. Then there is the poetry, the cribbage tournaments, the movie nights and, of course, the live music, where local bands can shine and express themselves fully.

Soundcheck wanted to talk with McNeil about the success of Area 23 over the past two years and find out why the pub on the outskirts of town has become one of the most sought-after places to sit down and enjoy a Belgium beer while feasting on a crispy bacon bowl.

Obviously, you’re a man with a vision, a plan. How much of Area 23 is directly tied to your initial business plan? And how much of its success kind of just happened, grassroots-style?

I’m sure that you’ve heard the phrase that no plan ever survives initial contact, and that is certainly true of Area 23. Many of the basic elements remain in play, but almost everything has been tempered by experience and feedback from our customers. Maybe the best way to answer this question is to say that part of the plan was to be a neighborhood pub, and the neighborhood, and Concord as a whole, have shaped the growth of that concept.

Were you surprised that a brew pub on the outskirts of Concord, nestled in the smokestacks, has turned into one of the most popular spots in Concord to hang out at?

Not really surprised, but certainly gratified. We’ve got a solid tap line of brews, good food with a bit of a creative twist, and we’re an open and welcoming crowd with an amazing staff. The trick was always just to get people to find us. The ongoing challenge is to make it an experience worth coming back to. I think it’s fair to say that Area 23 isn’t just a pub, it’s a bit of an experience.

Music has arrived at Area 23 in a big time way. Many of the best players around now perform there on a regular basis, and you keep it fresh. Was that part of the plan or another example of where there’s a microphone there’s a singer somewhere?

I have been a music aficionado since I can remember, but I am not a musician myself. We’re lucky enough to have Emily (Weber) as part of our weird little family, who played a big part in getting our music scene off the ground. In a larger sense, I’m a huge proponent of self-expression. Our open mic Wednesday night welcome music; but also rants, stand up, story telling, and poetry. I think in a world of giant media corporations and mass produced “consumable” music, having a local outlet to express yourself is one of the most important things we can facilitate as a business.

What do you think the key is to maintaining that success and growth in business?

Patience, perseverance, praise of success, thinking of the people who work with you as co-workers (not subordinates, but co-contributors to the success of the business).

What have you learned about the people of Concord and the surrounding town since you opened?

The Concord area is a fantastic place, and I’m very happy to have located Area 23 there. I can’t say enough good things about our customers, they are amazing people and we’ve been lucky enough to be the place where many of them share their talents and interests.

You have movie nights, cribbage nights, open mic nights. What other kind of “nights” have you got planned this summer?

I’m hoping that our open mic attracts more school-age music and talent this summer when people don’t have to worry about getting up for school. We’re classified as a restaurant, and I’d love to give some of those folks an opportunity to shine. I’m also looking at some once-a-month multi-band days. April 22 will be our trial run for that sort of thing.

This weekend, Area 23 has Queen City Soul playing for St. Patrick’s Day on Friday, Turnsoul playing Saturday night and a short movie screening in conjunction with the SNOB film folks on Sunday at 6 p.m.

(Rob Azevedo can be contacted at onemanmanch@gmail.com.)