For years, Greg MacDonald and Sam Morris have dreamed of actually serving a beer inside Michie Tavern.
Michie Tavern famously offers fried chicken and other Southern cuisine in a 1969 addition to the historic tavern. The original building itself, however, sat idle as a tourist attraction — until this month, when, after a $300,000 renovation, the 1784 Pub began serving Virginia beer, wine and cider to curious and thirsty travelers.
“It’s always been in the back of my mind — so we said, ‘now, let’s bring it to life,’” said Morris, the tavern’s chief operating officer. “It’s like if you brought all your friends out to see your Model T Ford. What do they want to do — they want to actually go for a ride in the thing.”
The colonial tavern, opened in 1784 by Cpl. William Michie near Earlysville, was moved to its current site near Monticello in 1927 and functioned as a tourist destination. In 1969, the business added the restaurant. A former mill and other period buildings later were added to the complex.
Those additions took attention away from the original two-story tavern, and fewer and fewer people walked through its doors, according to MacDonald, the site’s executive director.
“We wanted people to actually enjoy the tavern and be in the tavern,” MacDonald said. “As demand to tour historic properties declines, we feel like a way to bring it to life is to turn it into more of an experience.”
The tavern’s original bar is a small, closet-sized room with one serving window that faces into the dining room and one serving window that faces the porch, so customers could enjoy a drink inside or out. A small door also led outside, so that slaves owned by Michie could restock the bar.
Throughout the rest of the main floor, travelers would eat, drink, play games of chance and spread out on cots to sleep.
The bar was too small to serve a modern menu, so MacDonald and Morris decided to engage longtime partners Dalgliesh Gilpin Paxton Architects, the firm founded by preservationist Milton Grigg. Workers built a colonial-style bar in a former dining room, with a wooden grate that could be lowered to protect the alcohol — hence one of the origins of the term “bar.”
To meet ABC regulations, the new bar also had to be a part of the tavern’s regular restaurant, so workers cut a hole in the wall dividing the two buildings and built a connecting stair. Morris, who enjoys preservation, worked on aging the new wood beams until the connection looked seamless.
Morris and MacDonald didn’t undertake changes lightly, they said, but felt alternations were necessary to make sure the site can remain open and continue to share its history during changing times.
“The whole reason we’re doing it is to keep this business healthy and try to be more for everyone,” Morris said.
The pub will serve appetizers, including chicken wings, and beverages.
“So far, customers have said that they’ve never been in this part of the tavern before, and that they’re glad they got the experience,” MacDonald said. “Hopefully, we’re making Mr. Michie smile when he looks down on us.”
The tavern is open from noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Appetizers are available after the lunch buffet closes at 3:30 p.m.