[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 4/14/10.] The Paramount. The Chaffee. MSJ. Muckenschnabel’s. All are well-known Rutland institutions with long histories and loyal supporters. And all have left an indelible impression on our community’s collective consciousness.
For many, memories, stories, friendships have in some way been created or shaped by these places and the people behind them.
Is it a stretch to put a bar on this list? In a city that – for better or for worse – is known for its abundance of bars, to deny that certain ones hold a significant place is to deny something very essential about Rutland itself.
The story of Muckenschnabel’s can’t be told without telling the story of Marty Muckenschnabel. A native of Rutland, Marty McClallen (the “Muckenschnabel” sobriquet came later) grew up working in his father’s pharmacy (McClallen’s on Merchants Row), rising before school to prepare food for the pharmacy’s lunch counter and soda fountain.
Outside of work and school (he is an alum of both Christ the King and Mount St. Joseph Academy), McClallen loved the outdoors. From an early age, he was an avid skier.
“I couldn’t get enough of it,” he says of his time on the hill.
He looks back on those storied early days of Killington and Pico fondly – competing on the MSJ ski team and hitting the slopes with Olympian Suzy Chaffee and other pros that frequented the mountain back then.
After attending college in Colorado, McClallen returned to Rutland in the early 1970s where he bartended and taught skiing until 1972 when the opportunity to buy a bar on Madison Street arose. Having garnered his share of experience in the bar and restaurant world, it seemed like the logical next step.
But where did the “Muckenschnabel’s” moniker come from? According to McClallen, the name was bestowed on him by some Austrian skier friends at Killington.
“They needed me to fill in for somebody during one of their Tyrolean evenings,” McClallen said. (A “Tyrolean evening” is a performance of traditional Austrian dance and music – lederhosen and all).
“They were doing introductions during the show, and everyone has an Austrian sounding name except for me. Mayer, Edelweiss … McClallen. So they just made one up – Muckenschnabel.”
It stuck. When he bought the bar, the name was a given. Despite its inscrutability, McClallen maintains that it works: “Even if they can’t pronounce it, they’ll remember it.”
Looking back on the bar’s heady 1970s run, McClallen characterizes the time as “loose.” Indeed, by today’s standards, liquor laws were relatively lax; DUI enforcement was virtually non-existent, and the drinking age was 18.
McClallen ran Muck’s until 1982, when he closed the bar to “try out something new.” He started up a photography business, shooting senior portraits and weddings. Then, in 1995, his old Madison Street location came up for sale. McClallen decided to mount a comeback. But first he wanted to see if he still had it in him after over a decade in retirement. He took a job at the Fair Haven Eagles Club, getting back into the groove and training like Rocky Balboa.
The return was a success. Soon, a new generation of Rutlanders was frequenting the very bar they had heard their parents telling stories about with their friends – stories told at dinner parties that seemed to go on forever as they were passed around the table, each person adding a new wrinkle to the tale, always ending in uproarious laughter.
I had my first drink at Muck’s shortly after turning 21. I was home for the summer – back in those college days when summer vacations still existed and were observed with orthodox precision. My friends and I ordered our drinks and took our seats at the bar, ready to write our own stories.
But what is it exactly that brings people back to Muck’s? Atmosphere might have something to do with it. Inside, the bar has a rustic, classic barroom feel – “bricks, brass and stained glass,” as McClallen calls it. On the exposed brick walls hang large, black-and-white portraits of unknown faces that long ago were incorporated into fictitious Muckenschnabel family tree.
The brass-faced bar itself is relatively short when compared to others around town. Indeed, the size of the room overall puts it in the running for one of the smallest bars in the city. However, the smallness of the space keeps things intimate and quiet; even with a crowd and the jukebox blaring, conversation is still possible.
And conversation is an essential part of the culture at Muck’s. On my first visit, I quickly learned that this is a place where people like to talk.
“It’s your classic ’sit down and chat’ bar,” notes regular Bernie Adams.
Over the years, Muck’s has been described as having one of the smartest happy hours in town. This might sound like hyperbole, but the bar manages to draw a diverse and unique clientele.
“It’s a great cross-section of Rutland folks,” says happy hour mainstay Chip Stevens, “Doctors, teachers, plumbers, carpenters, salespeople, restaurateurs, visitors from the greater Rutland diaspora … Mucken’s is unique – as is Mucken himself.”
Topics of conversation vary widely – sports, of course, but also music, literature, politics, religion, philosophy – nothing is off the table. Do people often disagree? Sure. But everything is discussed with respect and thoughtfulness – a true appreciation for civil discourse. At the end of the day, everyone’s still friends.
At Muck’s, there seems to be a passion for the bar that runs deeper than the typical fondness one might have for their favorite watering hole. Spend an evening at there and you will see these friendships firsthand.
“I’ve made some great friends there over the years,” says Tony Trombetta, another regular.
Muck’s is a family. McClallen is its patriarch. And that’s where the heart of it is. Sure, the beer is cold and the peanuts are hot, the bartenders are friendly and quick, the room is comfortable, and the conversation is rich. But at the end of the day, its McClallen’s hospitality, his charisma and his friendship that brings people back.
Much has changed since Muck’s first opened. It’s harder to run a bar than it once was; liquor control laws are tighter, taxes are higher, people’s tastes change.
But it’s not all for the worse.
“People are more responsible, less rowdy – especially young people,” McClallen says of today’s clientele. “They don’t drink and drive; they’ll call for a taxi or have a designated driver. They’re smarter.”
Still, competition is tight. The heavy concentration bars on Center Street has resulted in less people tending to wander around the corner. Always something of a destination, Muck’s must now work even harder to stay in the loop.
Fortunately, Muck’s has never been short on cheerleaders, McClallen himself being chief among them.
“You got to love this business,” he says.
And if you do, chances are it’ll love you back.