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'It's Cheers' – Michael's Pub in Kings Contrivance is Closing

For nearly 25 years the bar has been a fixture of a village center in Columbia. Its last day open is March 22.

Their faces and voices convey the emotion within. The neighborhood bar where they have worked – the neighborhood bar they have loved – is closing.

They look and sound like people who have just lost a family member because, in a way, that's what's about to happen.

Michael's Pub in Kings Contrivance is where longtime manager Billy Hinman has worked since he was a teenager.

It is where longtime customer Don Park once worked, and it is where he met the mother of his four children.

"It's part of me," said Hinman, speaking at a table in the restaurant on Sunday, just two days before its last day in business – Tuesday, March 22.

"It's 'Cheers,' " said Park, referencing the television-show tavern where everybody knew your name and was always glad you came.

Park's comparison isn't that far off.

"The reason why everybody is sad – yes, we're losing our jobs, but it's mainly because we're a family here," said Lissa Clements, a 28-year-old from Columbia who has worked at Michael's since 2007. 

"We're losing a whole bunch of people that we love seeing every day, that we love talking to every day," Clements said. "I can't imagine not walking through these doors. I can't imagine not seeing the people I see all the time."

Michael's has held a corner of the Kings Contrivance Village Center since June 14, 1986, owned the entire time by the same person, Shane Curtis, according to Hinman.

Hinman, a 39-year-old from Columbia, has been there for more than two decades himself. He can point to why the bar is closing – to the moments in the past that led to what is happening in the present.

"This was us," he said, pointing to the the original section of Michael's. "There were people playing darts. There was music over there. There were people having fun. And then we got screwed by the smoking laws. All of a sudden you had to have a separate ventilation system for smoking."

The bar expanded to adjust to the new laws. Its first addition was space that was formerly an adjacent Chinese restaurant, Hinman said. Later, it added what was previously a jewelry store next door.

"I spent $200,000 to comply, and I still haven't recouped that money," Curtis told the Columbia Flier in 2006, about a decade after state law first called for enclosed, separately ventilated smoking areas.

The smokers were regular, reliable customers, Hinman said. And then the law changed again – smoking was no longer allowed inside.

"All the extra space we bought was useless," he said. "Our sales dropped tremendously immediately. That was our niche."

"With the economy and everything else, it just wasn't working anymore," Clements said. "We have a huge space – and not enough people to fill it."

The staff – between 25 and 30 employees, according to Hinman – had seen this day coming.

That doesn't make the situation any easier.

"It's definitely been building up," Hinman said. "We've been worried about it. Times have been tough. Our owner did everything in his power to keep this alive, and so did we. We're too big to be a neighborhood pub."

The staff is trying to run through its food inventory before closing, not wanting anything to go to waste. A "blowout party" is planned for tonight (March 21).

"We're going to make the most of that," Hinman said.

The regular customers have been "chattering" about the bar closing for some time, according to Park.

"Months," Park said. "I'd say, even in the past year or two, there've been little tidbits here or there. Now it's finally hitting home. Now there are people popping out of the woodwork that I've not seen in years. It's nice to see the love and support."

Park, a 42-year-old Clarksville resident, worked at Michael's for four or five years in the '90s and has remained a customer since. It is where he met his girlfriend of 10 years; they have four children together.

"She worked at the hair salon right there," he said, pointing out the window.

Hinman could not pinpoint just one fond memory of his many years at Michael's. "I have 100,000," he said.

"There are so many people who have been here, and so much history in this place," he said. "And now it's gone."

Tom March 22, 2011 at 05:53 PM
Very sad... there was no reason to expand to the other location... when they put up the glass to separate the bar, that should have been enough... I am NOT a smoker, but was there when they just had the divider up and it was FINE, more than enough. The second hand smoke never bothered me much either because they had a great ventilation system. Great food, great memories, but can I please get my card that the magician SOMEHOW managed to stick to the ceiling??? Still dont know how he did that.
bill bissenas March 22, 2011 at 06:18 PM
Business are in the business of taking risk. Michaels sought to expand, as most businesses do at some point, but the State Legislature undercut Michaels business plan by changing the law. That's why Do-gooders (Dems mostly) represent an existential threat to many businesses. They don't understand businesses and frankly, many of them don't care how the laws they pass burden businesses with additional costs.
Terry Thomas March 23, 2011 at 01:19 PM
Had been going to Michaels Pub since 1986 when I moved to Columbia. Great neighborhood bar that remembered your name and what you would drink. The original part was always crowded and when you walked in the door and Katie or Mike would have your drink ready passing it to you 3 deep at the bar. Saw many staff come and go an each one of them were very personable with us. Was to place to go when we had big snow storms and everybody would walk to the pub for a good time. Found out Friday of the closing and I agree with many people that it is like you lost someone in the family. Want to thank Shane and his family for all the good times that his establishment has brought to me and the community. Best of luck Terry Thomas
Save Michaels March 23, 2011 at 02:05 PM
Save Michael's on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002235003430
Terri Rinkinen March 23, 2011 at 06:54 PM
So very sad! Truly the end of an era!!! I counted on Michael's for all my family parties. Kyle's home coming from Iraq, Shawn and Amanda's shower, Marnie's graduation (high school AND college), New Year's, birthday's too numerous to mention. This will leave a great void - in the family and in the community. You will truly be missed! With love and fond memories, Terri (Chiaverini) Rinkinen
Big Momma March 23, 2011 at 07:55 PM
Very sad. Good luck Shane.
Big Momma March 23, 2011 at 08:02 PM
It is very sad that Shane had to close, but in all honesty it very well could have possibly been saved had the bartenders not given SO much away. The regulars there came to expect free alcohol-all of the blame cannot be put on smoking laws. A lot of reviews on other websites have people, who don't appear to be regulars, commenting on the poor service and bad attitudes. Shane is a really nice, decent man who I'm sure tried his hardest to save the pub. Too bad not everyone that worked there is as decent and nice as he. What a shame.
James Farrel March 24, 2011 at 12:50 AM
I am sorry for the owner and the staff but must admit I was very pleased to see the business close. Between the fights outside which my young children witnessed, the horrible smoke cloud that fille d the village center nightly, the very spotty food service, and the stories about how they treated those who were not regulars, this closure was a true Godsend.
SS March 24, 2011 at 03:23 PM
While it's true that the smoking ban hurt sales, it wasn't the only bar affected by the ban. The smoking ban didn't kill this pub-people did. The bar had easily 40+ regulars. They would walk in and have their drinks waiting for them before they even sat down, just like "Cheers". They also got mind erasers on a regular basis for free, as well as various other shots, lots including Red Bull. The regulars would get their checks to leave and every single one of them KNEW that their checks were cheaper than they should have been. Did any of them ever say a word to Shane about the lacking charges? Probably not, at least not often enough to make a difference. Instead, they would give the bartenders a huge tip, sometimes bigger than the actual bill, and that's exactly what the bartenders wanted. That's why you give drinks away. All of you should think of how much money you didn't pay into Shane's pocket over the years. It's THOUSANDS of dollars! You should be taking a portion of the blame. Bill would be the first one to say that it was okay to give mind erasers away because a bottle of fake Kahlua or a bottle of Pucker was cheap from the distributers, but if a bottle contains say 20 shots at $5/each, that's $100 lost forever. How many bottles were used in a week? Maybe 5-10? That's an awful lot of cash. And the bartenders were just as drunk as the patrons, probably drunker! How many shots/beers did you guys pay for? NONE. The smoking ban didn't shut you down..Greedy selfishness did.
Jamie People Tree March 24, 2011 at 05:42 PM
No matter if I visited once every three months or twice/week, Michaels had a cozy neighborhood feel. It will truly be missed. From what it looks like many blame its demise on the regulars receiving preferential treatment. I find these comments laughable and think it was nice to have a bar with regulars. If that’s something that really bothers you then head over to one of the ever growing Columbia chain restaurants. Fortunately for you folks, our suburb is transitioning into every other suburb in the country. If you’re lucky, the Michaels spot will soon be an Applebee’s and you will finally be able to capitalize on the skillet specials that they are currently advertising. Let’s not go blaming the staff or ownership on the closing. This bar was able to survive between the closing of Safeway and opening of Harris Teeter. Other then Michaels, it was a very dead village center during that time. I really don’t know Kimco’s current situation nor can I blame a management company for seeking more money. If they feel that they could find tenants for the full location then more power to them. They have bills to pay, forecasts to meet etc, etc. I do know that the Friendly’s location sat and Rocky Run has been vacant for at least a year and a half. I would hate for this spot to someday be divided into three retail spots knowing that Michaels could have remained and been one or two of them.
linda chiaverini March 24, 2011 at 05:47 PM
my comment to you is.....are you one of those patrons with free drink in your gut...if you knew this information so intimately and didn't share it with Shane you are as guilty as the rest...those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.... I love how all the experts have come out of the woodwork to tell what went wrong and how they "could have done it better!" Tell me...what went right....A good man put everything he had into a life long dream and it lasted for 25 years...hit a man while he is down why don't you! This isn't directed totally to "ss" this is directed to everyone with a negative opinion and your so called knowledge of how to do it better...
Balthus March 24, 2011 at 09:48 PM
I think the location and physical layout of the place should be considered as a huge factor in Michael's unfortunate demise. Columbia has exploded somewhat since Michael's opened in 1986 and small, local joints tend to get left in the dust because they just can't compete with the big chains/franchises that are on every Columbia corner. Michael's was also too well-kept a secret. If a person didn't know it was there, he/she would be unlikely to stumble across it by chance. Some could argue that Shane could've been marketed it better, but an ad campaign can be a very risky gamble when the subject is a local restaurant without the bottomless finances of a chain eatery. If Michael's had occupied the slot directly across the neighborhood center from where it was (where M&T bank is/was), they could've likely built a patio section which would've allowed them to keep some of the smokers who no doubt left for bars like Nottingham's and Sonoma's that have outdoor sections where patrons can light up without having part with their drink. I also think they should have gotten more creative/diverse with their menu. A few of the items were quite good (I loved their burgers, fries, wings, and bleu cheese), but too many of them were just so-so. The opening of Greene Turtle seemed to really affect their customer base by drawing away a lot of Terps fans...not sure could've been done about that, but the difference was noticeable (there were only 5 people in the bar during a MD-Duke game).
Someone who Cares March 25, 2011 at 08:48 PM
When the staff lets its underage workers drink from the bar, thats when a place needs to change. I feel sorry for the owner, but I welcome the change.
Kate March 25, 2011 at 09:21 PM
It is sad to see it go, but there are still plenty of other great places in Columbia. Micheal's did have horrible service and the food just was not always consistent. All places in Maryland had to comply with the smoking issue and many are doing just fine, so it really cannot all be blamed on that. The "regular" crowd there also did leave a lot to be desired and many times did not make others feel welcome. What is really comes down to is business decisions and management of the place. If people really love a place, they will keep going to it regardless of new laws. Still - it is never a happy time to see a place that many people are attached to go away. An example of small pub done RIGHT is the Second Chance Saloon that is open in the Oakland Mills Village Center. Great food, wonderful service, and amazing atmosphere. They have their regular customers as well, but they have always made me feel welcome and some go out of their way to make you feel at ease. I consider Second Chance to have much more of a Cheers feel than Michael's ever did to me. And, by far, they have the best wings in Columbia - hands down.
Dreamer March 26, 2011 at 11:21 AM
To Linda.... I worked there for a while and what SS said had some truth to it. Lots of the regulars were great people, but of course there are always a couple of bad apples in the bunch. Those people had a way of making the non-regulars feel uncomfortable at times with their sense of entitlement, saying that the pub was "their bar". And the employees were drunk a lot, that's a fact. I know that when I left I told Shane I was quitting because I felt like certain other employees were taking over, making the other employees feel like they were walking on eggshells all the time. I also told him that I felt that he was being taken advantage of, and he said that maybe he was. He is a kind soul, a good human being. When George left the place went downhill, at least I felt like it did. It then became B. running the show, and look at how that turned out. Good luck to your dad and everyone else. And your dad got to live out his dream for 25 years which is more than most people get to do, making him a very lucky man.
linda chiaverini March 26, 2011 at 04:26 PM
Thank you Dreamer for your kind words about my dad...I am glad you were honest with him. But the comments from the "monday night quarterbacks and the backseat drivers" are pushing my buttons! Everyone has a solution and a answer, an" I could have done it better opinion and attitude"....I just need to log off. Water under the bridge...right? To all those with wonderful memories keep them! For the rest of you...go be a blessing in someone else's life.
David Greisman March 26, 2011 at 08:17 PM
For those who were fans of Michael's Pub – what bar or bars do you think you'll go to now? For those who weren't fans of Michael's Pub – what bars do you recommend now-former customers try out?
Balthus March 27, 2011 at 01:53 AM
I'd recommend Nottingham's, Sonoma's or Second Chance Saloon as they're all local flavor. I haven't been to Second Chance much, but Nottingham's and Sonoma's both have decent live music if that sort of thing floats your boat.
Jamie People Tree March 29, 2011 at 04:10 PM
A friend and I once showed up at Notthinghams around 1:20am. The band was packing up yet the bouncer insisted on charging us each a $12 entry fee. We refused. Their loss, we drank heavily that evening elsewhere. I've yet to go back and never will.
Todd March 30, 2011 at 06:17 AM
I just found out about this today. I am in San Diego now. It is very sad! I as many others saw this day coming for a long time though. I went to Michaels for years going back to about 1990. I was also an employee there for a year. If it is true the rent of late was $25K a month that is OUTRAGEOUS! I wish everyone the best and I hope a new place (no CORPORATE crap) will come in there and have even a fraction of the character that Michael's Pub had!
Elizabeth Fixsen March 31, 2011 at 07:09 PM
I loved going to Michael's when they had open mic night on Tuesdays. And loved hearing "Hip Pockets" band play there. As I am not a smoker, I was delighted that the law banned smoking indoors -- there are SO many bars and taverns that I can enjoy now without breathing in second-hand smoke and coming home stinking of tobacco. There are MANY establishments that have complied with the new law and have continued to be successful. There were other factors that made it hard for Michael's to recoup the cost of renovations. It is unfortunate, but there is no use railing against a law that ultimately fosters better health for everyone. Change is never easy, and regulations are necessary to keep our public spaces safe and healthy. I hope any new venue in this space will continue the traditions of live music and a friendly neighborhood atmosphere. Plenty of non-smokers, or those who are willing to smoke outside, will support it. Liz
Mitch April 01, 2011 at 04:48 PM
It's a shame that Michael's is closing, they had the best burgers in town IMO. It will probably be replaced by yet another chain restaurant, just what Columbia needs. For all of you complaining about Michael's is that what you want, another useless national chain restaurant. I went to Michael's a few times a month and found the regulars to be very nice to talk to if you give them a chance. I just wish I would have known they were closing in advance so I could have gone there one least time. Any chance that they reopen Michael's in a different, smaller location?
Pierre April 01, 2011 at 05:31 PM
WTF!!!!!! I was suppose to have a function there there on April 9th; A suprprise baby shower for my wife who is expecting triplets. It would have been NICE FOR SOMEONE TO CALL ME AND LET ME KNOW AND TO GIVE ME MY DEPOSIT BACK.
Jason Ellis April 03, 2011 at 03:21 PM
What the duece! As one of the many military personnel to come through the area I enjoyed going there often when I wasn't deployed. Have tons of great memories and made several good friends. It was the first bar I was taken to after getting off the plane in 2003. Worked the door for a bit. Got a DUI 200 yards down the road after flipping my car (my fault NOT the bartenders). Still have a crush on one of the bartenders, no not you Billy, hope Cindy doesn't find out I'm talking about her. Just got orders back to Ft Meade in a couple of months and was already looking forward to going back. Man that really sucks. Sorry to hear it Shane. Marine Jason
Scott Paton April 05, 2011 at 08:27 PM
Wow! An awful lot of vitriol and Monday morning quarterbacking going on here; why the axe grinding? This is just an unfortunate loss or everyone-- Shane, the staff and the community. I frequented Michael's, to varying extent, for all of its 25 years. For 15 of those I certainly was a regular. Truth be told, my favorite years were those in its singular corner location. It truly felt like a neighborhood pub then, and it attracted, perhaps, a more thoughtful crowd? There's no question that the cavernous, sports-bar motif of the new bar changed things many years ago and certainly set the evolution of the general patronage down a different path. But in all its incarnations, Michael's food was always good, and I made many, many friends there-- on both sides of the bar, but especially among the staff. I've known Billy Hindman for over 20 years, and I take exception with any of the criticism tossed his way in these posts. Without a doubt, his personal and professional attributes extended Michael's life as it was struggling in recent years. If I owned a pub, I'd hire him to run it. If he owned a pub, I'd work for him. His predecessor, George, did a fine job for years as well. So yes, Michael's Pub changed over the years, and so did I. I'm sorry that I did not frequent the establishment as much in recent years, but every time I did, it was nice to have Billy, Matt, Reno or one of the other crew to provide a friendly welcome, some laughs and fine service. (cont'd)
Scott Paton April 05, 2011 at 08:32 PM
(cont'd) I hope all involved realize that Michael's Pub was not a failure. It was subject to internal and external factors that simply brought its lifecycle to an end. The 100-year-old pub is a rare beast. In this quixotic business, a 25-year-old pub is still remarkable. So, to Shane and everyone whoever drew a beer or poured a cocktail, cooked or delivered a meal to the table, or simply cleaned up and turned out the lights at night, thanks for the hospitality and good times these past 25 years. We'll miss you.
Phil Garrett April 08, 2011 at 12:32 PM
So sad to hear this news. I've had some really fun times at Michael's Pub. I moved to Augusta, GA last August and I've told many people about my favorite pub. Now it's gone. The crowd was always friendly. Bill Hinman was an awesome bartender. He was my daughter's first soccer coach. Thanks for the memories, good food and cold beer! It was fun!
wubanga101 April 15, 2011 at 02:35 AM
You're an idiot!
wubanga101 April 15, 2011 at 02:38 AM
You absolutely correct. I can't get over the amount of morons writing on this topic!
vic August 05, 2011 at 11:58 PM
I find it funny that the first person to blame is the bartender.... Obviously,every damner on here owns restaurant/bar and knows a lot about costs... Just so you know: your bar has to make more than your food cost-every day. So every once in a while your" 40 plus regs" should get a free or comped drink... However being unorganized about it is of course pretty bad,but that is the owner's and bar manager's responsibility not the guy serving drinks... If it was so badly run for so long,then it should've closed a long time ago... Also Columbia has changed dramatically in the past 15 years, so for them to expand when they did was actually not stupid, however the ultimate blame lies in Kimco who owns that village center as well as other ones in the area that are rapidly losing business i.e The Wilde Lake Village Center,Normandy etc... I'm sorry if Ihad a20yr old biz paying my bills, i sure wouldn't throw them under the bus overnight.. The same company has been promising to" revitalize" their properties but instead are leaving local biz and restaurants footing all types of repair bills and costs...If you have to point a drunken finger,point it at them and not the folks who took care of you. n away not as frequented

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