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Article updated: 11/30/2012 6:37 AM

Musician hits the right notes with new Palatine club

By Deborah Pankey

For quite a while, Mac Rietz held court as the long-haired, laid-back bartender at The Office, a Palatine watering hole that was razed a few years ago to make way for downtown improvements. It took some time, but Mac is back and his pony-tailed likeness welcomes patrons to Mac's on Slade, his own bar and music joint a stone's throw from his old stamping ground.

Much of the old crowd has followed him across the street to this decidedly brighter spot. Mac's on Slade may not have the rough-and-tumble character that The Office possessed, but it has been attracting a standing-room-only crowd on the weekends when local bands take the stage and is creating a buzz around town with its hearty, home-cooked pub grub.

Motif: The small space is sparsely decorated with music-themed art, yet the pieces don't seem to fit together: a vintage Grateful Dead concert poster on one wall and a framed mini violin with flowers on another. Instruments and a mirrored guitar hanging by the stage evoke a '70s rec room vibe. Maybe that's part of that plan to make Mac's welcoming to everyone. Album cover menus and vinyl coasters further the music theme.

There are just two TVs in the place, and the one near the stage goes black when bands step up to play.

A handful of tables huddle near the stage and high-topped tables flank the entryway and allow for a pretty good view of the stage.

Crowd: There's not one sort of person that hangs at Mac's, but the crowd definitely skews toward an older demographic. The place attracts bikers and blue-collar types who used to frequent The Office as well as soccer moms and football dads from surrounding burgs looking for a fresh place to enjoy a bite and a brew.

Service: I've been to Mac's a few times since it opened in September and Rietz has always been on hand welcoming old friends and making new ones. Your best bet for a drink is to belly up to the bar as I've never spotted any servers making the rounds for drink orders. Yet when we went in early for dinner, we did get prompt and courteous table service.

Food:Chef Jeff Schmehl can do big things in such a tiny kitchen. Schmehl, who worked as a tour caterer for the likes of Taylor Swift and the Eagles, has created a tight and well-executed menu that features sandwiches, salads, burgers and a handful of larger entrees.

The beer cheese soup, which he recommends for burger dipping, uses dark beer and was a bit bitter for my liking, but the black bean chorizo flatbread topped with Pepper Jack cheese and corn is a winner.

Pulled pork nestled between pretzel bread buns and the Gobbler (turkey with avocado and Dijon) also hit the spot. Baked mac and cheese, the P-Funk jumbo chicken wings and garlic-smothered Rock N Roll Burger are other menu highlights. There's even a kids' menu for families stopping in for lunch or an early dinner.

Liquid consumption: This isn't a place for neon-colored cocktails. That said, bartender Craig Ribbens knows how to mix up a nice Cosmo. Most patrons seem to go for more traditional mixed drinks (the gin and tonic we ordered was strong but a bit on the short side) and beer where the familiar national brands and a handful of local beers can be had in bottles or on tap.

Music: Mac's won't be the spot that attracts big bands (we've got nearby Durty Nellie's for that); rather Mac's on Slades reminds me of the front room at the Durty Nellie's of old, the place where up-and-coming acts could try out their new songs for an appreciative crowd.

That doesn't mean you might not catch some acts with a national following. Case in point: On one Friday evening visit, a couple of guys from the alt-rock band Sonia Dada were playing and even asked Rietz to sit in on a set.

Thursday night is designated for acoustic acts, while Friday and Saturday things get plugged in with an emphasis on rock- and blues-influenced bands.

Rietz says he has acts booked through January and the schedule is updated each week on the website. Oh, and did I mention there's no cover charge?!

Parking: There is street parking and a municipal lot nearby.

Overall: Mac's on Slade is a comfortable, come-as-you-are spot for good music, good beer and good food.

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