The Harmony Bar changes hands – Isthmus
Harmony Bar & Grill on Atwood Avenue, a Madison institution known for its community focus and great food, will change hands in the fall. Longtime regulars and neighbors Pam and Mike Barrett will take over from Brennan Nardi who, after navigating the pandemic and securing the future of the bar, is ready to retire from the property.
The Barretts have been active members of the community for more than 25 years, moving to the Atwood neighborhood just five years after The Harmony opened in 1990. Mike co-founded the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara neighborhood association and has Been a vocal community advocate for green public transit. Pam, a former physiotherapist, is a musician who has led several bands over the years, most recently BingBong. She often performed on the Harmony stage.
Post-COVID business unpredictability and staff shortages didn’t stop Pam and Mike from making an offer. They went into this endeavor understanding the turmoil of the times and recognizing the many pitfalls of the industry: “There is the potential for COVID to come back with a different variant. There is the potential for road construction. The market for finding workers is very tight,” says Mike. “But Brennan has done such a good job of stabilizing the staff. We also know the story of Harmony; we know about dedication, especially here in the neighborhood.
Nardi’s leadership along with community support for The Harmony is what has kept the bar afloat throughout the Wisconsin pandemic. Safer at home order. Meanwhile, while the business was fully shut down, The Harmony’s GoFundMe racked up some $40,000 in donations to keep employees paid and so doors could open again when the shutdown ended.
Nardi and her husband, Brad Czachor, bought The Harmony from longtime owner Keith Daniels in 2013, and she took over when her husband died in 2019. The pandemic and shutdown stretched her, and after securing the future of the restaurant and making sure it was in good hands, she decided it would be a good time to walk away.
“I would love to stay connected to The Harmony no matter what it looks like,” says Nardi.
The Barretts hope to maintain some of the culture on the east side of Madison. Nardi spoke to Pam, Mike and some of the other regulars at The Harmony to let them know she would be selling the bar. Fearing it would be replaced by high-rise apartments or office buildings that could erase the character of the community, the Barretts contacted Nardi with an offer almost immediately so she wouldn’t have to sell on the market. .
Mike hopes to implement eco-friendly solutions for utility systems, such as a green water heater and a UV light disinfection system to combat any potential COVID outbreaks. Pam is considering some menu changes for more variety.
Mike says the bar doesn’t need any renovations and plans to stay open during the ownership transition. Both view The Harmony as a hub of cultural and community engagement that brings people of all ages together, and they plan to preserve the spirit of the place.
“Basically what we’re doing is we’re inheriting from an entity that already exists,” says Pam. “What we hope to do is just be good stewards.”