Dan Margagliotti - The Bar Maker


I met Dan Margagliotti through a co-worker, and I had a great time chatting with him about his business, TheBarMaker. For 13 years, Dan has been building custom bars, joking that if he can’t serve a drink on it, he’s not building it. So how do you get into the business of building custom bars and where do you even begin to design something from scratch for a client? Read this week’s Small Business Sunday feature to find out!

Haley Mills: Tell me about your background and how you got into designing bars.

Dan Margagliotti: I worked as a commercial carpenter for my brother, who owns a company that builds large scale projects. I wanted to position myself in the company where I had more of a role in the creative aspect of the business, unfortunately, it was going to be a really long time before that happened.

 Meanwhile, my friends would ask me to help with small projects that somehow led to me building them a bar. At the time, I was paid mostly in compliments and beer. So I did a couple of them, and then a few more, from one friend to the next. My intentions were never to start a business building bars.

 A guy that had a remodeling company had heard about me. He had a client who wanted a bar but knew nothing about designing or building bars. He explained to me how the client was looking for more than just cabinets pushed together with a top. I was really nervous to agree because I had never done this for someone I didn't know, while if I made a mistake with my friends, it wasn’t a big deal. Since I was batting 1,000 anyway, I decided to give it a shot. In order to do the job, however, I had to take time off because it couldn’t just be done in the evenings and weekends or it would’ve taken me forever. 

So I started doing this project, and it went well. My brother and his business partner asked if they could stop by to check it out. I was nervous because it's my older brother and one always sets this expectation.. but when they came down, turned the corner, and saw the bar, they said, “This is what you should be doing!” From there on out the rest is history. I would have to do small remodeling projects to fill in the gaps at first, but now, 13 years later, I’m TheBarMaker. The joke is, if I can’t serve a drink on it, I’m not building it. Which isn’t entirely true..

HM: You have a studio/workspace in the flats?

DM: Yeah, I have a 5,000 sqft shop right on collision bend. My shop overlooks that portion of the river.

HM: How did you end up there?

DM: It was serendipity. I happened to say that I was looking for a shop to the right person and they put me in touch with the person that led me to the space. I call it pure luck because the space wasn’t even available. It’s a really cool building that is right aligned with thebarmaker culture. I’ve been there for two years.

HM: What is one of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on?

DM: That's a tough question! I would have to say a bar for a specific individual that hired me and said, Dan, I have no idea what I’m looking for and I don’t even know where to begin with telling you what I want. I honestly just trust you. They gave me full creative control. People come up to me even to this day and mention how amazing they think it is. It was nerve-wracking to hope I was getting it right.

HM: Do the majority of the people you work with have an idea in mind? Or are they looking for you to create something?

DM: Both. What I do is I let the client suggest the tone. When I’m talking with them during the consultation, I don’t say much, I listen to them, rather than throwing out ideas. I try and get a feel of what their personality is by asking them questions about their hobbies, the type of music they listen to, favorite drink, things like that. I take tidbits of their personality and start incorporating that into the design notes. It may take me a couple of days, and I'll sketch the idea up. Honestly, I’ve never had someone say they don’t think we’ll come together on the design. I would say 90% of the time I get the design approved on the first try.

HM: That’s very impressive!

DM: Listen, I’m not bragging, I’m impressing myself! For instance, I’m doing a design for someone who wants me to create this old saloon. The challenge is, he says he wants a classic saloon with a rustic feel to it. Well, do I design the inside of a saloon or the outside? The inside would be really refined millwork, with archways and intricate details, while the outside is very weathered and rustic. I managed to collide the two into a design. I sent it over to him yesterday and he just sent me back an email saying ‘that's amazing, let's do it’. First shot? Ok!

HM: What is the biggest challenge in your business?

DM: That’s an easy question! There's a huge creative aspect that has to be inserted into my work. I’m not taking TV’s off the wall and handing them to you that someone else made. I have to sit down and come up with these designs, and each one has to be different than the last. I’m not going to make a bar for you and then turn around tomorrow and make it for someone else, that's not what people who hire me are looking for. But at the same time, I have to run my business like a business. In one day, there are two totally different polarities that my brain has to be working in and that's the toughest part. 

HM: Where do the bars you create end up?

DM: It’s mainly people's homes. I generally stay away from pursuing work for restaurants and bars for a couple of different reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that they are usually working with an architect or an interior designer that has the plan written out and now they are just getting bids on it. Most of the fun in my work is designing the bar. 

HM: Where would you say is your favorite place to go for a date night?

DM: Definitely the east side. I love the east side of Cleveland. I love that you can do a day-date there, or you can do a nighttime date such as Little Italy. One of my favorite places to go and have a nice sit-down conversation and a drink is The Fairmount. I love that whole area! There are so many little nooks and crannies to the east side.

HM: What would you say is your favorite restaurant in Cleveland?

DM: Right now, XYZ hands down. I also recently went to Luca, and I loved it. That's like a little hidden gem, too!

HM: Favorite coffee in Cleveland?

DM: Rising Star, right now. I like it in the summertime because I can ride my bike up here from my shop and do some light paperwork and sit outside. 

TCBL Haley