Madira Bar and Grill has returned to the corner of 21st and Titan in Point Breeze with an updated look.
Gone is the bottle shop that served fusion food like the popular chicken tikka cheesesteak. In its place is a full blown sports bar with 24 rotating taps, a selection of seasonal cocktails, and authentic Indian cuisine.
In place of the wall-to-wall coolers and scattering of stools, the interior features twenty leather-upholstered seats run along a sleek marble countertop, backed by five family-sized banquettes.
There’s also a pool table downstairs. Next summer will bring the launch of al fresco seating out back.
It’s a transformation five years in the making, owner Gary Patel told Billy Penn. The reinvisioned space reopened in July after an extensive renovation to the entire building. The old wooden planks and steel beams have been repurposed into tabletops and a hanging shelf for the bar.
The menu has also undergone change in the form of refinement of its combination of craft beer and Indian food, which Patel wanted to preserve as Madara’s main draw. Offerings include dishes like mutter paneer, daal makhani, lamb curry, and chicken tikka masala.
“Everybody else has the same old burgers and cheesesteaks, things like that,” Patel explained, noting that he’s aiming for a neighborhood establishment that offers something “different and unique.”
From beer distributor to restaurateur
The 42-year-old Patel, who emigrated to Bensalem from India as a teenager, ended up in the food industry after dropping out of Bucks County Community College when he decided none of its majors would “support the family or lifestyle [he] wanted.”
He found work as a partner at a local Dunkin Donuts, and in 2006 bought Federal Beer, a distributor on South 15th street.
Noticing a growing trend of bottle shops at the time but an absence of any in South Philly, he bought the corner store on 21st and Titan in 2013, opening it a year later as Madira. The name comes from the Hindi word for alcohol.
There was a menu, but it was more of an afterthought, consisting of bar food staples like chicken wings and tenders, cheesesteaks and fries. That changed when local commissary chef Lee Needham became a regular, and boned over a shared love of Indian cuisine with Patel, who had zero professional kitchen experience.
“He was a big fan of Indian food,” said Patel of the chef he ended up employing. “I had some ideas, he had some ideas, and that’s how we got started.”
Indian flourishes were gradually incorporated within the existing menu items. New spices and pickled onions were added to the chicken burgers and pretzel grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese fries became curry fries and, perhaps most popularly, the cheesesteak chicken tikka-fied.
For a while things were going well, enough for Patel to expand Madira in 2016 into the second floor of the building, which he owned. There were even bingo and Quizzo nights which Patel said his chef Needham was instrumental in organizing.
But Madira was still operating first and foremost as a bottle store, and mostly perceived as one.
“It was doing okay, it wasn’t doing great,” Patel said. The business took a further hit with a 2016 change to state liquor laws that allowed beer distributors to sell singles and six-packs instead of just cases. The new situation, Patel realized, left him competing with his own distribution businesses — he also owns Cicione Beverage beer distribution on 20th and Moore.
New chef, new cocktails, new happy hour deals
With the new set-up, Patel gets to use his beer prowess to fill out Madira’s draft list, which he considers a passion project. “I know more about beer than anything else,” he said.
The rotating selection runs the gamut from $5 pints of Victory Prima Pils and Founder’s All Day IPA to $10 10-oz pours of Chimay Blue, Deschutes Abyss, and Founder’s KBS on nitro.
There’s a new chef in the kitchen, a Punjabi man who goes by Mr. Peli and also has a restaurant of his own in Bensalem, Patel said. The updated menu boasts appetizers like veggie and chicken samosas, paneer tikka and chicken kebabs, veg and non-veg entrees of curries, masalas, and biryanis, and a selection of four kati rolls and naans. Prices range from $2 to $19.
While there are still some fusion options — like tandoori chicken wings and masala-rubbed fries — Patel said he would rather keep the focus more traditional right now.
“There’s nothing Indian in the Point Breeze area with a bar with good beers,” he said, adding, “Spicy food goes really good with IPAs.” One of his recommended pairings: chicken tikka biryani with a Bell’s Two-Hearted.
There are also cocktails crafted by general manager Tara Sutton, who’s been working with Patel since 2017. For fall flavors, she’s come up with an Apple Butter Rum, the Thymeless Pear (thyme-pear puree with gin and lemon), and a Spiked Chai PSL.
The boozy version of autumn’s most famous drink uses a base of chai tea with “cinnamon and nutmeg and all those very warm spices,” Sutton said. It’s blended with almond milk, part of the bar’s mission, she explained “to make everything on the menu available in vegan or vegetarian options.”
There are also two Philly sports-themed cocktails — a Red October sangria and the Bleed Green, a colorful combination of tamarind chutney, melon liqueur, guava, tajin, and tequila. The cocktails cost $5-$13.
The bar’s Kona Big Wave and bourbon citywide is priced at $7, weekday happy hours see $1 off drafts from 4 to 6 p.m., and there’s a $4 Prima pilsner special during all local sports games. “I’m a big Phillies-Eagles-Sixers-Flyers fan,” Patel said, promising visitors can also expect to follow “the world cup, cricket, all that stuff,” across the bar’s four TV screens.
It’s all part of creating a family-friendly neighborhood spot inclusive to all, according to Patel. “We just want to be [where] everybody comes in to have a good time, and you’re not hurting your pocket by coming to the bar and eating and drinking.”
While he’s still waiting until the new version of Madira is more “established,” he’s planning on bringing back events like Quizzo and bingo nights. As well as, potentially, that popular chicken tikka cheesesteak.
“I might bring that one back,” Patel said. “A lot of people have been asking me about it.”
1252 S 21 St. | 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Tuesday-Sunday, 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. Monday | madirabar.com