Mad Jack brews, cooks and plays its own tune in Schenectady

Historic jazz club remains a cozy place to hear music but brews and cooks for thousands
Brewers Adam Elbrecht and Brian Conley work in the brewhouse behind the Van Dyck.
Brewers Adam Elbrecht and Brian Conley work in the brewhouse behind the Van Dyck.

Mad Jack Brewing Company at the Van Dyck

Address: 237 Union St., Schenectady
Established: 1947
Owners: Billy, Dennis, Jack, and Jeff McDonald
Head chef: Sean Reynolds, head brewers Brian Conley and Adam Elbrecht
Restaurant type: American-style brewpub, comfortable and inviting with polished mahogany woodwork and mid-intensity lighting.
Quote: “There’s a lot of helping hands here, and a lot of knowledge, that’s the important thing,” said co-owner Billy McDonald on running the oldest of six craft breweries in Schenectady County, and helping some of the newer ones get started.
Most famous diner: Ryan Gosling, who during filming of “The Place Beyond the Pines” in 2011 had to slip out but had a full meal and left a big tip first. “We had to bring him out the kitchen door. Everybody starting texting. The bar started filling up with people looking at him.”
Contact information: (518) 348-7999,

SCHENECTADY — When they walk into the Van Dyck, guests can have the trifecta, or any piece of the trifecta they want: Live music, beer brewed in-house and a sit-down meal.

The brewery/restaurant/performance venue is one of the few places where everything is together under one roof.

The bar can seat 30 people, the dining room in the brewpub seats 45, the back patio holds 50, and the upstairs space accommodates up to 100 for live shows or for private events such as banquets.

The brewhouse out back across the patio can produce up to 750 barrels of beer (24,000 gallons) per year.

The lower Union Street property opened in 1947 as the Van Dyck, a jazz club. Decades later, it wound up closed and in foreclosure. Several members of the McDonald family bought it in 2008 and reopened in 2009. In 2011, they restarted the brewhouse the previous owners had built, completing the site’s rebranding as Mad Jack Brewing Company at the Van Dyck. 

Today, co-owner Billy McDonald said, they consider themselves stewards of a local landmark as much as purveyors of music, food and beer.

The name? That’s co-owner Jack McDonald, Billy’s uncle. But not because he’s angry mad, or crazy mad.

“He’s kind of a mad scientist, in a way,” Billy said. “He’s the one who sees things and goes after it. He’s a creator.”

The family has been active in downtown for years, opening Pinhead Susan’s in 2000 and acquiring what is now The Stockade Inn in 2003. They’ve sold both those properties this year, but the family continues to run Mad Jack/Van Dyck.

They’re planning a weeklong celebration of their 10th anniversary running it, culminating in an outdoor concert June 8 in the parking lot at Union Street and Erie Boulevard.


Music was there at the birth of the Van Dyck and remains there today. There are local musicians and there is jazz, but there’s also a range and caliber of acts that far exceeds what one might expect to see at a small neighborhood venue, thanks to its place in jazz history (and an in-house booking agent).

Mad Jack Brewing Company at the Van Dyke.MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Mad Jack Brewing Company at the Van Dyke.

“Comedy to blues to national guitar acts to dueling pianos,” Billy McDonald said. “I enjoy the guitar gods. Probably The Stick Men has been my favorite show.”

Local saxophonist/jazz educator Keith Pray and his big band are the resident ensemble, playing monthly since the place reopened and keeping the Van Dyck’s jazz heritage alive.


The kitchen is led by head chef Sean Reynolds. The menu of hearty fare features a multiple beer-infused items and is moderately priced: burgers with fries are $10 or $11, pizzas $12 or $12.50, and entrees $12 to $18.

The signature dish is probably the fish and chips, Billy McDonald said. When the server carries it out to a table, the other diners turn to look as it goes past.

“It’s an exuberant, large piece of fish,” he said.

And the batter on that fish features Mad Jack’s own IPA beer.


At any given time, all 10 taps at the bar are flowing with different varieties of Mad Jack. No other brewer’s beer is offered on tap, though a few domestics are available in bottles.

The brewhouse holds six fermenting tanks, so head brewers Brian Conley and Adam Elbrecht can make up to six varieties at any given time. And they take advantage of this: A strong IPA might sit between a smooth lager and a fruited white in the brewhouse and between a dark porter and a mild blonde in the bar.

“We definitely mix it up,” McDonald said. “We want to keep everyone happy.”

IPA is the brew of the moment, the style most heavily favored by craft beer fans. So Mad Jack tries to keep two to four IPAs on tap at any given time, each varying noticeably in flavor and character from the next.

Mad Jack Brewing Company at the Van Dyke. Pictured left to right: Mont Pleasant Porter, Fightin' Irwin IPA, Mohawk Sunset IPA, and King's Highway Kolsch.MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Mad Jack Brewing Company at the Van Dyke. Pictured left to right: Mont Pleasant Porter, Fightin’ Irwin IPA, Mohawk Sunset IPA, and King’s Highway Kolsch.

There are usually also taps dedicated to the brewery’s three staples, said McDonald: 

“Fightin’ Irwin IPA, our flagship IPA; Dutchmen Lager; and Mont Pleasant Porter, which I feel is the best beer we make, and I’m not even a porter fan.” 

He prefers a lager or a pilsner in his own glass. But he’s not alone in his assessment of Mont Pleasant: It brought home a gold medal for best porter last year at the big TAP NY competition. Dutchmen Lager also won gold, in the dark lager category. Mad Jack Brewery itself got top regional honors: The Matthew Vassar Brewers Cup for Best Craft Beer Brewery in the Hudson Valley.

Since Mad Jack started brewing in 2011, the total number of breweries statewide has skyrocketed to more than 430. Five of the newer brewers are in Schenectady County.

As these newcomers opened their doors, some have told The Daily Gazette about the help they’ve received from Mad Jack. In the most telling instance, the nearest neighbor, Frog Alley Brewing, made its very first batch of beer in the Mad Jack brewhouse last summer before the wiring and plumbing were complete at the new State Street brewery.

More from Dine 2019: Schenectady County

That beer’s name was almost inevitable, and perfect: Mad Frog. 

“The brewing community is all about relationships and networking,” McDonald said. “We know everyone. Their places are the first places I’d go to—we’ve reached out when we need something.

“There’s a lot of helping hands here, and a lot of knowledge. That’s the important thing.”

Categories: Business, Food

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