Mad I embodies Flagstaff’s southside charm
by Morgan Miller
It is hard to talk about the south side of the tracks without mentioning the Mad Italian Public House, commonly known as Mad I. Open since 1972, Mad I embraces the dark, rugged feel of South San Francisco Street and welcomes anyone and everyone to come experience a place rich in history and character.
This southside mainstay is about to be restored by a fan of its past.
At just 24 years old, new owner AJ Mansen is determined to bring back the rustic feel of the Mad I.
Mansen explains,“I’m two years out of college. It’s not like we’re a cookie-cutter corporation. We’re the southside and you need to embrace that.”
Much of his outlook on bar life has been influenced by his experience living in New York City, as well as experiencing the Mad I since childhood. Mansen’s uncle opened the bar and has kept it in the family ever since.
“Growing up down here and being a street kid for awhile, hanging out with all the guys down here on the streets, I have a lot of street smarts. Living in New York opened me up to more of that. I have a whole new perspective of life,” says Mansen.
Located at 101 S. San Francisco St., Mad I is in the center of Flagstaff’s southside. The history and rawness of the block seem to be the root of Mansen’s passion. Growing up in downtown, he has seen the true character of South San Francisco Street and is inspired by the local fashion, art, music and live entertainment. Mad I takes the grit of the south side that is often seen as negative and embraces it.
“We like that dark-side-of-the-tracks feel. We keep it mobster; it’s the Mad Italian. This whole wall is dedicated to the Rat Pack, Don Corleone, Italian mobsters and stuff like that because my family has ties that go back into that kind of scene,” Mansen says.
Some of the first eye-catching draws when entering the Mad I are the spacious rooms. Each one offers something unique, from dance floors to pool tables to the patio upstairs. With food specials every night and popular events such as Tequila Sunrise, there is constantly something to look forward to.
Keeping the originality of Mad I is Mansen’s main mission, while at the same time cleaning it up and making it accessible and marketable for all demographics. Although this renovation is a work in progress, changes are already taking place. One major aspect Mansen is trying to improve on is the connection to the university.
In the past, Mad I was a main college bar and hang-out spot. “If we could have a testimonial from every college student that went to the NAU from 1975 to 2005, everybody would be saying Mad I, Mad I, Mad I. This was their home,” Mansen says.
Because of this, Mansen is taking into consideration affordable prices for students as well as an environment where they can feel at home.
Mansen continues, “There’s a lot of bars downtown that people frequent because they’re all joined together, but they don’t have any real connection to the bar besides the fact that everyone’s going there and they offer what they want: music and dancing. That’s cool and all, but we want to build something that’s a second home away from home.”
Whether it’s live music or art, the strong sense of community is what attracts nearly every type of person.
Mansen has one last word of advice for anyone who dares to venture out into the “dark side” of downtown: “Come as you are. Respect the southside and the southside will respect you.”
Expanding patron’s views of the bar is focal to his mission.
“It can be a sports bar, it can be a dance club, it can be a rooftop patio. We want to make it a hub of all of that,” Mansen says.