Otter River Pub owner plans to reopen after fire

Repairs are underway at the Otter River Pub & Red Onion Pool Hall in Templeton following a fire in late September.

Repairs are underway at the Otter River Pub & Red Onion Pool Hall in Templeton following a fire in late September. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Debris are removed from the site of the Otter River Pub & Red Onion Pool Hall. Owner Matt Black said the roof repair is the priority, after which interior work can be done.

Debris are removed from the site of the Otter River Pub & Red Onion Pool Hall. Owner Matt Black said the roof repair is the priority, after which interior work can be done. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO—

The Otter River Pub & Red Onion Pool Hall in Templeton has been closed since a fire devastated the building in late September. Repairs are underway and owner Matt Black hopes to re-open.

The Otter River Pub & Red Onion Pool Hall in Templeton has been closed since a fire devastated the building in late September. Repairs are underway and owner Matt Black hopes to re-open. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The Otter River Pub & Red Onion Pool Hall in Templeton has been closed since a fire devastated the building in late September. Repairs are underway and owner Matt Black hopes to re-open.

The Otter River Pub & Red Onion Pool Hall in Templeton has been closed since a fire devastated the building in late September. Repairs are underway and owner Matt Black hopes to re-open. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Repairs continue at the Otter River Pub and Red Onion Pool Hall in Templeton. The building was badly damaged in a fire in September, but owner Matt Black plans to reopen the historic pub.

Repairs continue at the Otter River Pub and Red Onion Pool Hall in Templeton. The building was badly damaged in a fire in September, but owner Matt Black plans to reopen the historic pub. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By MAX BOWEN

Athol Daily News Editor

Published: 11-13-2023 5:00 PM

TEMPLETON — Following a devastating fire at the Otter River Pub & Red Onion Pool Hall, owner Matt Black has been hard at work to open the doors once again.

In late September, a fire caused significant damage to the historical building’s second and third floors, and the roof and storage building were all but destroyed, Black said. There was also water damage to the first floor. No one was injured, and Templeton Fire said the blaze appeared to be accidental.

Since that day, Black has met with insurance companies, town officials and repair crews to learn the full extent of the damage and get the repair process underway. Black made a number of renovations before opening the doors earlier this year, and is working with the same crews now.

“Our primary concern was we wanted it to look as much or close to the same,” Black said. “My goal was always to fix and update it and get it close to the original shape.”

Black said the repair process is approximately 10-20% complete. The roof has been the priority, since interior work cannot be done until it is finished.

“This is the hardest part and most intricate,” Black said of the roof. “We can’t do any repairs inside until the building is watertight. Once the roof is done, we can do a lot of things in parallel.”

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Black credited the support of Templeton Building Commissioner Richard Hanks as well as the town’s Historical Society. He remembered that the night of the fire, Hanks had asked if Black intended to rebuild the Otter River Pub. When Black said he did, Hanks told him he’d help in any way we could.

Black said a major challenge with a project like this is that the repair costs can easily outweigh the building’s value. Insurance has covered some of the repairs — estimated at $500,000 to $1 million — and for the remainder, he’ll need to find new investors.

Some of that financial support has come from the Otter River Pub’s patrons. Since the fire, there has been a great deal of support online, and this has translated into a number of benefits and fundraisers. Bands that had been booked at the pub before the fire have found new gigs, with the proceeds going toward the rebuild. The Midlife Crisis Band of South Hadley performed before a crowd of 600 people to raise money for the pub, according to Black. His band, Point The Finger, has been invited to perform at several shows. The Brew Barn at the Red Apple Barn has agreed to host the Otter River’s songwriter contest, with a 50/50 raffle as part of the festivities.

“It’s really overwhelming in a good way and it’s amazing what the community is doing to see this happen,” Black said.

Built in 1880, the Otter River Pub and Red Onion Pool Hall has had a number of uses, but the common theme was that it was a place for the community to gather. Today, the pub still has that purpose and Black said he’s heard from several people about the pivotal role it’s had in their lives. It’s been a place to meet friends and enjoy a good meal. Some told stories about how they met the woman who would one day become their wife. Black’s been flipping properties for years, but said after reopening the Otter River Pub, he’s seen so many people come back.

“It means something to people,” he said. “It’s special in some way. I never imagined it would have this reaction. The history is worth more than gold.”

After the fire, Black said he did consider simply walking away after so much time spent getting the Otter River Pub renovated as it was all gone in six hours. But then he remembered the stories, and people have been reminding him what the pub has meant to them. When he bought the building, the previous owner told him that he didn’t own it — the people did.

“Without the community behind you, you’re nothing,” he said. “The people own the bar, not me.”

Max Bowen can be reached at 413-930-4074 or at mbowen@recorder.com.