South Park Tavern celebrates its fifth anniversary
Kevin J. Gray
It’s hard to believe that, five years ago, South Park Tavern, now an iconic location for music and great beer in Dayton, was just a dream that manager Shaine Sullivan was selling to owner Bill Daniels.
South Park Tavern moved into a building that had seen rapid turnover in the years prior, from The Oak to Skinners to Cafe Potage to the Pizza Factory. But in the last five years, the salmon-colored house on Wayne Avenue has settled into its current iteration, making a name for itself by serving a consistent line-up of solid craft beers and hosting an eclectic mix of local, regional and national musicians.
Prior to the establishment becoming what it is today, owner Bill Daniels, who also owns the Pizza Factory, had tried the location for take-out pizzas and larger group dinners. The results were mixed and Sullivan, working a variety of jobs for Daniels, saw that the building could be something more.
He crafted a proposal and convinced Daniels to make an investment in the operation. For the next several months, Shaine, with his family, practically lived in the building while he transformed the old house into a serviceable tavern.
When South Park Tavern first opened, it was a scaled down version of what we know it as now. There was no live music and no patio. The bar, which was located where the stage is today, had five seats and only a small variety of tap handles. The menu consisted solely of pizza, wines and craft beers. But despite the humble start, the community took to it, and Sullivan’s hard work started to pay off.
Over time, Sullivan constantly looked for ways to continue to improve the establishment. He tells about sitting at the back booth, looking out over the room, and asking himself, “What can I do next?”
One of the first major additions was the inclusion of live music. Sullivan, a musician himself, started booking acoustic acts one or two nights a week. There was no real stage at that point, so the location of the band varied. At one point, it was situated where the bar is today. It also resided near the booths adjacent to the door.
Then, one day, it occurred to Sullivan that if he moved the bar, he could open up room for a proper stage. He went to work again.
The old bar was moved, and a stage was set up. He procured a drop-down video screen from one of the local universities, to be able to project sports events when the stage was not in use. And behind the screen, in an effort to keep all of the bands who play at South Park humble, Sullivan scrawled a playful reminder: “Your band sucks.”
He slowly began building up his music list, and partnered with DCP co-editor Kyle Melton to help with booking more and more live music. Melton established his Tuesday night Buddha Den series, in which monthly local musicians in residence could play with other local bands. Melton works hard to bring in the best local and regional musicians. Sullivan has continually invested in upgraded sound equipment to ensure high-quality music (by his own count, Sullivan claims to have “blown up seven full systems” in the five years the bar has been open).
Sullivan also realized that an expanded bar could mean an expanded tap list, too. He and Daniels agreed to convert a storage closet into a walk-in cooler, and Sullivan worked to run beer lines through the adjacent wall. With a friend, Sullivan sketched out his vision for the now-iconic guitar tap wall, and worked with this friend to fabricate the piece. Ever committed to promoting quality drinks, Sullivan used beers and wines to stain the wood for the piece. Today, the establishment consistently serves up to 18 craft brew taps. The taps change regularly, but there is always a wide variety of rare and interesting beers. Check the website or sign up for the newsletter to get weekly updates.
The menu has also continued to evolve. South Park Tavern has always sold great pizzas, with handmade and hand-tossed dough, sauce that comes from an old family recipe and a variety of quality meats and veggies. The sauces for the salads and wings are all creations of Sullivan’s, and the wings (as well as all other appetizers) are baked, not fried. And within the last year, Sullivan expanded the menu once again, adding a variety of subs, including the South Park Signature Sub and a vegetarian option.
Sullivan credits several factors to the operation’s success. He has a great relationship with the owner, who has been very supportive of Shaine’s continually evolving vision. His ex-wife, Chrissy Sullivan, and his two daughters, Carley and Cailin, were a huge help in getting the operation off the ground. He praises his staff, many having been with the establishment for four years or more. Sullivan and Melton have developed a great partnership for promoting great beer and music. And, of course, the community response has been phenomenal, allowing South Park to continue to grow.
When asked what he has on tap for the anniversary, he gives a wry smile and says, “Not sure yet, but it will be something good.” Knowing Sullivan, expect some very interesting surprises.
Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com