Joseph Sullivan, the new owner of Duffy’s at 7513 Madison St., makes people laugh.
“You sure you want to go down there? It’s kind of scary. Have you seen Silence of the Lambs?” he joked with the insurance agent who asked to access the fuse box in the basement of the bar.
A sense of humor will serve him well as the new owner of Duffy’s at 7513 Madison St. Sullivan’s got big plans for the bar. He opened on Sept. 10, and one of the first things he did was take down all the posters and art that featured advertisements, except for the retro Guinness ads.
“I want a different aesthetic,” said Sullivan. “People are already here to drink. I don’t need to advertise to them. And that’s what the blackboard with drink specials is for.”
He’s been shopping at local consignment and resale shops to find interesting art for the walls. One piece is a cross-stitched rendition of a man smoking a pipe, reminiscent of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. And he’s painted his own art across the street at Creativita, where his 11-year-old daughter likes to go.
“I decided to paint a portrait of Uncle Junior from the Sopranos,” he said. He had it framed, and it hangs on the wall of the bar.
Sullivan is new to bar ownership — he was a graphic designer prior to purchasing Duffy’s — but he’s no stranger to the establishment. He’s lived in Forest Park for 12 years, down the street from the Duffy’s, his local watering hole. Early in the summer when he heard rumors that it was for sale, he considered buying it.
“It’s surprising how well the skills from corporate jobs have translated to bar ownership,” he said. “I’ve managed people and budgets, and I’ve been responsible for growth of companies. It’s the same set of skills.”
He admits, though, that he couldn’t do it without his staff, six of whom came with the bar. “The first time I tapped a keg at the bar it sprayed all over,” he said. “My employees are teaching me more than I’m teaching them.”
His goal? To bring fun and spirit back to Duffy’s, and to make the bar more than a place to get a shot and a beer.
“I mean, I’ll still sell you a shot and a beer,” he said with a laugh. “But I want to hold events. I want to partner with other businesses, and I want to give back to the community.” He’s already hosting Seinfeld trivia at the bar, and his one shuffleboard table is such a hit he’s thinking of getting another and starting a shuffleboard league.
“I want Duffy’s to be an anchor of the community,” said Sullivan. He’s planning to partner with the Animal Care League to host an opportunity for people to meet potential pets. A book lover, he wants to offer discounts to Forest Park librarians.
Inspired by NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, he plans to start a Tiny Bar Series, where local musicians can perform at Duffy’s.
“It doesn’t have to be a full night of performances,” he said. “Maybe a half hour at a time. Enough to give people a taste.”
In October, Sullivan served special pink cocktails to honor Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and a dollar from the sale of each drink went to breast cancer research.
“I want to give back to the community and to the people who spend money here,” he said.
Physically, he’ll be changing the space gradually over the next few weeks. Plans include all new equipment behind the bar, a new floor, and fresh paint. He acquired reclaimed wood tables, which he’s refinishing at home.
Although he won’t be serving food, he has an informal relationship with Small Batch, and he’s hoping to develop a system that makes it easy for his customers to order food from there.
“Forest Park is great,” he said. “I love living here. And I’m excited as hell to own a bar here.”