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Two Sugar House bars linked by history

Published May 20, 2013 9:27 am

Tap Room and The Bar in Sugarhouse finding their customer niche.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When the Tap Room closed in May 2001, and reopened exactly one year later down the street in Sugar House, its owner moved more than just a name.

Dennis Chambers estimates at least 80 percent of the regulars who used to tip a few at the cozy bar at 2168 S. Highland Drive followed him to his new location at 2275 S. Highland Drive. Loyal customers clung to what Chambers described as a "family" that included longtime staffers and patrons.

Not everyone fled.

Odie Roberts stayed true to the tiny chalet-style pub — just 625 square feet in size — which is now known as The Bar in Sugarhouse.

"This is the Tap Room," Roberts said, gesturing with one hand and holding a Coors in another.

His loyalty lingers in a sense of place, refusing to leave the building that for him and many others holds years and years of memories. And Roberts swears the Coors tastes better at The Bar In Sugarhouse, with its original bar and wood paneling inside.

Each bar has its regulars despite a dustup that made headlines 12 years ago when the property where Tap Room used to be came under new ownership.

Bar history • The history before that is rich.

From 1936 to 1946, The Bar in Sugarhouse building was a chiropractor's office, where Fred Kesler practiced. But he wanted to move, so he leased the place to Manny Daniels, who started Tap Room. The lease continued for decades on a handshake deal. Daniels, who never thought to register the Tap Room name, died in April 1999 at age 84. Kesler, a faithful member of the LDS Church, passed the next September at 87.

As businessmen they were old school.

Daniels' obit describes a man "nationally known for his monstrous sandwiches, cold beer and terrific chili. He was known as the working man's friend, cashing payroll checks, making loans and caring for the less fortunate."

"He was kind of a bar 'god' for a while," Chambers said about Daniels, who helped others start pubs in addition to several of his own.

It's why Chambers put a small gold plaque at the new Tap Room that reads, "In Memory of Manny Daniels." Chambers, who worked at the old Tap Room before owning it, recalled being "schooled" by Daniels behind the bar even when the boss was in his 80s.

When Daniels died, the bar operations fell into the hands of his wife, Marianne, and eventually Chambers took ownership. Some time after Kesler's death, the building and land beneath it were bought from the estate by grandson Spencer Ahrend.

That's about where things went south, literally, although neither side has any interest today in rehashing the details.

"To keep drumming up those old ghosts is just stupid," Chambers said.

New chapter • Ahrend and wife Lisa took over, working the day and night shifts alone for a month to get the hang of the business, which once sold about 25 kegs of Coors beer per week.

"It's a friendly place," Spencer Ahrend said. "You come here to have a beer. … It's a step back in time. There are not too many places like this."

These days, bartender Kayley Dardano still serves plenty of Coors, but The Bar in Sugarhouse has added several more brands (still no hard liquor), including locally brewed Priesthood Pale Ale from Unsacred (Epic) Brewing Company and Shades of Pale's Jack Wagon Wheat occupying two of eight taps.

"We're known for our cheap beer," Dardano said. Munchies include chips and the Kickass brand of beef jerky sold from behind the bar.

Other than a few plumbing and electrical upgrades, the place is the same as when Daniels started serving beers in 1947.

The family of patrons has been fractured by Tap Room's move a block south, but there's still plenty like Odie Roberts at The Bar in Sugarhouse who regularly warm the stool seats.

Tap Room 2 • Down the street, the family roots at Tap Room, growing since reopening in 2002, already run deep.

A bulletin board near the entry is overcrowded with photos of people who work and regularly commiserate at Tap Room.

"He took me on my first river trip," bartender Ed "Just Ed" Droney said about his boss, Chambers. "We know each other's kids. … He's really good to all his employees."

Droney has been a bartender at Tap Room since 2003.

Exposed ductwork is covered in the signatures of adoring Tap Room fans — evidence that the bar is building a new soul.

Pieces of paper in shot glasses behind the bar are reminders of regulars' tabs – record-keeping done old school, like Daniels might have operated.

Tap Room's evolution includes adding a few games, a touch-screen jukebox, a patio with seating for 25 and more room inside for up to about 50 folks. You can order a $1.50 beer, drinks with hard liquor and even a $110 shot of 100-year-old King Louis XII de Rémy Martin Cognac.

Customers can also get a "monstrous" sandwich, à la Daniels. Chambers' evolving recipe includes homemade meatloaf made from hamburger, elk and bison, which is especially good with a freshly pulled Killian's Irish Red.

James Baucum is typical of the Tap Room loyalists, who tend to live in the Sugar House area and who enjoy Chambers' company and knowing their beer money is going to a good guy.

"My friends are here," Baucum said. At this bar people ask how your week was — "and they're sincere about it." And Droney always knows what to serve when he walks in the door.

Tap Room, Baucum said, is a place with a "small-town" feel where "ties and dirty shirts" sit together to talk and have a few beers.

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The Bar in Sugarhouse

A no-frills beer bar in a long, narrow but tiny houselike setting.

Where • 2168 S. Highland Drive, Salt Lake City

Open • Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday, noon to 11 p.m.

Details • 801-485-1232 or facebook.com/thebarinsugarhouse

Tap Room

A clean bar with seating for about 50, not including a patio. Also offers karaoke on Saturdays and a Geeks Who Drink trivia night on Wednesdays.

Where • 2275 S. Highland Drive, Salt Lake City

Open • Sunday-Saturday, noon to 1 a.m.

Details • 801-466-0974 or facebook.com/slctaproom