Dave Stough seems to possess the perfect personality for the owner of a bar like the Shamrock Lounge, if not exactly the right skill set.
"I’m not a very good bartender, and I’m an even worse bookkeeper," Stough said, his laughter booming across the bar. "I’m good at promoting things, at being that guy."
Fortunately for Stough, he found two women to complement his talents — his wife, Nicole, who handles the bar’s books, and Dee Hess, his head barkeeper. "If it wasn’t for them, I’m not going to say I wouldn’t have made it, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun."
The Shamrock, in the Delano neighborhood, is one of the city’s oldest watering holes. It opened as Geselle’s Bar & Grill with a pharmacy occupying half the original space — in 1933, according to what Stough said he was told by original owner T.C. Geselle’s granddaughter. A black-and-white photograph of Geselle pouring Budweisers for 15 cents each hangs on one wall.
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"Some people say we’re the oldest. Some people say Merle’s is the oldest," Stough said, referring to another neighborhood drinking establishment. "I probably wouldn’t bet my life on it."
Sometime after World War II, Geselle sold the place to Morris McGlynn, who renamed it the Shamrock and ran it until his death, when his son Paul took over. It went through several other operators, some with colorful reputations before closing in 2002.
That’s when Stough stepped in. A burly former all-state defensive lineman from North High (class of ’71), Stough had worked construction, driven a truck and led tours among other jobs while living on both coasts. He was a part-owner of The Spot, a now-gone bar at Hydraulic and Douglas, from 1986-88. Inspired by a trip to Seattle, he was actually looking to open a coffeehouse in Wichita but discovered that someone had snatched up his preferred location.
"The first couple years, it was a struggle, living off pool table revenue and stuff like that," Stough said of the Shamrock. "If anybody thinks this is an easy way to make a living, it’s not."
Stough, who loves live music and cooking, discovered that offering food and live music on a daily basis was not profitable. Now the Shamrock usually hosts one or two music shows a month, often featuring multiple bands; no genre seems off limit. On the last Wednesday of each month, it’s the site of the Wichita Blues Society’s popular open jam.
For his annual Tornado Bait Party, a holdover from The Spot days, Stough roasts a whole hog. For this year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration, he cooked 80 corned beef roasts (washed down with nearly 50 kegs of beer). Smaller events might be accompanied by a fish fry or oyster feed.
As the St. Patty Day numbers suggest, the Shamrock seems to have hit its stride, and not just on holidays. Stough recently finished the second of two outdoor patios that added 100 seats to those inside, plus a smokehouse to indulge his inner Emeril.
The Shamrock has always attracted an eclectic clientele — "the totally ancient guy talking to the kid with a mohawk," as Stough puts it. It’s part-neighborhood bar and part-hipster hangout, a place you go to get away or run into old friends.
A few years back, one of the regulars swiped the bar’s pet toy sheep and took photos with it around town, sending back notes that appeared to have been hoof-written. It’s not Applebee’s, in other words.
And Stough is not one of those bar owners with a strict rule against sampling his own product while on the job. Sitting down with customers and hearing the latest joke, story or neighborhood gossip, seeing people enjoy his food or a band he’s booked "is the best part of the business," he said.
"We really appreciate people’s support over the years. I would have to say it’s the most successful I’ve been in my life."