Carrie Rengers

John Barleycorn’s to close Sunday; new owners to open in May as Barleycorns

Longtime John Barleycorn’s owner Curt Melzer is selling the business, which soon will be known simply as Barleycorns.
Longtime John Barleycorn’s owner Curt Melzer is selling the business, which soon will be known simply as Barleycorns. The Wichita Eagle

One of Wichita’s most long-standing bars is changing hands for the first time in 15 years.

Curt Melzer is selling John Barleycorn’s, which is at 608 E. Douglas downtown.

“I’m not getting out of the bar business,” Melzer says. “I’m just simplifying my life.”

He’ll still own the Vagabond in Delano and Harbour Lights in Lawrence. Melzer also teaches high school math full time.

“I’ve got a lot going on and can’t spend the time down here that I would like to and need to.”

Melzer reached out to Alex Thomas, who owns Kirby’s Beer Store and Lucky's Everyday, about buying Barleycorn’s.

Melzer says Thomas has a lot of connections in the music business “and really is passionate about live music, so I think he can carry on the tradition of live music at Barleycorn’s.”

With two bars of his own already along with HaverHill Studios, Thomas in turn reached out to a couple of friends – Brian Cunningham and Adam Hartke – to partner with him on the purchase.

“I approached those guys to partner up with me because at this point, I’m getting spread pretty thin,” Thomas says.

“Brian and I have been working together on a couple of other deals related to live music, so it seemed to make sense.”

Hartke has been a music promoter in Wichita and now works for Wichita Festivals.

“They were both all about it,” Thomas says. “Money hasn’t changed hands, but it’s all but done except for final contracts.”

Sunday is Melzer’s last day in business. Then the bar will close for about a month and a half.

“We’re going to do some painting and clean up and then eventually open the kitchen,” Thomas says. “We’re not going to rush into that.”

He says they’d eventually like to serve lunch.

“We’re going to approach that very cautiously.”

Melzer says he thinks a return to food makes sense for the business.

“With the opening of the Intrust Bank Arena, that’s certainly something that would be good,” Melzer says.

He adds, “The Intrust Bank Arena has been good for us downtown.”

Melzer typically has had three or four promoted events a week, such as live music, trivia or comedy.

Thomas says he had been looking for an event-oriented bar when Lucky’s became available in 2012.

“I just got bombarded by requests of people who wanted to play Lucky’s,” he says.

Except Thomas says Lucky’s is more of a “great hangout bar” than a music venue.

“Lucky’s is not set up for music very well. Barleycorn’s is,” he says. “That’s the tradition, and we really feel like it could be an institution.”

Thomas and his partners plan to reopen the business as Barleycorns, minus the “John” and the apostrophe, on May 1. They considered a name change but decided against it.

“Barleycorns over the years has had a rich history of music, so we ultimately decided to keep it,” Thomas says. “That’s what everyone calls it anyway.”

Reach Carrie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or Follow her on Twitter: @CarrieRengers.

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