Carrie Rengers

Popular Wichita venue to sell to duo hoping to take it to the next musical level

Four years to the month since Alex Thomas, Adam Hartke and Brian Cunningham bought and transformed Barleycorn’s downtown, they are letting the bar and venue go.

“It’s a very bittersweet decision, but you know, the three of us have a really hard time getting in the same room together we just have so much else going on,” Thomas says.

New Shamrock owner Justin Brown, who also is a partner in Snug Harbor, will close on his purchase of Barleycorn’s April 1.

Kenny Ballinger will manage the business, and Brown says he wouldn’t be buying it without him.

“Not to use a tired analogy, but I’m a backup singer, and he’s the star of the show,” Brown says. “He’s the one that’s going to be out getting shows.”

The address, at 608 E. Douglas next to the Old Mill Tasty Shop, has been home to popular bars for decades.

“I first walked into that spot when it was Panama Red’s in 1996,” Thomas says.

The trio of owners transformed it into a music venue of note with a giant marquee advertising multiple shows every week.

“It was a little bit of a proving ground in terms of just what we could do for regional and some national acts,” Thomas says.

“We’ve brought some attention to that area.”

He and Hartke have since purchased the Cotillion, and Hartke also has the new Wave downtown, which has left less time for Barleycorn’s.

“We’ve been a little absentee, and I think it shows,” Thomas says.

Ballinger will focus on the shows with an assist from Thomas, who will be a consultant as long as the transition takes.

The renewed focus on the music will “just take it to that next level,” Thomas says.

He says it’s hard to let go, though.

“It was a great time. A great experience. . . . It was like going to war with two of your friends.”

However, he says, “The worst thing that we could do is hold onto it because of emotional ties.”

Carrie Rengers has been a reporter for almost three decades, including 16 years at The Wichita Eagle. Her Have You Heard? column of business scoops runs five days a week in The Eagle. If you have a tip, please e-mail or tweet her or call 316-268-6340.