Warm weather breathes new life into Sullivan’s in Belleville each spring.
Owners Jackie and Steve “Sully” Sullivan open their beer garden, which has been a labor of love for more than 10 years.
“I hate it when people compare us to Soulard,” Jackie said, referring to the historic St. Louis neighborhood known for its shady brick courtyards. “I think we’re better than Soulard.”
Sullivan’s bar occupies the lower level of a 1898 building along railroad tracks near North End Park. The patio already had a massive brick fireplace when Jackie and Steve bought it in 2002. They finished it off with walls made of bricks from the old Central Junior High School, wrought-iron fencing, trees and a triangular shade cloth.
Metal furniture and wooden picnic tables are surrounded by landscaping beds full of ivy and shrubs. Yard art includes concrete birdbaths and flowers that Jackie made of colorful porcelain plates and bowls on copper stems.
“Look at this fireplace,” said bartender Lisa Baldridge, 49, of Belleville. “Isn’t it great? People can have parties back here. They bring their own food and buy their beverages from us. They just need to let us know in advance.”
On a recent Sunday, five bicyclists were sitting at high-top tables, socializing and drinking beer after an afternoon ride on Richland Creek Greenway, which is right across the parking lot. The sun was going down, prompting Jackie to turn on the old-fashioned street lamps and hanging Edison-style light bulbs.
“We ride our bikes around town, and this is one of the places we frequent,” said Steve Panek, 51, of Shiloh. “We love the ambiance and the bartenders.”
Inside, Sullivan’s has one of the oldest pool tables in the area and a back room for video gambling. Food is limited to T.J.’s pizzas, egg rolls and stuffed pretzels.
“At least one night a week, we have live music, ranging from blues to country, rock to ’80s and ’90s,” Lisa said. “We usually have it inside, unless it’s really great weather, if we know it’s not going to rain.”
The Sullivans have three children and eight grandchildren. Steve is a retired Air Force pilot who worked for Midway Airlines before it declared bankruptcy in 2003 and put him out of a job.
He was at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota when Jackie, a homemaker, called to suggest they open a bar.
“It was a dumb thing that we should not have done, but we did it,” Steve said with a laugh.
Inside, the Sullivans exposed brick walls, installed a tin ceiling from an old dress shop in East St. Louis and left intact the original hardwood floor. Jackie filled the bar with artwork, antiques and other collectibles, including marionettes and dolls, many bought on European trips.
Full-size cut-outs of John Wayne and Elvira mark restroom doors. More than 30 chandeliers, made of everything from crystal to plastic Solo cups, hang from the ceiling.
“See that? It’s an original Anheuser-Busch bar back,” Jackie said. “It’s solid oak. That’s the only reason I wanted this place.”
The building has housed several bars, and the Sullivans have heard many stories about its history. One man remembered foundry workers from across the street buying buckets of beer after their shifts. Another recalled someone rolling and selling cigars in back.
Today’s customers describe Sullivan’s as a place for people of all ages, not just college kids or young adults. It has 12 beers on tap, including Belleville native Stag, Guiness Irish stout and Czech-made Pilsner Urquell.
“I just love the atmosphere and the people,” said Terry Carrera, 57, of Belleville. “It’s so friendly. You don’t have any trouble here.”
“As women, we can come here and sit at the bar and feel comfortable,” added his girlfriend, Trudy Boaz.