Not many people are willing to stand up for local bar owners, likely because most of their regular patrons can’t seem to stand for very long. However, before this community lets yet another downtown bar turn into a vacant lot that will remain unoccupied for years, something should be said about Mel’s Southside Tavern. 

The Southside became my favorite Chanute drinking locale in the years that I was living and working a decent staggering distance from it, because it was an actual bar. The other downtown options for drinking are either restaurants that happen to serve booze or a loud cavernous nightclub where no one can hear what anyone else is saying.   

The Southside, on the other hand, functioned as a de facto community center where area residents from all walks of life congregated, communicated and commiserated. A conversation could be started with anyone in the tavern and they would have something interesting to say in response. With smart phones and social networks, chances to do this in person with actual human beings seem fewer and fewer. 

On a good night, Mel’s Southside Tavern provided the heartbeat of the city. Surely, that is something worth making an effort to preserve. 

When concerns about its physical condition stopped the establishment from operating as a full-time bar, it closed out its days providing the city with something it desperately neededa decent barbecue joint. Then, the Southside had to close completely, and it now appears that the city is going to tear down this local institution that has served the public for so many years. This won’t be officially decided until a hearing on June 22, but the rhetoric employed by our esteemed City Commissioners makes it seem as if most of them are leaning in that direction. 

On paper and as a purely financial decision, razing a building that would cost more to repair than it is actually worth makes sense. Still, it seems like there should be other ways besides property tax evaluations and fancy-pants city-funded engineering studies to establish how a building really contributes to a community’s quality of life. Sometimes, we should admit that such things can’t be measured on paper. 

It is ironic that the decision to hold this hearing about tearing down Mel’s was announced at the same meeting numerous local civic groups and institutions were lining up to get their money from the city, arguing how much they contribute to the quality of life of local residents. Obviously having the library, Safari Museum, swimming pool, golf course, and art gallery are good for the community. My drinking habit doesn’t really allow me to spend too much time at these places, but I am glad that these city-funded institutions are available to the members of the public who want to visit them. 

I would never want to live in a community that didn’t have a quality downtown bar. That is also a public institution that seems worth preserving. If our city is to thrive and attract the kind of bright young individuals who invest in communities and spur economic development, there needs to be good public places to congregate and have a drink or four. Perhaps, Chanute should consider spending some money to fix the issues at Southside for the same reason it doles out cash to other fix other local buildings and support other local groupsto make this city a better place to live. 

This is especially true because the current condition of the western wall is at least partially the fault of the city repeatedly dropping the ball on this issue. There should at least be some sort of “You break it, you buy it” policy when property that has been owned by the city goes bad and threatens to affect privately-owned businesses in the process. 

Fixing up the Southside would be a good first step towards reversing the unfortunate trend of turning our downtown into one big parking lot. My hope is that the people in the community who are smart enough to recognize this decide not to be as silent as they seem to be around election time, and show up to the city’s hearing on June 22 to comment accordingly. 

  

Please send all questions, comments, hate mail, marriage proposals, plans to save the Southside Tavern, or suggestions for good bars in the areato brian@chanute.com.

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