Hamilton business credited with sparking downtown will close

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Ryan's Tavern is closing this coming Saturday, April 8.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

New restaurant 1791 Bistro is slated to open in its place.

A co-owner of a business widely heralded as a catalyst of downtown Hamilton’s revitalization efforts is selling the property to an ownership with a track record of doing the same.

Don Ryan, who was Hamilton’s mayor from 2002 to 2010, opened Ryan’s Tavern in September 2008. It’s set to close Saturday, two days before the sale of the building at 241 High St., which is to become a new restaurant, 1791 Bistro.

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Ryan said he put the Irish pub and his three manufacturing companies on the market after doctors diagnosed him with health issues more than two years ago.

“The doctors told me … it was going to change my life and I needed to start reducing stress,” Ryan told the Journal-News.

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Local businesses and government officials said Ryan’s Tavern was the business that jump-started the city’s stalled downtown retail, office and housing scene.

“Don Ryan’s investment put energy in our downtown when it desperately needed it,” said City Manager Joshua Smith. “His tavern anchored a renaissance that has included multiple new restaurant, retail and office additions since it opened. His vision of a vibrant Hamilton is coming to fruition, and his sacrifices in helping our community get to where we are today should be commended.”

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Smith said the new ownership group has collectively put tens of millions of dollars into downtown Hamilton the past decade as Louisville, Ohio-based Historic Developers LLC, reactivating empty buildings and catalyzing new development.

“They understand the need to have a first-class restaurant at this location to support their other investments,” Smith said. “Besides a new menu, they intend to invest into making additional exterior improvements to the current building, add a commercial wood-fired pizza oven and … create an outdoor seating area.”

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Developers of 1791 Bistro could not be reached for comment, or to provide timing of the restaurant’s opening.

Chris Cannon, who opened True West Coffee’s High Street location in 2013, said he was sad to hear the city would be losing a business that was “kind of cornerstone” to its growing downtown.

“They opened the door for other businesses to come in, so it’s sad to have them go and obviously we wish the best for Don and his health,” Cannon said. “We’re interested in who’s going to be coming in next and hope that it’s an establishment that people will fall in love with just like Ryan’s.”

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Selling the building and closing Ryan’s Tavern is sad and bittersweet, Ryan said.

“When I became mayor … I wanted to follow the strategies of the Vision 2020 Plan because hundreds and hundreds of citizens had worked on that in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, and that was a motivating reason for me to run for mayor,” Ryan said.

When he started to do so, it became apparent that downtown Hamilton was in need of “creative revitalization.”

“Basically, we were just … government and banking downtown,” Ryan said.

Ryan’s Tavern got its start when Ryan, who said his Irish roots in America stretch back seven or eight generations, was watching a PBS documentary in 2006 about Irish pubs being constructed in India, China and Saudi Arabia.

“My exact thought was ‘Hell, we’ll put one in downtown Hamilton,’” he said. “The goal was to begin the revitalization process because nobody came to the downtown after 5 o’clock. The vision was to create a destination for … not just Greater Hamilton citizens, but for all of Butler County and beyond, to attract people to our downtown, because it’s a beautiful downtown.”

An all-day party to say “thank you” to customers and friends is scheduled from 11 a.m. to close of business Saturday, Ryan said. All bookings made through this December will be honored, as well as all gift certificates, he said.

Ryan said he feels good that the business accomplished that goal. He said the best part of owning the business was “meeting the people, talking to the people” about what was going on the city’s burgeoning downtown.

“That’s what I missed the last three years because I wasn’t able to do that, due to my illness,” he said.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing for the business every step of the way. In 2013, Ryan’s Tavern was named a defendant in a lawsuit by a contractor over renovations of the building at 241 High St. Both sides agreed to a negotiated settlement in 2014, avoiding court action.

Ryan’s Tavern manager Tully Milders said he hopes 1791 Bistro remains what Ryan’s Tavern became — the “anchor” of downtown and the community place to gather.

“People kind of count on us as a place whenever they come through Hamilton, especially after they leave the West Side, until they get to West Chester or another town, as one of the places they’ll find the lights on and something to eat and a beverage available,” he said. “I felt like we did everything we possibly could considering all the obstacles to try to take care of every guest that walked in the door here to the best of our ability.”