Behind Bars: Ryan Haye at Tree Bar

Erica Thompson

It's been nearly five years since Ryan Haye breathed new life into the iconic Tree Bar, which had flourished as Andyman's Treehouse, then wilted under new management and a new name, The Treehouse. Looking back, Haye is satisfied with what he and his partner, Roni Stiffler, accomplished with the hard-to-find Grandview gem, which sits in an alley.

"Historically, this place has always … thrived on its regulars, and I think we certainly have created new regulars and maintained the regulars from the older incarnations of the bar," Haye said. "It's an odd bar but it's a friendly bar … [and] once people give it a shot, they find that the people in there are pretty nice and it's easy to come back to."

The same goes for music, thanks to Kyle Sowash, who started booking bands well before Haye bought the bar. "It's not a traditional venue, and the fact that [Sowash]'s respected enough [and] this place is respected enough for people to still play here says a lot about it," Haye said.

Each week, bands pack into the tiny "DIY" performance room, built around a silver maple - only a stump remains since the namesake tree was cut down - and decorated with fliers and band stickers. "It's like playing a house show in a bar," Haye said.

"I think, consistently, my favorite nights here over the years have been when Wussy, from Cincinnati, has played here," he said.

Haye's single best night was bartending with Joe Peppercorn when President Obama won re-election. "We had a full crowd in here and it was announced, and the whole place erupted," Haye said.

Pretty soon the memories will be Haye's only connection to Tree Bar, which he and Stiffler put up for sale in mid-July. "I'm not sure that even when we first started the place, this was something [I thought] that I was gonna do forever," he said. "Since then, I've had two kids. I have a marketing job that takes a lot of my time. … This is a place that needs someone to be here all the time."

Haye hopes to transition the bar to a new owner by the end of the year. He has "a lot of interest," but is still accepting offers. In his discussions with potential buyers, he has recommended the current staff remain.

But it will be impossible to keep everything the same. "Everybody has to put their own touch on something when they buy it," said Haye, who has shaped much of the décor with pictures of his favorite musicians, writers and actors. "I want to see the place continue to succeed," he said, and added that he still wants musicians to "come and play and be treated right."

And the patrons will also help carry the bar forward. "What I learned was that you can try to dictate the personality and the feel of the place, but ultimately, it becomes its own thing and you just sort of have to let that happen," Haye said.