Changing Hands

Hanover, Ind., couple buys renowned Shipley’s Tavern

The bar has become quite a landmark in Madison, Ind.

(March 2020) – Ask any Madison, Ind., resident where to go for an authentic tavern experience and the odds are good that you’ll be directed to 322 West St., the home of Shipley’s Tavern.
The historic building was opened as a bar in 1867 and named the Cincinnati Brewing Co. Somewhere around the World War II era, the Shipley family bought the bar and owned it for more than 20 years, dubbing it the iconic Shipley’s Tavern. Since then it has passed through the hands of 20-plus owners.
A couple of owners have tried name changes, but none have stuck the way that Shipley’s has. Former owner of 15 years, Cris Sauer, attributes that to the fact that “everybody knows where it’s at. It’s hard to change the name of a place that is so well known.”
Most recently to call Shipley’s their own are new owners John and Molly Jones, both of whom are associate athletic directors at Hanover College and are residents of Hanover. They bought the tavern from Sauer on Jan. 7. Don’t worry, they have no intention of changing the name. In fact, the only things they have changed so far are fixing the bathroom doors and adding pretzels with beer cheese and a big screen TV. They also removed the ribeye sandwich because “it just wasn’t a good fit for this establishment,” according to Molly.

Photo by Sierra Moore

John and Molly Jones say they plan to keep Shipley’s Tavern much the way it is but still put their own mark on it.

“Gradually we’d like to make it ours,” she continued. Some ways they are looking to do this are biodegradable to go materials to make it more environmentally friendly, potentially putting charger ports into the bar top and having their daughter really make use of the dormant social media pages. But right now they are focusing on getting familiar with the community and making the most of what they already have.
“We’re really invested in the people here,” said John Jones. “Four of the employees have been here for four years or longer at a bar. You just don’t see that. Jackie, our general manager, has been here for 14 years.”
“We didn’t miss a beat because she worked with us, had the menu, knew what to order,” added Molly.
“They’ve developed relationships with the community, and we’re introducing ourselves to the community. We meet new people every time we’re in here.” John said. “For me, I like hearing the stories of people who have been coming here forever. We have one guy who has been coming here every day for 50 years. It’s just priceless.”
According to Sauer, the grill at Shipley’s Tavern is another priceless part of the experience. “When I bought it, there was a woman who had worked there for 40 years and said that the secret to their burgers was the seasoning of the grill over the years. The grill is older than 50 years, but nobody could identify exactly how old because no one can read the numbers on it. I had it rebuilt three times. In my opinion it is too valuable to buy a new one. It would’ve been easier and cheaper, but when you have something that valuable, you just take care of it.”
Thankfully for the community of Madison, taking care of Shipley’s Tavern is exactly what the Joneses plans on doing for a long time. It was after scoping out the bar without anyone else knowing, seeing how busy it was and how well it ran that the Joneses decided that this is where they’d like to stay for a long time.
“I grew up in Hanover, so I’ve always been nearby. But as we’re nearing retirement age, we decided when we bought this place that this where we’d retire,” said Molly. They eventually plan to fix up the two upstairs floors to live in. A rumor has it they might have to kick the ghost of a former employee out to do so.
In the meantime, she said, “We’d like to try and reach out to the community with festivals and specials. Possibly have a grand re-opening in the spring to kick off festival season. We do listen to suggestions and take them to heart. We will continue to respond to suggestions and make it a community tavern that people will keep coming to. It’s a great social space that you can come into as you are. As long as you are 21, you can come on in.”


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