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Tony’s Tavern Offers A Place For All

Tucked away from the hustle and chaos of Court Street at 7 W. State St. lies Tony’s Tavern, a local dive bar that has been owned and operated by Tony Sylvester since 1982. Inside, the roar of laughter and casual conversation fills the dimly lit room, an atmosphere that serves as the backbone of the bar. 

Tony’s is known not only for its inviting environment, but also its staunch support of the LGBTQIA+ community, as seen immediately by the transgender flag hanging outside the establishment.

“Since it’s one of – if not the most – inclusive bar on campus, there’s a wide range of diverse folks that like to hang out there, (which) makes it a really friendly and kind environment,” said Mitch Sisky, a former bouncer at Tony’s.

Sylvester himself emphasizes his commitment to inclusivity, wanting everyone who walks in the door to have a good time and feel at home.

According to Sylvester, the average age of patrons ranges from 32-62, but college students still frequent Tony’s as well.

One regular of Tony’s is Orhan Kocataş, a Ph.D. student studying instructional technology. When Kocataş first came to Athens in 2016, Tony’s immediately attracted him due to its laid-back environment. Being an international student from Türkiye, formerly known as Turkey, he wanted a place where he could practice his English with native speakers, and Tony’s was a great place to do so.

“I feel everyone is welcome there, as an intern student from a different country, different ethnicity, a different appearance, physical appearance,” he said. “They’re very welcoming people, bartenders, owners, regulars.”

Now, Kocataş said he’s acquainted with almost everyone who goes there, even Sylvester himself, who he describes as a great person.

Most other regulars know Sylvester too, and when he goes into the bar, he’s greeted with smiles and waves. Subsequently, the bar’s motto – “Tony’s: Where everybody calls you names” – checks out, as the friendliness of the bar is marked with amicable teasing among regulars.

Joking aside, Kocataş also reaffirmed the friendly atmosphere of Tony’s and said the feeling is that everyone is welcome there regardless of their ethnicity or appearance.

Another key component of Tony’s is the camaraderie that exists between staff members.

Sisky describes it as a “very community-driven environment,” with fellow employees always willing to take others’ shifts and even occasionally bringing small unexpected gifts to each other.

Sylvester also takes pride in his staff, specifically shouting out Chandra Trembly, who’s been the manager of Tony’s for over a decade.

“I’m very proud of the fact that my bartenders can make a living bartending (here),” Sylvester said.

The origins of Tony’s famous Hot Nut shot, which is a mixture of coffee, hazelnut flavoring and liquor, come from a former bartender of the establishment.

“We decided we needed to get rid of (some drinks). We just started mixing stuff and the coffee and hazelnut took off,” Sylvester said. “(Now), every OU alumni event in the country has a Hot Nut.”

Despite some believing there’s a special ingredient in Hot Nuts, Sylvester confirms there is not.

“Our secret is there is no secret,” he said, laughing.

What sets Tony’s apart from other bars is not just its Hot Nuts, but also its bartenders, its inclusive environment and the dedication Sylvester has to the bar.

Throughout the decades, Sylvester has remained humble and appreciative of the ones around him who have helped Tony’s thrive.

“I’m not the kind of guy that believes that I’m the only reason (Tony’s) is successful,” he said. “My ability to put people in a position to be successful makes it even more successful.”

Sylvester also added he feels blessed he has a career he genuinely enjoys because not everyone gets that opportunity.

“42 years later, I’m still happy,” he said. “That’s how I know I’m supposed to be doing (this), and I wish that for everybody.”

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