Alt-hangout Sully's And Lena Pizza Celebrated A 25 Year Anniversary.
June 14, 2007
By Author, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
For Darryl Sullivan and his family, the secrets to running a successful bar and restaurant are creating a family atmosphere, offering live original music and serving quality food at affordable prices. Also, cocaine and federal surveillance. But more on that later.
Park Street institution Lena’s First and Last pizzeria has served Hartford grinders and pizza for 25 years. However, it’s not the first Lena’s. In the 1950s, Hartford restaurateur Lena Bordieri operated a grinder and pizza shop named Lena’s in the same location. When the Sullivans bought the property in the early ‘80s from the Bordieri family they retained the name.
“My mother’s name is Dolores,” Lena’s and Sully’s owner Daryl Sullivan said. “Dolores’s pizza didn’t exactly sound great.”
The sign reads Lena’s First and Last Pizzeria, echoing the name of another Hartford pizza institution, Maple Avenue’s First and Last Tavern. Sullivan said that the shared phrase is coincidental — the two businesses have always been separate.
In short time, Dolores Sullivan came to be known as the new Lena. The place retained its family focus. Dolores, now semi-retired, still comes into Lena’s every day. Daryl, now 40, has worked at the place for 25 years.
The pizza and music juggernaut was originally three buildings, with Lena’s only occupying one. The Sullivans first tried to expand in the mid ‘80s, opening a downtown satellite location. That location, Sullivan said, wasn’t a success, but did pave the way for manifest destiny of Lena’s taking over the large space.
Where Sully’s Pub now stands, there used to be a liquor store called the Boulevard Package Store. Owned by a Colombian gentleman named Fernando “Freddy” Ocampo, the store came to an end in the spring of 1988.
“He got busted for selling the wrong kind of coke,” Sullivan said.
The Hartford Courant reported Ocampo was a part of a statewide cocaine trafficking ring. Before he could be sentenced, Ocampo jumped bail. His assets, including the store, were seized by Federal marshals. The Sullivans bought the space from the government, and by 1989 the Sullivans owned the three buildings.
“I didn’t really have any interest in operating a liquor store. It wasn’t exciting enough for me. So I decided to go into pastries and coffee,” Sullivan said.
He opened Sweet Lena’s in 1992. The jazz coffeehouse was Sullivan’s first experience with live music, something he found he liked. In 1994, after realizing “there were only so many coffees people were going to drink,” Sullivan opened Steve and Sully’s Pub, which was later renamed Sully’s Pub.
The early ‘90s brought other changes. The area behind the buildings, once a dumping lot, became Sully’s revered tiki bar, complete with bamboo fixtures, a surfboard table and several potted palm trees. It’s the perfect atmosphere for a summertime drink, so it’s fitting that alcohol played a role in its conception.
“I got the palm trees at the Vegas bar show. They were in the fifth aisle. I had a little buzz on and thought ‘these are great,’” Sullivan said.
Among local musicians, Sully’s is a favorite venue, in many ways by default.
“There’s no other club in Hartford that’ll give you money to play your own stuff,” Hartford-based keyboardist and singer Matt Zeiner said. “Yeah, it’s not a very flattering testimonial. But there’s really no other place — that’s a good thing in a way, too. Sully’s has garnered this community of patrons that go there to see live music.”
Bloomfield native Doug Wimbish, the former house bass player for pioneering hip-hop label Sugar Hill records and current member of Living Colour, also praised Sully’s artist friendly attitude.
“I became a Fan of Sully’s when I moved from Bleeker St. in NYC to Hartford in 2001,” Wimbish said in an e-mail. “I realized that this establishment was the center for artist, writers, DJs, poets, etc.”
Sullivan said having a family-friendly restaurant connected to a boisterous bar with live music can sometimes be a challenge.
“It still doesn’t mesh perfectly. Beer and pizza should mesh perfectly, but family with music, sometimes maybe not,” Sullivan said, adding that the peak hours of the two businesses don’t overlap. “Sully’s is a late night crowd, and Lena’s is traditionally closed.”
He added: “I’ve been told by customers at Sully’s and Lena’s that they come down here for specific, different purposes. If they’re coming to eat, they’re coming to Lena’s. If they’re coming to party, they’re coming to Sully’s.”