Former Mercury Theater Owner Returns With Plans for Niceley's Tavern

Kevin Niceley's angular frame is drizzled across a wicker chair on the second floor of the former Hawkeye's Too building off 17th Street. He's wearing a dirty PBR T-shirt, his blonde hair a wildly unkempt surfer's mane, his thatchy beard patched with grey. He's clenching a half-empty can of Natural Lite in a grimy paw, and there's a faint whiff of perspiration blowing off from the open window on the other side of him—a by-product of his tireless efforts to have the building ready for a May reopening as Niceley's Tavern, a combination roots/honky-tonk music venue and restaurant that will serve sustainable barbecue and beef.

Many may remember Niceley as the colorful proprietor of the Mercury Theater, a popular alt/punk/rock club that operated on Market Square—in the space now occupied by Preservation Pub—from 1992 until 1998. Niceley then exported the concept to the Old City as Neptune from 1998 until 2000, when the floor caved in and landlord issues ensued. What followed was a move to Daytona, Fla., and his managing, then owning, a string of successful clubs at the beach.

"I ran the Crook's Den, which is the meanest biker bar in town," Niceley says. "Fights, stabbings, are an everyday thing. It's an institution in Daytona. I had to pay my dues.... I think some people think of Daytona as being sort of an exotic place. It's not. I call it Bristol with an ocean. Sodom by the sea."

In 2004, he opened the first Niceley's Tavern, a two-story club that hosted music every night, at the corner of A1A and International Speedway Boulevard in Daytona. He sold the club in 2007—at a sizable profit, he says—after a personality conflict with the landlord, and opened the One Horse Saloon.

"It was a juke joint—great jukebox, cheap beer in cans and draft, a menu of pickled pigs' feet, pickled eggs, and pickled sausages, maybe a bag of chips. It was a great neighborhood bar."

In the meantime, though, the ever-roving and restless Niceley began to settle down. In 2009, he and girlfriend Jacari Dallman had a daughter, Skyla Rae Niceley. (Niceley and Dallman plan on getting married in June, "God willing and the creek don't rise," he says.) And with the advent of new familial responsibilities, Niceley says he felt the urge to return to his roots, and his family farms.

"I believe the end of the world is coming, and it's time to get back home," he says. "It's time to come back to Tennessee, where no mater what happens to the economy, I can grow food and feed my family."

But, Niceley notes, "I'm also a tavernaire," and the family farms in Mascot (two) and Strawberry Plains, all of which are home to herds of lamb, goat, and Black Angus beef, as well as growing a wide variety of fresh produce, will help supply Niceley's Tavern with fresh meat and vegetables.

"We're going to try to be as green and local as possible," Niceley says. "Focus on sustainable and organic whenever we can. I don't see any shortage of locally produced Black Angus beef. Even the furniture is local; I grew the wood on our farm, cut it in our sawmill, put it together myself." He motions to some of the rough-hewn evidence, now lining the far wall of the second floor.

The tavern's musical entertainment, he says, will also be a mostly local affair. With help from his cousin, local songstress Jennifer Niceley, he plans on booking an array of predominantly local acts, with emphasis on "acoustic, roots, blues, bluegrass, homegrown, a little honky-tonk."

And despite the Mercury's raucous alt-rock pedigree, he stresses that this time out, "Punk bands need not apply. And bring your own P.A. No prima donnas. What I'm looking for is a good, fun-time bar with live music, a great jukebox, and good, sustainable food."