BLUE MONKEY Take a walk on the wild side — or more like South Front, where the food chain consists of pub-grub, and the sounds of the jungle compare to rhythm and blues. The eccentric blue and yellow paint of Blue Monkey’s building is a shock when compared to the conservative brick structures surrounding it. To most, this funky building with a funky name is solely a place for entertainment, good food, friends, and affordable beer. But to owners Mike Johnson, Butch Gordon, Glenn Delashmit, and George Bogy, this pub is more than a neighborhood hangout; it symbolizes their journey of constructing a dream, facing disaster, and building renewal. The journey of the Monkey began with a few beers. After deciding to open a pub in Memphis, the owners needed a name. As former bartenders, they wanted their name to have a classic pub ring to it, something that evoked the relaxed pub atmosphere. Johnson says, “After a few beers, that’s what we came up with: Blue Monkey.” With a name, their journey continued to Midtown and the opening of their first pub in October 1999. The neighborhood hailed the establishment a success, which led the owners to consider a second location. Their sights turned Downtown after hearing the rising buzz about the area’s potential. After two years of planning and construction, the second Blue Monkey opened its doors in 2003 at the corner of Front and G.E. Patterson inside a historic 1870s building. Early one cold morning, a little more than two years after opening, the owners woke to terrible news: The Downtown Blue Monkey was engulfed in flames. Johnson says the mystery of the fire’s true cause remains. “The fire department was never able to tell us what happened. They said it was electrical, origin unknown.” As employees, friends, and patrons watched, the two-story building burned for hours, eventually collapsing into little more than rubble. “That was the longest day of my life — an awful day for all of us, “ says Johnson. “That building was a great building, and we hate that we lost it on our watch. To us, that was the biggest tragedy about the fire, losing that building. We were actually in the process of getting it through the Landmarks Commission. It’s a hard pill to swallow.” The owners eventually rebounded with a plan: They would just rebuild from the ashes. But overwhelming construction costs turned the owners away from the original site and focused them instead on a neighboring building that was up for lease. A call was made to Joe Hornyck, the designer used for the previous Monkeys, Who specializes in conservation. Thanks in no small part to him, Blue Monkey pubs use recycled materials such as old liquor and wine labels plastered on tables, and used wine corks that create mosaics and outline a trolley by the bar. The new Monkey would keep with that tradition. Meanwhile, patrons and friends waited. And waited. The owners took an active part in the construction, paying close attention to detail. “None of the woodwork is prefabricated,” Johnson explains. “That’s why it takes so long to construct one of our restaurants, because we do all the work ourselves. It takes a little while, but it works like a charm.” The Downtown Blue Monkey reopened in May 2008 with a seating capacity of 100. Along with the eco-friendly decor, the walls are eclectically decorated with neon-lit beer signs, odds and ends, and a stack of Petron bottles. Johnson says that 80 percent of their business is neighborhood-driven because of the proximity of Downtown’s central business district. While the Midtown location is primarily beverage-driven, this location thrives on food. The menu’s offerings run from chicken tenders to prime rib to daily plate lunches. But the bar is still important, of course. As former bartenders, the owners’ standards are high. “Generally, we don’t put someone behind the bar who we haven’t worked with or know,” says Johnson. “There’s an art to mixology, but a good bit of it is how you interact with the customers. We want our bartenders to remember a customer’s name and drink when they walk in. It’s that extra bit of consideration.” The Blue Monkey offers a swinging schedule throughout the week with trivia on Mondays, discounted steak prices on Tuesdays, karaoke on Saturdays, and a happy hour daily. Catering, to-go orders, and party trays are also available. More construction is on the horizon for the Downtown Monkey. By the end of summer, there could be a small deck in front, which could pave the way for live music. Johnson says the Blue Monkey is not looking at expanding to a third location at the moment, but he sees potential in other areas Downtown — and even Nashville. “Never say never,” he says. “If the right opportunity comes along, we’ll move on it.” Blue Monkey, 529 S. Front, 527-6665. Visit the Blue Monkey on Facebook.
Published by Downtowner Magazine. View All Articles.
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