I decided to check out Jade Monkey this month after hearing buzz from various sources - a fun-loving older woman from my former temp job as well as some quintessentially hip roller derby girls. I figured any place that caters to both the bowling crowd and the bowl-'em-over crowd can't be a bad spot, and I'm always up for touting locales on my dear east side.
The Jade Monkey's location at the intersection of Cottage Grove and Monona Drive, in the place of the now-defunct Hammertime, is both a blessing and a curse for this isthmus-dweller. On the one hand, it's quickly become a neighborhood staple; on the other hand, for non-neighborhood dwellers, a trip requires either a car or a bravely tipsy bike ride home. The question remains, then, if it is a place, like Alchemy, that's worth schlepping to or simply a corner pub.
Anyone who's been there knows it's not merely a Wisco-style watering hole. With fish tanks, nice upholstery and a trendily backlit bar, the Jade touts itself on its website as "the Midwest's first Asian-infused Retro Lounge." Big shoes to fill, especially for a place that still keeps an old dartboard on the back wall. Which, may I add, is a good thing. Yet because I visited the website before I visited the building, I had expected an East Village-style schmoozing den. What I got on a recent Thursday night was an adult softball league celebration and Johnny Cash playing on the jukebox.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a born and bred Midwesterner who likes darts and local brews as much as the rest of you. I was just caught off guard when, in a cotton minidress and low heels, I was garishly overdressed, and my companion and I were the only ones drinking out of martini glasses. What can I say? I hear the words "Asian-infused" and "lounge" and my inner sophisticate gets a little excited. I should have known that the east side would have no patience for an overly stylized joint, and once I surrendered my expectations for a big-city bar, I had a great time - even breaking a toy monkey prop with a few of the softball guys.
What the Jade Monkey does, it does well - providing a hub for neighborhood friends to eat, drink and be merry. There's really no need for it to be anything else.