A raucous crowd—some laughing and others misty-eyed—bade adieu last Thursday night to Frankie & Johnnie's Tavern in Murray, a 70-year-old self-styled "dive" bar and one of the state's oldest watering holes.
Early next year, a wrecking ball will supplant highballs as the venerable building at 3 W. 4800 South is razed as part of a multi-pronged city development, including a new Murray municipal building.
Bill Rowe, F&J's owner, called the closing "bittersweet," but is taking over the much larger Scofy's Social Club in Midvale and hopes his mostly blue-collar clientele will follow.
Customer Colin Crow isn't so sure. "I think my replacement [for the bar] is going to be the gym," says the manager of a landscaping construction company, adding, "I don't want to have to break-in a new bar."
Dano Hopple of West Valley City has been a F&J customer for 30 years. He sits on a worn barstool beneath the scalloped lowered ceiling. "It's a working man's bar," he says. "We're tile setters and come in looking pretty dirty … but no one gives us a second look." He's already eying another watering hole: The Bongo Lounge on Highland Drive. "It's all right … and the drinks are cheaper," he smiles.
"Joe," a retired Kennecott employee, first started patronizing F&J's in the mid '70s. "It was a great place to relax after work," he says, sipping on a mug of Bud Lite. "They've fixed it up a lot … it's much nicer now than a few years back."
F&J manager Tiffani Thatcher has been in bar business 22 years. "It's the nerdiest crowd I've ever had," she says of nighttime customers. "The day crowd is mostly old-timers."
A number of younger regulars are affiliated with the Utah Chive, a loosely knit social club which uses the Murray bar to stage charitable fund-raising events two nights monthly. In fact, the men's and ladies' rooms at F&J's are labeled "Chiver" and "Chivette." And a sign on the mirrored bar reads: "Keep Calm and Chive On."
Frankie & Johnnie's "is our home away from home," says Randi Hansen, a Chive administrator. Cover charges from Chive-sponsored theme nights go to a multitude of charities, including the Road Home, she says, adding: "We're following Bill to his new place.”
The bar also has a devoted following of cosplay aficionados who likewise stage bi-monthly fundraisers. Costumed superhero and Star Wars characters blend in easily with the grizzled working men sipping beer at the worn black laminate bar.
Ponytailed bartender Avery Colegrove, 26, says, "You won't find another place like this" and stresses bar patrons "aren't customers … they're clientele." She'll be accompanying owner Rowe to Scofy's as a cocktail waitress.
She'll miss mixing her signature Bloody Marys (secret: lot's of Tabasco), and another specialty—the "Wet Pussy"—with cranberry juice, vodka, triple sec and a cherry.
Bar manager Thatcher points out F&J's is part of the "Bar-muda Triangle" on 4800 South. Just across the street are Club 48 and the Ice Haus.
There's been good-natured competition among the trio. Hungry customers can order take-outs from the Ice Haus kitchen. "And we get calls from across the street warning 'So-and-so has had too much to drink.'"
Utah liquor laws "don't bother me," she confesses. "It's how you present them to customers." She'd like to see more made-in-Utah beers on-tap. "Brewers here make some really good beer."
Before becoming a bar in 1946, the building was a grocery store operated by a Greek family, says owner Rowe. It's origins are even deeper in the past. Two hip-high concrete obelisks flanking the bar's entrance were used as hitching posts, he points out.
The sputtering orange-and-white neon sign atop F&J's is a collector's item and there are plans to auction it on eBay, he adds.
Tim Tingey, executive director of the Murray Redevelopment Agency, says the city is acquiring a wide swath of property—including F&J's—from 4800 South to Vine Street and State Street to the Trax line.
In addition to replacing the current Murray Municipal Building on State Street, there'll be parking structures and open spaces. "We're developing concept plans and going to the public in January or February," Tingey adds.