if i had a tail
Award-winning Houston bar returns after short closure with big upgrades and exciting news
Changes have come to Monkey’s Tail. The CultureMap Tastemaker Award-winning neighborhood bar in Lindale Park returned to service this weekend after an almost month-long closure for some behind the scenes renovations and upgrades.
Those changes are only the start. As it prepares to open a second location in Conroe next month (hopefully) and Grease Monkey, a new concept in the former Petrol Station space in the spring, Monkey’s Tail owner Jessie Gonzalez has made other changes, too.
First, the bar’s food truck is in the process of being replaced with a permanent kitchen that will take approximately six months to build. Second, beverage director Lainey Collum is stepping into the operations role formerly occupied by Steven Ripley, who will maintain a part-time consulting role on the food offerings at both bars.
“Monkey’s Tail has morphed into something different than what it started. It just keeps growing,” Gonzalez tells CultureMap. “We want things to flow better. If you want to open multiple locations, you have to have structure.”
He adds that he’s amazing that new people still visit the bar four years into its existing, coming from places as far away as Conroe and Katy. All of the changes are designed to deal with the growing crowds and plan for the future.
“It’s growing pains,” Collum adds. “The volume keeps getting bigger. It’s an amazing problem to have. How do we make the bar more functional to deal with that, so people don’t have super long waits?”
Physically, those structures start with improvements to the inner patio. It now features a U-shaped floating roof designed to provide more shade and protection from the rain than the umbrellas it replaces. The roof complements an outdoor bar and helps make the patio more comfortable. Adding new TVs mean Astros fans will be able to root for the team both indoors and outside during this year’s playoff run.
“We’re trying to get ourselves ready for patio season,” Collum explains. “We also do a big Christmas celebration, a Feliz Navidad thing with a big Christmas tree and tons of decorations. We want to blow it out as big as it can be.”
Similarly, the decision to replace the bar’s food food truck with a full kitchen reflects Gonzalez and Collum’s interests in serving more people more quickly. Monkey’s Tail’s weekend brunch service has become increasingly popular, and Monday’s steak night has doubled its revenue over the past couple of years.
“We’ve gone over 200 steaks a night,” Gonzalez says. “For a bar, it’s a lot of steak.”
While the kitchen is under construction, Monkey’s Tail will utilize guest food trucks. Elements, chef Zach McClendon’s traveling steak night pop-up that also operates the kitchen at Cottonwood, will take on steak night until the kitchen is operational.
On the personnel side, Collum is taking the lead on operations and being granted a partnership stake in the company. She brings a wide range of experiences to her role, including working as the assistant general manager at Hay Merchant, a bar manager at The Pass & Provisions, the beverage director for Prohibition, and a management role at Yauatcha, the stylish dim sum restaurant from the international Hakkasan Group. Now, she’s accepted the challenge of being an owner and applying some of those fine dining standards to a casual, come-as-you-are, neighborhood bar.
“I have a very varied background of all different types of places, but I do have a high end pedigree,” she says. “I switched over to a more casual concept, because in my mind, that’s where the bar world is going. Nothing against fine dining, it’s amazing, but as far as longevity goes, it’s tough.”
Collum’s most immediate responsibility is opening Monkey’s Tail’s second location in Conroe (2017 N. Frazier St.). Announced last year, it’s expected to open in October.
Conroe residents can expect the full Monkey's Tail menu — including wings, tacos, and the signature Chango Burger, along with all of its popular stirred, shaken, and frozen cocktails. Events such as steak night will also make the journey north. If Conroe proves to be successful, Gonzalez has his eye on other cities for additional locations, including Katy and Brenham.
Once Conroe is up and running, Collum will turn her attention to Grease Monkey. The project has been delayed for a variety of reasons, but is expected to open by mid-2024. As in the Petrol Station days, draft beer will remain a core part of the bar’s offerings, along with cocktails and a slimmed-down version of the Monkey’s Tail food menu to allow for its smaller kitchen.
“We don’t want to take it lightly. We can take Monkey’s Tail and replicate it in Conroe. That’s not what Grease Monkey is,” Collum says.
“With Steven leaving the group, I don’t want to say what it’s going to be. It might change a little bit.”
Ultimately, Gonzalez and Collum share the same goal of making the original Monkey’s Tail and any related locations durable Houston institutions. With the right systems in place, they plan to serve customers for years to come.
“We want to be here for the long term,” Gonzalez says. “I know it’s hard for bars to do that, but Little Woodrow’s has. If they can do it, why can’t we?”