Posted: Jan 2, 2006 5:30 pm
Former local news guy Earle Farrell is opening a restaurant there.
Overton Square greets new eatery
Southwestern grill moving into Friday's
By Amos Maki
December 30, 2005
The site of one of the city's most legendary watering holes and restaurants -- the former TGI Friday's in Overton Square -- is reopening under a new name and concept.
Earle Farrell, a local journalist and restaurateur, is launching Garcia Wells Southwestern Grill in the historic space in February.
"I've been here since 1978 and Overton Square and Friday's are just a part of Memphis history," said Farrell, current host of the "My Favorite Restaurant" show on PBS and a former on-air personality at WREG Channel 3 and WMC Channel 5. "I'm really excited and I usually don't get excited."
The space has been vacant since 2003, when Friday's owner, Carlson Restaurants Worldwide Inc., closed the Midtown restaurant. At the time, Carlson executives called the move a "business decision" even though the restaurant was topping $2 million in sales annually.
In 2004, Blake Fisher, the Denver businessman whose company owns Overton Square, hired Memphis-based Lewis & Rasberry to handle leasing in the entertainment and dining district. Mike Ritz of Memphis-based Ritz Investments represented Farrell.
On Thursday, Jimmy Lewis removed the "For Lease" signs from the restaurant.
"What a relief," Lewis said. "Taking signs down is a fabulous experience, especially when it's for something like this."
Other business owners in Overton Square welcomed the news.
"I think it's great for our business and I think it's great for the neighborhood," said Chuck Skypeck, a co-founder of Germantown-based Boscos, which has locations in Overton Square, Little Rock and Nashville.
Farrell, a native Texan, will make some minor esthetic changes to give the place a more Southwestern feel -- like adding a tin roof over the awning that rings the lower part of the building, some Texas limestone trim and photos of his family's ranch in Texas -- but most customers will still recognize the old place.
The stamped metal ceiling is intact, the patio windows will still be raised on sunny days and customers will be able to belly up to the same famous bar where so many libations were made over the years.
"You will be able walk up to the bar and say, 'This is the bar,' " Farrell said.
A new mural featuring the restaurant's logo will greet motorists and pedestrians as they head east on Madison.
"I think the Square's time has come again, full circle," said James Rasberry.
The site has a long and storied history. Before Beale Street was booming and Cooper Young was a hot dining and drinking spot, Memphians flocked to Friday's and Overton Square.
The Overton Square Friday's opened in 1970 and was modeled after the original location in New York City. The Manhattan restaurant closed, leaving the Midtown Memphis restaurant as the oldest one of the chain.
It was the city's first "singles bar" -- even the brass handles on the wooden doors were shaped like nude women -- when it opened and the money it made paid for the rest of Overton Square.
"That's where it all started," Farrell said.
Friday's initial success was fueled partially by a 1969 city referendum in which voters approved allowing businesses to serve liquor by the drink.
The day after voters approved the liquor-by-the drink measure, the original partners in Overton Square publicly announced their intentions.
After that, Friday's became the hottest bar in town and remained that way for much of its history.
At least one famous musician dropped in after a concert only to be booted out later on. Chrissie Hynde, lead singer of The Pretenders, was arrested at Friday's in 1979 for disorderly conduct during the band's first stop in Memphis.
Farrell, who was an original partner in Downtown bar and restaurant Sleep Out Louie's, said Garcia Wells will feature traditional Southwestern fare and some high-end Mexican food.
"I think there's a little cowboy or cowgirl in all of us," he said. "Hats are welcome and so are boots."