The Monkey Wrench is a chameleon of a business that morphs into whatever its patrons need it to be. This versatile venue serves up good food, cold drinks, live music and on Tuesdays, $5 burgers.
The upstairs balcony, with blue Christmas lights under the canopy and a bar that sells cigars, feels like it belongs on a Florida beach. Customers are either in wearing sunglasses at one of the tables scattered on the patio or keeping cool with a drink at the shaded bar.
The stage area has dark, sleek booths made for sinking in to watch a good show. You get to know your neighbor when the room is packed and the walls lined with people.
And toward the back is a dimly lit bar that hums as the bartenders whip out drink orders. Patience is a virtue here when as thirsty customers squeeze in between patrons on bar stools to yell for a beer.
But for me, the kitchen is the main attraction at The Monkey Wrench.
The cooks churn out a menu full of bar fare and hearty Italian food. A night of drinking with a group of buddies calls for the loaded beef nachos ($8), beer cheese and bread ($7.50) or a pizza (10-inch starts at $6). But a quieter evening would be nice to enjoy their selection of salads ($6-$8.50) or sandwiches served with chips or coleslaw and a pickle, such as a muffaletta or vegetable hummus (both $7.50).
The highlight of The Monkey Wrench week is Tuesday, when the bar knocks a couple of bucks off of every burger on the menu, charging $5 for a regular burger and $6 for a specialty burger. And if you stick around after dinner, a live bluegrass band called Blunt Honey performs at 9 p.m.
The promise of discounted burger and live music led my husband and me to this bar/restaurant/music venue hybrid for a weekday dinner out of the house.
The summer hadn’t yet turned humid, so we climbed the metal stairs and took a seat on the second-floor balcony. My eyes rarely leave a menu until I have placed my order, but it was hard not to admire the view of the neighborhood from our perch above the street – clusters of modest houses, The Fish House across the street, cars creeping along Barret Avenue.
Since it was Tuesday, the question wasn’t if I was going to get a burger, but, rather, which one. I wasn’t feeling adventurous enough to try the Monkey Burger ($7), a concoction that includes cheese, a fried egg, coleslaw, bacon, French fries, onion rings, tomato and cucumber lime aioli. And I wasn’t in the mood for the Italian-themed Stromboli Burger ($6) topped with marinara, mozzarella, pepperoni, onions and mushrooms.
Inspired by the nachos that a couple across the patio was eating, I ordered the Taco Burger, a patty topped with white American cheese, jalapenos and guacamole. My husband ordered the BBQ Bacon Cheddar Burger.
Our meal arrived from the first floor after a 15-minute wait.
A mound of hot, hand-cut fries accompanied each burger. The fries were thick and crisp with patches of the potato skin still showing.
The top of my toasted hamburger bun was covered in a smear of guacamole that I tried on one of my fries. The guacamole was better than some comparable dips I’ve had at Mexican restaurants.
I needed two hands to eat the Taco burger, which was fully dressed with lettuce, tomato and onion. Juice from the medium-well patty dripped down my hand as I squeezed the sandwich down to fit in my mouth. It wasn’t ladylike, but it was the only way I was going to get through this burger.
The melted cheese fused the jalapeno slices onto the hamburger patty, so the pepper’s flavor sealed in tight. The coolness of the smooth guacamole helped temper the jalapenos’ heat. The burger itself was thick and juicy.
Thank goodness the bun was toasted, or else the bread would have gone soggy with everything the Taco Burger loaded in. Next time, I’ll order a side of salsa to really add more Mexican flavor to this dish.
My husband was equally pleased with his burger, which was covered in barbecue sauce and impaled by a knife just to hold all the toppings in place. The onion rings on top of the bun was an added bonus to his meal.
I knew that waddling down the steps to listen to the band would be hard after that meal. But there was a spring in my step when I looked at the check — two burgers and fries and a couple of beers for less than $20.
A cheap meal, a cold drink and live music? That’s exactly what I needed from Monkey Wrench.
The Bottom Line:
Taco Burger (comes with fries): $6.00
BBQ Bacon Cheddar Burger (comes with fries): $6.00
One can of Abita Purple Haze beer: $4.00
One can Miller High Life: $2.00
Total (before tax and tip): $18.00
Total (with tax): $18.72
Mission (two meals uder $10 each): Accomplished