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Popular downtown eatery The Monkey Barrel checks out by ringing in new year
Owner plans to find new site; Italian restaurant planned for old location
The Monkey Barrel bartender Alissa Collins tends bar Saturday night at the downtown Gainesville restaurant and bar. Open since 1993, the longtime watering hole closed its doors for a final time.

The Monkey Barrel is more than just a bar.

It’s where Matt Forbes comes after work to unwind, and where newlyweds Sam and Paul Bolling had their first date back in 2014.

Sam, a regular who comes to the bar at least once a week, made sure to reserve herself a seat for the bar’s final night Saturday.

Not only is it where she met her husband, but the bar was also a place where she came to calm her nerves before they bought their first house in Gainesville.

“I don’t like any other place in town,” Sam Bolling said.

The comfortable, casual atmosphere of the bar and the food is what separated it from other restaurants in the area, she said. People could bring their kids in for dinner, but it was also a “chill place to hang and have a drink” or just hang out.

Forbes came to the bar shortly after moving to Gainesville five years ago and hasn’t stopped coming since.

“We would send out a search party to find him if he didn’t come in,” owner Albert Reeves said.

Forbes stumbled upon the bar one day, walked in and struck up a conversation with the patrons inside. Since then, he’s there nearly every day just to kick back and talk with people on topics ranging from football to politics.

“I met a lot of great friends here,” Forbes said. “It’s a great group of people.”

Reeves announced earlier in December the eatery would close after he was unable to match an offer for the building. A fine dining Italian restaurant called Novella’s will open at the site in 2017. It is owned by Chris Richardson, who also owns downtown restaurants Yellowfin and Recess

Reeves said he plans to reopen at some point in the future, perhaps in a larger space. The old site could occupy only 100 people.  

“I really hope he can open it somewhere else,” Sam Bolling said.

Reeves lives just three doors down from the bar, so driving and walking past it nearly every day will be a challenge.

In the three years he has owned it, he has made few changes to the menu and prices set by previous owners.

Most of the same recipes, with a few additions made by Reeves, are made by kitchen master Steven Kirk as they were when the bar first opened. Kirk was originally a customer but became an employee.

Ryan Cagle, who is a server and bartender for the Monkey Barrel, was also a patron before he was on the payroll.

Albert’s wife Amanda Reeves has helped out with everything from bartending to cooking and more.

“It (the closing) is bittersweet,” Amanda said. They, too, were patrons for quite some time before becoming owners in 2013, she said.