By Michael Druce
When Bob McCarthy was first introduced to what is now The Garage, it was a small hole in the wall operating as the Jimax lounge (that’s a play on the owner’s names of Jim and Maxine). Prior to becoming the Jimax, the building served several different incarnations of a garage from the mid 1940’s – 1960’s.
“My first impression was that I was not too impressed” said Bob. The exterior was shoddy and the interior was covered in wood paneling and ugly carpet. It had a low drop-ceiling and no windows. It was a hole in the wall blue-collar bar where the patrons were few, but friendly.
Bob sensed that there was something very cool about the location. A throwback bar on State Highway 89, located just five-minutes north of downtown Salt Lake City. It was surrounded by a refinery and junkyard. Visions of an old Juke-Joint or Roadhouse began to stir in his head.
Bob had been operating a restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City called Stoneground for more than a decade. He already had a strong operations team headed by Marsha Merrill and a think-outside-of the-box designer by the name of Steve Williams from Jackson Hole, WY. “Marsha and Steve have been involved with this project since day-one”, said Bob. “If they’re not feeling the project – then I’m out”. Marsha and Steve immediately jumped on board and the concept began to take shape.
They started researching the old juke joints and roadhouses around America and fell in love with the culture, history and the stories. These were places on the outskirts of town where diverse groups of people would meet. They were filled with cultural outcasts and people who weren’t welcome in town because of their color or social status. People would drop their differences and come together through dancing, singing and playing music. It made them feel good. They could put life’s difficulties at bay and express themselves without judgement.
“I was raised in the Boys Club of America. I’ve been exposed to that diversity my whole life. We’ve tried to build a business that invites diversity. We will welcome and nurture anyone who is nice, thoughtful, and a caring person. I think our customers know that and they feel that. Everyone feels comfortable here.”
In total, the project took about 3-years to complete before it was re-branded The Garage on Beck. It has involved the contributions of many people who along the way could sense that something cool was happening. They contributed their time, donated artifacts and sourced materials that make The Garage the little piece of Americana that it is today. “We planned to do something nice, but it’s become much better than we could have ever imagined”.
(to be continued)