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Albany palace has a lot of monkey business

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY -- In Albany, Georgia, there are two words that if you say them together, they elicit the same reaction: a knowing smirk followed by the comment, "I've heard stories."

Monkey. Palace.

Located at 2222 Palmyra Road in what is now the Lamarr Parr Center, Bob Evans' notorious nightclub -- that became even more notorious in the wee hours of the morning -- has a reputation unmatched in Southwest Georgia. Whether that reputation is entirely deserved is up for debate, but it seems everyone has a story.

While places like Jim's Oyster Bar were more my speed, I did drop in at the Monkey Palace sometimes. The first time I went, it was to see if they really had live monkeys. They did, lining the walls in glass enclosures. It was a different kind of nightspot, and the monkeys weren't the weirdest thing you'd see there. The old joke was the monkeys would look out at the crowd on a typical Friday or Saturday night and say to each other, 'Do you realize there are university-educated scientists out there this very minute claiming that we evolved into that?'

Early on -- in fact I think it was my very first visit -- a buddy and I came in on a weekend night. They had some video poker game or something like that in the back that he liked to play. It never was hard to find a seat before 10 o'clock or so. As the night wore on and other establishments closed, the crowd got bigger. I'd noticed a couple over by the bar that had been there for a good while getting cozy, but nothing seemed particularly out of sorts.

Until she ran in.

Time will cloud your memory sometimes, but from what I recall, a kind of short young woman with shoulder-length blond hair, dressed in a T-shirt and hot pants, came in the door, then tore out toward the bar where that couple was. Unfortunately for the guy, he had his back to her.

The woman was either barefoot when she came in, or she kicked off her shoes when she started climbing his back like a mountaineer scaling the Matterhorn. She got her legs locked tight around him, grabbed a handful of hair with one hand and started pounding him in the head with her other fist.

The couple showed two entirely different reactions to this inopportune break into what had been an otherwise engaging conversation. The guy was blindly flailing away with his arms, trying to knock off his assailant. The woman he'd been chatting up sat quietly to the side, wide-eyed and concerned, but still attempting to maintain some semblance of dignity in the face of an exceptionally disagreeable interruption.

The bouncer, a really big guy, came over and literally tore the woman from her perch. She had a good bit of her new ex's -- at least I guessed he was well on his way to being an ex of some sort -- hair in her fist when the bouncer tossed her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and began marching toward the door while she beat on his back for the duration of the trip.

The target of her neon jungle justice stood looking bewildered, rubbing his head. I sometimes wonder whether he and the first woman ever got back together.

-- current Albany Herald Editor and former Monkey Palace patron Jim Hendricks

Alternately referred to as the "Baboon Saloon" and the "Gorilla Villa," from 1977 until a short time after Evans' death in 1993, the Monkey Palace was the after-hours hangout for patrons from every walk of life. Lawyers who had squared off in court earlier in the day might unwind with a drink at the Palace later that night. On any given late night/early morning, doctors, Marines, politicians, construction workers and just lonely people cruising for companionship might find themselves sharing a table.

And then there were the monkeys.

"Bob had gotten a couple of Rhesus monkeys that were rescued, and

he built a glass-enclosed cage for them," Rodney Rouse -- better known as house deejay Jaxon Riley -- said of the unusual attraction at the Palace. "They were well taken care of; they had structures to climb on and all the monkey chow they could eat.

"Folks from PETA or some animal group raised a fuss about the monkeys being in the bar, and they brought in a state animal control official, someone from Chehaw (Wild Animal Park) and a veterinarian, thinking they might force Bob to remove the monkeys. The folks at Chehaw were so impressed, they ended up donating two more monkeys after the first group was retired."

There was this man who came into the Monkey Palace every day with his wife, and one Friday he came in with a different brunette. I watched them together, and the more I watched, the madder I got. I figured he was cheating on his wife, and then someone called me over and told me 'That's his wife.'

-- former Monkey Palace waitress Sara Katz

The Palace's reputation as a place where anything could -- and often did -- happen has grown over time as the years have dulled people's memories and the details from the retelling of legendary stories have been enhanced. There are even those who say the legend of the nightclub has far surpassed reality.

"I think a lot of the Monkey Palace's reputation is just that -- reputation," Dougherty County Police Chief Don Cheek said. "The place had an interesting name and side story with the monkeys in the club. But that place wasn't any worse that any of the other clubs in town during that

time.

"I wasn't in the patrol division (with the Albany Police Department) then, so I didn't really respond to a lot of calls there."

Of course, there was that one time ...

"One of the cases I do remember working happened in the parking lot of the club," Cheek said. "There was alcohol involved, and a fight broke out between one of the Monkey Palace's bouncers and a bouncer from another club who had come over after his club closed. It turned into an aggravated battery case."

Stories like that most commonly happened in the early morning hours, when those left standing at the Palace were the real partiers.

"The Monkey Palace was more like two clubs," Rouse, who now is a technical assistant for Albany State University television, said. "From 4 p.m. to midnight, it was kind of like 'Cheers,' a friendly neighborhood bar. But from midnight to 4 a.m., it was what you'd expect from an after-hours club."

Janet Parmelee, who now works in sales at Toyota of Albany, was one of Palace owner Evans' go-to employees. She bartended occasionally, but chiefly handled management duties: keeping the club's books, ordering needed supplies. And while most of her duties at the club took place in the pre-midnight hours, she said the Monkey Palace was a reflection of its owner.

"It worked because of the timing -- it was the perfect time for a place like the Monkey Palace to happen in Albany -- but it also worked because of Bob," Parmelee said. "Bob was a character; everybody just loved him. And the attitude surrounding the place was developed from the top down.

"It's my understanding that the club was the longest surviving nightclub under one owner ever in Albany. I remember when the place opened there was an alley between the Monkey Palace and another building in that little shopping center. People would line up from the front door, down the alley, all the way to the back of the building, waiting to get in."

(italics) I had two roommates -- Moe and Gene -- and when I moved in with them my dad made them promise that they'd take care of me. I worked at Bananas (a nearby nightclub), and when I'd get off work I'd often go over to the Monkey Palace. I'd always call Moe and Gene first, but one night I forgot to call.

When I didn't get home by a certain time they went to Bananas, and when they saw that it was closed they drove over to the Monkey Palace parking lot. They saw my little red car, walked inside -- in their pajamas -- and when they saw me, they said, 'Home. Now.'

-- former Monkey Palace regular Melanie

Sara Katz, who moved to Albany from Cuthbert, got her first job -- as a Monkey Palace waitress -- when she was 19. She remembers the club fondly, and for more reasons than one.

"I actually met my husband (Chuck Katz) at the Monkey Palace," she said. "He worked as a bartender at Bananas, and he was a regular after-hours at the Monkey Palace. The regulars at the club became like an extended family, and I made lots of friends there. Chuck and I became friends, and one night he asked me out.

"We went to a movie ... then came to the Monkey Palace. When we were engaged, everyone threw me a bridal shower at the club. The place had a reputation as a 'last-chance saloon,' but there were some great people there, starting with Bob Evans."

The Katzes, who have been married now for 26 years and have three children, own Leesburg-based Katz Floorcovering Inc.

Perhaps one of the most unique (true) stories from the Monkey Palace's glory days came when the female monkey at the club -- no one interviewed can quite remember the simians' names, although Rouse said he remembers the male being called "Macho" -- gave birth.

As her due date neared, Rouse's wife Nancy -- who was a bouncer at the club ... yes, bouncer -- and other employees sterilized the monkey cage and put up dark plastic over the glassed-in portion for privacy. Sara Katz remembers the first time she saw the darkened monkey area.

"I started crying," she laughs now. "I thought maybe one of the monkeys had died. But when I found out what was going on, I thought it was a pretty cool thing.

"In their own way, the monkeys were just a part of what made the Monkey Palace unique. They were a part of the extended family."

The law in Albany was that any nightclub had to be locked up at 4 a.m. We didn't have trouble running folks out because we kept the clock set 10 minutes ahead. One night me and one of the bartenders were the only ones in the place, and the door opened right at 4 o'clock. The bartender didn't even look up, he said, 'Come on in, drinks are on the house after 4 o'clock.'

This voice -- it turned out to be an APD captain -- said, 'I'll be sure and tell that to the judge.' We laughed and told him the bartender's comment was a joke, that it was actually 10 minutes until 4, that we'd set the clock ahead. It turned out, though, that the cleaning lady noticed that the clock was fast, so she set it back 10 minutes. ... I got to go to court for that one.

-- Rodney "Jaxon Riley" Rouse, former Monkey Palace deejay

Today 2222 Palmyra Road is the location of The Barber Shop. Next door, at 2224 Palmyra, is Genlen's Oriental Market.

"The door to the Monkey Palace used to be here," Chuck Katz points out, standing before the entrance to Genlen's. "The monkey cage was right over here in this (southwestern) corner. The dance floor was over there (where The Barber Shop is now located). The bar was in the middle."

As the Katzes and others discuss the maybe not-so-infamous Monkey Palace, they do so with a wistfulness that indicates the club was more than a place where people went to get buck wild. Phrases like "extended family," "friendly neighborhood bar" and "a fun and different time" belie such a reputation.

Says Rouse: "That was a different era, a different time. It was the perfect time for the Monkey Palace to happen. It couldn't have happened before then, and it couldn't happen now. Those were the good old days -- when it was actually socially acceptable to go out and get smashed -- but it's an era that's come and gone."

And the Monkey Palace's place in that era?

"Sure, there were some good brawls, but it was a place where everyone went for a good time," Parmelee said. "But at closing time it was time for everyone to get up and go back to their real lives."