[Monkey Town Brewing Co.] has pulled off a fun atmosphere, coupled with chef-prepared menu items that have variety and are packed with flavor.
DAYTON, Tenn. -- Just over the tops of the 100-year-old buildings lining Market Street, you can stand here at the front door of Monkey Town Brewing Co. and see the pointed, faded green roof of the bell tower at the Rhea County Courthouse, where 90 years ago this summer, the Scopes Trial unfolded.
A block away from the historic old courthouse — where a mid-20s John T. Scopes was tried for teaching evolution, and where a statue of staunch creationist and prohibitionist William Jennings Bryan now stands — Kirby Garrison has set up his venture with co-owner and father, Alan Garrison. It is, as far as he knows, the first-ever brewpub in Rhea County.
On the shingle out front of Garrison's restaurant and microbrewery, there's a chimpanzee dangling a mug of beer: old Dayton and new Dayton, together in one image.
"It's an homage to the history of Dayton," Garrison said.
Monkey Town Brewing Co. opened in early June with a lot of community buzz. The storefront restaurant on First Avenue specializes in serving quality, rib-sticking foods like pork belly with pintos and waffle-battered shrimp. And in a small side room, there's a micrbrewing system, where Garrison experiments and taste tests his own creations.
Monkey Town recently obtained its brewing license to put its own beers on tap, Garrison said.
Garrison is himself a young, mid-20s college grad with family ties to Dayton — and not a carpet bagger, he says. Garrison grew up in Hixson, has plenty of family in Dayton, including grandparents, and has spent a lot of time here.
He's also related to the Garrisons whose name is attached to one of Dayton's two operating funeral homes.
Garrison looks more downtown Chattanooga than downtown Dayton, which is maybe the high school and college years he spent in New York City clinging to him.
The restaurant he has opened also looks and feels more downtown Chattanooga than downtown Dayton.
Dayton residents have long made the 35- to 45-minute trip to Hixson and Chattanooga for a good meal and a good drink. Local diners have proven their commitment to eat Dayton if there were good options. Restaurants like Jacob Myers Restaurant on the River and Gondolier Italian Restaurant have opened and done well.
Others like Peking House and Ayala's Mexican Restaurant are mainstays, with two decades under the belts.
Garrison said he wants Monkey Town to complement those restaurants, not take away from them. He wants Dayton diners to eat local and say "we don't have to go to Chattanooga anymore."
So far, so good.
David Snyder, a local entrepreneur and owner of Dayton-based Internet service provider VOLstate, gave Monkey Town a five-star review on the restaurant's Facebook page.
"[Monkey Town Brewing Co.] has pulled off a fun atmosphere, coupled with chef-prepared menu items that have variety and are packed with flavor," he wrote.
Chelsey Smith, a Dayton 20-something, also gave Monkey Town five stars.
"It's great to see this new place in Dayton," she wrote. "The list of brews is vibrant, the atmosphere is classy and casual, and the food is delicious and well thought out."
Of five Facebook reviews, all are five-star.
But although the food gets rave reviews, Garrison says serving up meals is his secondary objective and is keeping the lights on for now.
He loves beer and loves brewing beer, but acknowledges that "a brewery isn't what Dayton people need, necessarily."
"That's why the food helps," he said. "We're just a place that makes its own beer, that has a full bar and has food."
Garrison's dream is to grow Monkey Town Brewing Co. into a force in the craft beer world; he wants beer lovers to come from all over to get a beer here. He's even iffy about distributing.
But he had to start somewhere. And this seemed like the opportune moment.
Monkey Town Brewing Co.'s entrance coincides with Dayton's new-found relevance as a fishing town, with nationally-recognized bass fishing hotspot Lake Chickamauga at its back door and a running list of tournaments vying to get a spot on the calendar.
A brand-new, 50-plus-room Sleep Inn hotel is going up on U.S. Highway 27 at the south end of town.
Garrison expects to profit from the fishing frenzy, and Monkey Town is well-positioned for it.
And located a block-and-a-half from the Rhea County Courthouse and its Scopes Trial museum, as well as half-a-mile from the put-in spot for tournament goers, Monkey Town is also in the overlap of Dayton's past and future.
In fact, after re-enacting the Scopes Trial for modern-day spectators one recent Sunday, actors in the Cumberland County Playhouse's "Front Page News" troupe dined at Monkey Town, filling the restaurant, many still in their 1920's clothes.
While they ate, Garrison, from behind the bar, downed a craft beer accidentally poured for a customer who didn't order it.
Not long ago, it was illegal for grocery stores to sell beer on Sundays in Dayton. Now, locals sit at Monkey Town's bar and drink Tennessee-made pilsners and watch UFC.
"Somebody's going to do it," said Garrison of his creation. "If we wouldn't do it, Cleveland would do it, or Soddy-Daisy would do it or Spring City would do it."
Contact staff writer Alex Green at email@example.com or 423-757-6480.