Larry Thompson knows how to throw a party.
In fact, he's so good at it that his neighbor asked him to come bartend for him, and for two and a half years, Thompson helped keep the party rolling at his neighborhood bar, Newby's.
Life went on for Thompson. He graduated from the University of Memphis, moved to Boulder, Colorado, and opened his own business, a hot wing delivery place, South Mouth Wings, that stayed open until 3 a.m. and raked in the dough.
In the meantime, Newby's closed on November 19, 2014 — a dismal day for his former neighbor, Todd Adams, and the numerous Newby's devotees, until Thompson got word that he might could help bring Newby's back to life.
By August he had sold his hot wing business and was back in Memphis.
After several months of moving bathrooms, opening up alleyways, installing garage doors, and landscaping, Newby's is back on the University District map and has a whole new outlook (and much of the same heart).
"We tried to give it a facelift while doing as much as we could to keep it the same," Thompson, 29, says.
Perhaps most importantly, the bathrooms are no longer in an alleyway.
"Girls don't care about how cold your beer is. They want to know what the bathroom is like," Thompson says.
The brand-new bathrooms are now conveniently situated in the southwest corner of the establishment.
Thompson installed an entirely new kitchen, one expanded further back with a walk-in cooler, new ventilation, and a keen pizza oven.
"I have a super pizza oven. It cooks the pizzas so fast. I'm in love with our pizzas," Thompson says.
Much of the menu is the same with a few enhancements and some fine-tuning.
"It's bar food with a twist," Thompson says. "We're really more aiming for speed."
They still offer their Ribeye Sandwich but with blue cheese butter and horseradish mayo on a brioche roll. The Triple Bypass made the cut, with eight ounces of Angus burger, ham, turkey, bacon, Swiss, cheddar, and a fried egg. And it wouldn't be Newby's without the MCS, the chicken breast marinated in the Newby's secret sauce (which if, as stated on the menu, you "ask nicely, [they'll] probably tell you". Oh, and you can find Willy's Chili too.
Thompson brought in Jeff Johnson, of Local, Agave Maria, and Oshi Burger acclaim, to consult with him on the menu and to help train his staff, which numbers close to 35, and just figure the ins and outs of the new Newby's.
"I worked at Newby's for about nine years. I trained Larry. When he opened his business in Boulder, I went out there to help him open," Johnson says. "I've helped him train his kitchen staff, work up the menu, and with cost analysis."
As far as the menu goes, they wanted to honor the 40-year-old institution that Newby's became.
"We're not reinventing the wheel. We wanted to go back and pay homage to the old menu, but we shaped it up and made it a little nicer. It's good food items with great ingredients done well. We use fresh ingredients, and hand-cut and hand-bread our chicken tenders and portobello fries. It's fun, quick, and easy bar food with quality ingredients."
"I wanted to surround myself with the best of the best on my team," Thompson says.
Other changes include moving the back patio indoors to the front of the building where Thompson installed a garage door, which he opens seasonally; a media wall with four large, flat-screen TVs; and the latest in serving draft beer, the Bottoms Up Beer Dispensing System, where beer is poured by fitting a plastic cup with a hole in the bottom onto the dispenser and then is held in place with a magnet.
"There is no waste, and it's fast," Thompson says.
Thompson says he's happy to be a part of the Highland Strip renaissance taking place in his old stomping grounds, and welcomes all the activity.
"We'll be getting a steak restaurant, and with Loeb buying all of this property and fixing it up, it's going to be like Overton Square.
"November 19, 2014, was a horrible day. It was like a funeral. There was so much love for this place. I had the opportunity to come in and save it, so I'm going to do as much as I can to keep it the 'college bar you never graduate from,'" Thompson says.
Newby's hours are 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Newby's, 539 Highland, 730-0520