After years of financial struggles and legal battles over licensing fees with Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI), Newby's former owner "Too Tall Todd" Adams was forced to end the bar's 30-year reign on the Highland Strip last November as the bar went into foreclosure. But Larry Thompson, a former Newby's bartender who is two years younger than the bar itself, announced that he will be reviving Newby's into the beloved "college bar you never graduate from." He plans to open Newby's in August. — Alexandra Pusateri
Flyer: Didn't you just move back to Memphis from Boulder, Colorado?
Larry Thompson: I've been back in Memphis since the beginning of May. I have a chicken wing restaurant [in Boulder] that I still own. I moved out there four years ago when I quit working at Newby's. I worked at Newby's for three years while I was in college at the University of Memphis. [When] the opportunity for Newby's came up, I jumped all over it. I love that bar.
What made you want to revive Newby's?
The last night it was open, 200 people showed up. I don't even think there was electricity or running water, but all these people from its history over the 30 years showed up. At the time, I just thought to myself, 'I don't think there's any other bar on the planet that would've happened at, where people stood around in cold weather with no electricity or running water and had a last pow-wow.' People love that place.
When I saw that, I was thinking, 'Man, it'd be great if we could bring it back.' I know a whole lot of regulars that still want it back. It's really a neighborhood bar with that Cheers environment. Whenever you go there, you always know somebody, at least one or two people.
How did the deal come together?
I contacted Loeb Properties sometime last summer and asked them [if we could work something out]. I don't really know how to explain it. It just came up, and it was available, and we went for it. It's kind of a dream come true, you know?
Did you see yourself owning it when you worked there?
When I worked there with Skinny [Brian McCabe, who now owns the Hi-Tone Café], we used to always dream of owning Newby's. I never thought the opportunity would arise. Skinny ended up taking over the Hi-Tone.
Then Newby's happened to be available, so I just teamed up with the right people and got a hold of them. It's going to be a lot of fun. I think it's every restaurant industry worker's dream to own the establishment they work in, especially if it's a fun college bar. I'm just lucky enough to get a chance to live that dream.
Will you be making any changes to the bar?
It has its identity. I don't want to be the guy who changes it. We are adding draft beer — there wasn't draft beer before. There are going to be spanking new bathrooms. There's going to be garage doors on the front side so that we can have some patio weather inside. It's still going to have that same awesome music scene. I'm going to revive the kitchen too, so we can start pumping out some lunches and dinners, too.