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Flyer InteractiveNews Feature

Interview with the Mongo

He may claim to be from another planet, but Memphis' most visible alien has stirred up plenty of trouble here on Earth.

by rebekah gleaves

After a series of staccato raps on the wrought-iron front door of the Castle, Robert Hodges (a.k.a. Prince Mongo) finally appears, yawning from the early morning hour. Describing his appearance as disheveled would be too generous. Half-opened, sleepy eyes peer out of his thickly lined face. His thinning, dark brown curly hair is tousled in a style that only a pillow can achieve. This is a decidedly different Mongo from the one who usually appears publicly. He is a short man, probably 5'7", with a middle-aged paunch gathering around his midsection -- likely due to his 333 years spent on this planet eating Earthling food.

Prince Mongo is an institution (though many would say he belongs in one), known for his flamboyant personality and eccentric leanings. In years past he has thrust himself into the public eye with flamboyant unsuccessful bids for political office and unappreciated antics -- like standing on the roof of his Central Gardens home and howling at the moon. Planet Zambodia's most famous Memphis resident claims that he was sent to Earth to offer atonement, redemption, and enlightenment to Earthlings and to save us from various natural disasters.

"I'm from another planet, there's no doubt about that," Mongo explains. "I'm here on a mission to save Earthlings, and I will in due time. The Earth is self-destructing and when the time comes I will save a few people and take them with me. People don't realize how much I've already saved them from. I saved them from the earthquake, tornadoes, hurricanes. I've used my energies to divert those things."

But just as quickly as he dons the "Mongo" persona, he sheds it, shifting seamlessly back into the shrewd businessman that he, in fact, is. Despite his obvious predilection for things bizarre, Mongo appears anything but crazy.

For years he has been the name behind -- and the face in front of -- several Memphis bars, though he denies ever having owned any of them. For each establishment, Prince Mongo has owned the property and then "given" the business to an employee. He claims that he is only interested in collecting the rent as an absentee landlord and occasionally being on hand to host a wet T-shirt contest and to greet guests. Nevertheless, Mongo's name has long been associated with the allegations of underage drinking that have plagued all the bars that have borne his name. He, of course, claims he is innocent of these charges.

"I have never been charged with a beer board violation," he insists. "I have never even held a liquor license in my name."

Mongo's ability to skirt the letter of the law was in evidence again recently when he added a "beach" to the front of The Castle. When the use and occupancy number at The Castle -- the number that regulates how many patrons are allowed in the building at a time -- was reduced from 451 to 88, Mongo found a way to sidestep the regulation.

"When the fire marshall came and said they had to shut us down because we had more than 88 people in here, it infuriated me," he says. "So that next Monday morning I started bringing in 800 tons of sand to put on this property. If they will only let me have 88 people inside, then I decided to give everyone a reason to stay outside. They can restrict me to having only eight people inside, I don't care, I'll just take everybody outside."

In recent weeks his current venue, The Castle, has played host to controversy, mostly stemming from allegations that the club serves alcohol to underage drinkers and that swimmers in the club's pool take dips sans clothes. Police claim that their frequent visits to the club are in response to noise complaints from The Castle's neighbors, many of whom live in the two adjacent high-rise apartment buildings. Mongo claims that he is being targeted by a group of Central Gardens residents, led by the apartment manager of one of the buildings, intent on destroying any restaurant or nightclub that attempts to set up shop in Ashlar Hall, as The Castle was originally named.

"If you are dried up and on the shelf," says Mongo, referring to his detractors, "don't put the rest of us up there with you." He continues: "I've got better things to do than listen to these dumbbells and these Hitlers who run up and down this street trying to destroy me. These people will be the first ones to be destroyed."

Mongo's current foes, however, are simply the most recent in a long line of critics. Over the years he has received waves of scorn from those who insist that Mongo's interplanetary motives are less than pure. He bristles at the suggestion that his alien talk enables him to continue to collect insurance disability checks for being insane. He is visibly offended when told that some people think he surrounds himself with young people because of sexual motives.

"That really bothers me," says Mongo. "I have never heard anyone accuse me of such a thing. I've done work with St. Jude, given them money. If that was true, then after all these years some evidence would have surfaced. I take all of that with a grain of salt. These people are always going to talk about something."

When it comes to The Castle, though, there's little doubt that Mongo does his part to fuel the controversy. And he doesn't appear to be letting up. In an ad in this week's Flyer, he "thanks" the Memphis police for protecting his patrons and promotes 25-cent beers and a trip to Jamaica.

Shifting effortlessly back into the Prince Mongo-alien-import-from-Zambodia role, he tosses out word of his next venture: "I'm about to start a Zambodian Planetology Church. It will be a very interesting church," he says with a smile.

Undoubtedly, his neighbors can hardly wait.

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