by G.W. Mercure
The Monkey Bar and Johnny Thai restaurant on Commercial Street in the historic west end have recently reopened after restaurateur Johnny Pak used a long pandemic closure to renovate and revamp the popular Thai eatery and hangout.
“We have been closed two and half years for Covid,” he says. “Perfect timing. So we decided to gut everything out and start from scratch and give it a whole fresh new look.”
The redo was thorough, according to Pak. “Everything inside, from the kitchen to the dining room to the bar,” he says. The idea was to improve both the function and the look. “It’s more sophisticated, sleek, sexy,” he says. “It’s not a big place, but we made it so that it functions smooth.”
It does, with a practically seamless integration between the restaurant and the bar. Sightlines from one to the other are flexible as well: One can be seated in the restaurant out of view of the bar, or right in its significant vibe. And the look is definitely sleek and modern, with subtle neon, electric blues, and festive purples that evoke evening even in broad daylight. It’s clean and provocative. The bar offers a wide range of cocktails both innovative and familiar, and wraps guests around the bartender, well in view of each other, the slick decor, beverage choices, and televisions modest enough not to overtake conversations and socializing. The dining room—the Johnny Thai end of the twin businesses—offers a lounge environment or a fine-dining feel, depending on how you’re seated. The menu for Johnny Thai is fun and unique, with a range of Thai favorites as well as a number of dishes named for latter day divas: “Katy Perry Roll,” “Rihanna Roll,” and “Moves Like Jagger” which features, fittingly, grilled eel. The thematic cooperation between the bar and the restaurant is meant to make them distinct enough from one another while still working as one business.
The goal of the paired but distinct structure to the businesses has been to make the specialty of each one clear. “Specifying the restaurant is serving Thai cuisine and sushi, and then also the Monkey Bar having its fun environment and bartenders and cocktails,” he says. “The way we designed it, the bar is its own entity, the dining room is its own entity…I’ve always done that. It’s still one business.”
Pak has been in the restaurant business “since I was born,” he says. “I grew up in the family business, took it over, then I’ve had different restaurants and bars since.”
The Monkey Bar and Johnny Thai were not part of that family business, but he’s so keen on the location’s history, they may as well have been. “I opened this on my own. Before that it was abandoned for over a year and half and it was called Rick’s Place.” And before that it was a breakfast place known as The Cottage. “But that was way before me. The building’s 102 years old. It’s historic. It was a shack when I bought it, so it’s come a long way.”
The Monkey Bar and Johnny Thai have reopened in time to mark a significant milestone, especially in the restaurant business. “It’s my 29th summer,” he says proudly. “Twenty-nine years here.”
Becoming a parent has been another big change for Pak, although not as recent as the reopening, the renovations, or the pandemic. “I have twins. One girl, one boy. They’re here with me. End of August they’ll be four.”
That means that as Pak navigated the perils of the pandemic and closed and renovated his Provincetown restaurant, he was also managing the terrible twos and threes. “And another business in Florida,” he adds. That business, which is open year-round, is called Alibi Monkey Bar and is just outside of Fort Lauderdale, in Wilton Manors. Pak tends to the Monkey Bar and Johnny Thai while they’re open, Memorial Day to October, and then returns to Florida.
Pak seems to have found the renovations as disruptive as the pandemic. “They’ve taken a long time!” he laughs. But “finally we reopened.”
The Monkey Bar and Johnny Thai restaurant is located at 149 Commercial St., Provincetown. For more information call 508.487.2879.