Red Monkey owner seeks Las Vegas feel in new downtown lounge

Juston Watson's lounge officially opens Saturday.

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Juston Watson's new ventures, Red Monkey Downtown Lounge, officially opens Saturday.

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Interior of Red Monkey Downtown Lounge.

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Red Monkey Downtown Lounge owner Juston Watson discusses his new Alder Street business, which officially opens Saturday.

WALLA WALLA -- Juston Watson considers himself lucky to be a frequent Las Vegas vacationer. But Sin City isn't just a place he has traveled; it's also a culture that inspired the atmosphere of his new Alder Street bar, Red Monkey Downtown Lounge.

Quietly experienced by invitees this week, the business officially opens to the public Saturday. Combining the spaces formerly occupied by Graphic Apparel and Inland Cellular, the Red Monkey sits at 25 E. Alder St.

The long anticipated opening brings a few of Watson's favorite Vegas nightclub attributes -- a VIP section, an array of live entertainment, posh bathrooms, a slew of beverages from local wines to swank martinis -- to the revamped space in the historic Drumheller Building.

Lest anyone confuse Walla Walla for the lights and glitz of the Entertainment Capital of the World, it also comes wrapped in a laid-back atmosphere with 30 beers on tap, free cab rides and an array of monkey art.

In Watson's vision, the Red Monkey -- named in the same vain as New York's Pink Elephant and Philadelphia's Black Sheep Pub -- will also be a hotspot for locals and tourists alike, easily filling the 149-person capacity and necessitating a line at the door.

Hence the VIP section for those willing to pay for the secure space slightly elevated from the main floor and furnished along the perimeter with black couches and S-shaped glass tables.

"It's kind of just bringing something that this place has never had," Watson said Thursday during a break from vendors and employee training.

The vast space, punctuated by an eclectic mix of glass and metal artwork as well as a rotund glittery disco ball, features 10 50-inch flat screen television sets for those wanting to catch a game. It also has a variety of nooks and crannies for seating.

Greeted by a painting of a smoking-jacket-clad monkey sitting in front of a plate of bananas and raising its wine glass, guests can belly up to the L-shaped bar, sit at one of many pub tables, pamper themselves in the VIP area or sit in the mini-VIP area on the east end of the business.

Watson said the menu is "comfort food with a gourmet flare." Build-your-own-burgers, paninis, salads and appetizers make up the mix of fare.

As owner of the Stone Hut Bar & Grill on Plaza Way, Watson said he's fused the most important lessons from that business as he's ventured into the new one.

"A system on how things are supposed to work," he said is the foundation. "The customer pays all your bills. As long as they're happy, it's good."

Though the new business has consumed most of his attention, Watson said he intends to keep the Stone Hut as is. "I don't want to lose what's going on there," he assured.

Long time customers of that business would undoubtedly recognize another feature shared between the two operations other than the free cab service. Several Stone Hut staff members have either been promoted, moved over to the Red Monkey or plan to work shifts at both businesses.

Watson said about 20 to 25 employees will staff the Red Monkey, including about eight people on security duty during the weekends, when some of the biggest entertainment is planned.

House DJs, open-mic nights and midweek performances are among the entertainment. Watson said he hopes to attract bands willing to stop for a performance between Seattle and Boise. During events, customers can expect at least a $5 minimum cover charge.

Watson said there's no dress code, but guests should plan to "dress to impress." And while he found his muse in Vegas and the operation of its popular clubs, he believes customers will play a major role in defining the Red Monkey.

"More or less, the customers are going to decide what this is," he said.

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