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Residents hesitant about new Juanita’s

Submitted by Liz Fox on August 30, 2011 – 12:56 pmNo Comment

Local staple Juanita’s Mexican Café and Bar closed their longtime South Main Street location, due to cost disputes, ending a 25 year run that started in 1986. The business now occupies the space that formerly housed the Underground Pub.

In an interview with the Arkansas Times, owner Joe Cates said, “Juanita’s is a heritage name. We felt that, in order for the Juanita’s facility to grow, we needed to go to a newer facility.” Cates, along with co-owner and restaurateur Jim O’Brien, have also made hopeful statements regarding the general atmosphere and overall quality of booked acts performing in the new venue.

New location, new vibe, new music … but could it really be working? Many locals and former regulars don’t think so.

“There was no place to sit in the [new] venue, so we sat outside and smoked through the show,” said Amy Rice, former bartender and local hair stylist. “I’ll give it another shot though – maybe a less crowded show will be better.”

Similar comments have been made regarding the venue’s awkward, jam-packed setup, and it looks as if the addition of a fully functional second story has been met with lukewarm reviews as well, with patrons remarking on the “empty” and cavernous feel that contrasts deeply with the comfortable surroundings of the restaurant’s previous site.

While it’s normal for regulars to feel pressured when a local hotspot is moved, it looks as if the skeptical outlook has also affected reputation. When asked, many residents have been hesitant to flock to the new River Market location because of the family-friendly aura that surrounds the district. To some–less grungy–could be a compliment, but with the rising popularity of more spots like the Whitewater Tavern, the future of Juanita’s in the River Market seems unfortunately bleak.

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