One month ago tomorrow, Midtown Billiards was badly damaged in a fire caused by an electrical short. The popular dive bar has remained shuttered since then, but work is well underway to get Midtown open again. In fact, Midtown Billiards is targeting being open again by the end of the year, though general manager David Shipps admits that depends on a lot of things falling into place.
“A lot will depend on the red tape, how quickly everything gets approved.” says Shipps. “We have to get approvals both from the insurance company and the city. Any time a step is complete, it seems an inspector has to give approval. So we are hoping we can be open by New Year’s, but that will be determined as time goes on.”
A reopening this year seemed unlikely September 19, when flames poured out of the front window at Midtown just before noon. Shipps says Midtown has contracted with Metro Disaster Specialists to clean up the remaining debris, then do partial demolition before repairs are made. The good news is the building has already been declared structurally sound and free from asbestos, meaning demolition and repair can go forward as soon as its approved by Midtown’s insurance company.
Midtown Billiards is near and dear to many in the food community. One of the few bars in the city allowed to stay open until 5 a.m., Midtown has long served as the end-of-shift spot for restaurant employees and other late-shift workers in town. And that crowd has not turned from Midtown in its time of need, chipping in to help in a number of ways. Perhaps the most impressive help given: every Midtown employee has been offered a regular job while the bar makes repairs.
“The fact people have offered all the employees a place to go in the interim, it’s overwhelming,” says Shipps. “Our employees are working at Sticky Fingerz, Ernie Biggs, Core in Argenta, even Outback Steakhouse offered them a job. You really don’t understand what Midtown means to the community until something like this happens and you get this outpouring.”
People have also put together several benefit events to raise money for Midtown employees. Shipps says another one is in the planning stages that would bring a craft beer festival to Main Street this year, though that event has yet to be confirmed. Shipps says the community’s support won’t be forgotten.
“We are very adamant about reopening, and making this place about to the home they lost,” says Shipps. “When the fire hit, the employees lost their livelihood, and the regulars lost their home. So when we rebuild, we to make it look almost like it did before the fire. Certain improvements will be made, and certain things will be brought up to standard. But we want this to be a big homecoming for people.”
If you would like to help the employees of Midtown Billiards, there is an account set up at Centennial Bank locations throughout the Little Rock area. There, you can make a donation to the Midtown Billiards Employee Relief Fund.