The famed Jersey Lilly Saloon, arguably one of the most popular drinking places on Whiskey Row, has new owners, and one of the first things they did was to expand the historic saloon by about 600 square feet.
Not only that, they remodeled and expanded the upstairs area so that more people can enjoy the only balcony view Whiskey Row patrons have of the iconic Courthouse Plaza to the east.
The three new owners are Susan Roberts and her son, Josh Makrauer, and partner Andre DeFreitas. In just three months, they have filed the necessary requests for changes and modifications that made possible their opening of a watering hole that has served thirsty customers since the late 1880s. Roberts estimates the cost of renovation and expansion at more than $100,000. Smack in the heart of Whiskey Row, the saloon is located at 116 S. Montezuma Street.
“I’ve been in Prescott for 17 years, and have long wanted to own something on Whiskey Row,” Roberts said. “When I heard that Tommy and Joan Meredith were thinking of retiring, I contacted them. My son and I have long been patrons of the Jersey Lilly, so it was easy to talk to the Meridiths and reach agreement, even though they hadn’t listed the place for sale.”
Roberts and Makrauer already owned Apple Creek Cottages and other rental properties.
DeFreitas had 10 years of experience in the restaurant and bar business. He also has several years of experience in financial and banking industries. He serves as general manager.
DeFreitas laughs about the way he became an owner. “I was tired of being in banking, so one evening over a drink with Josh, he said, ‘Let’s buy a bar.” I responded, ‘Why not?’ So, here we are.”
Among the three of them, they agree they have many years of managerial, business, hospitality and financial experience. “It’s a good mix,” Roberts said.
“We’re making some changes, too. We expanded the bar area by 600 feet and added another back bar. We have several different beers on tap, something the Jersey Lilly never had before. We have more dance area, too, and we probably have more music,” she said.
In addition, Happy Hour has changed, too – from 4 to 7 p.m.; and then later, from 8 p.m. until closing. About a dozen employees work at the bar.
“Something we really want to emphasize – catering to community events. For instance, just a month ago, we hosted a really large alumni gathering for Northern Arizona University. We’re working with the city and some other local businesses on hosting private parties for special events. What we’re proud of: we won’t charge an additional fee for special events. We just want to be part of the community and continue the history of this place,” Roberts explained.
Past Owners Tell of Legacy, History
Two immediate former owners of the Jersey Lilly share the new owners’ enthusiasm for the future of the saloon.
Tommy and Joan Meredith, who recently sold the bar, owned it for more than 15 years. “My wife and I have done a lot of things, but running the Jersey Lilly was one of the most enjoyable. Of course, we were directly involved—every day. What we truly enjoyed was the relationship we had with our customers. It was – and I’m not kidding – just like family. Most were locals, so we knew everything about their jobs, their kids, their vacations.”
Meredith said one especially enjoyable activity was fundraising for the annual Courthouse Square Christmas Lighting. Typically, they would generate around $80,000 annually to support the project.
“Even though I’m not an owner anymore, I’ll still be involved in that effort. I haven’t learned to spell retirement, I guess,” he said.
The decision to sell came when he and Joan had some health issues. “The Lord was looking after us, I guess. The offer came at just the right time, and circumstances were just perfect for everyone. I’m just glad Susan, Josh and Andre are going to continue the traditions we had for so many years.”
Another owner was Marlin Kuykendall, who bought what was to become the Jersey Lilly when it was just “… an abandoned dump – and had been for years.” Kuykendall, former Prescott mayor and longtime resident, said he had wanted to own a bar for years. He bought the run-down second-story facility and other vacant rooms and offices.
“I spent thousands of dollars in remodeling, rebuilding. It took more than six months to put the place in shape. I don’t even remember what it was called then, for it had been called several different names,” Kuykendall said.
He explained how it became the Jersey Lilly. “When we were cleaning up, we found dozens of old photographs and posters and pictures. Many of them were of beautiful women from the Victorian era. One of them was especially attractive, and somebody said, ‘That looks like the British actress Lilly Langtry.’ He even offered me $300 for that old picture. I turned him down, figuring he must know something I didn’t. So, I went ahead and named it the Jersey Lilly, and that name stuck. But honestly, I don’t know if that picture was really her.”
Kuykendall says the name Jersey Lilly – associated as it is with the world-famous Jersey Lilly Saloon in Langtry, Texas – is most appropriate as part of the “…romance of our Western heritage.”
Kuykendall sold the saloon to Sherry Gagnon, but she kept it only a few months before selling it to Meredith in 2002. QCBN
By Ray Newton, QCBN
Photo by Ray Newton