Remembering the Jolly Ox / Steak & Ale Restaurant

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - by Harmon Jolley
Former Jolly Ox / Steak & Ale building grills in the afternoon sun at 5751 Brainerd Road.
Former Jolly Ox / Steak & Ale building grills in the afternoon sun at 5751 Brainerd Road.
- photo by Harmon Jolley

In the 1970’s, if dinner-and-a-movie was your evening plan, Brainerd was a likely destination.   Whether your plans called for “Live and Let Die” at the Brainerd Village, “American Graffiti” at Eastgate, or “Walking Tall” and "Soylent Green" at the Showcase, you could have dinner prior to the movie at any of a number of Brainerd restaurants.  Beginning in 1973, many chose the Jolly Ox, later renamed Steak & Ale.

The Jolly Ox opened with a preview champagne party on June 24, 1973 at its 5751 Brainerd Road location.  The June 25, 1973 Chattanooga News-Free Press reported that hundreds responded to invitations to “journey back in time to the 16th century"  to experience the atmosphere of an old English pub.  According to the November 5, 1982 News-Free Press, the design was modeled after the movie “Tom Jones.”

The new restaurant included five dining rooms and glowing fireplaces.   Windows were made of the bottoms of glass bottles.   English art was displayed throughout the restaurant.   The wait staff dressed in costumes of old England.

Steaks were shipped in fresh from a Texas supplier.  Each waiter carried a cleaver in a leather pouch, and the blade listed the menu of various steaks, and marinated chicken and shrimp.  Your dinner-and-a-movie date was affordable at the Jolly Ox, for dinner prices ranged between $3.65 and $6.45. 

The Jolly Ox was one of sixty restaurants operated by Steak and Ale Restaurants of America, Inc.  So, why not just call it Steak & Ale?  In 1973, a Tennessee state law banned the usage of “ale” in a restaurant’s name.  Many laws of this type date to the era of Prohibition and its aftermath.  I recall that South Carolina, where my uncle once lived, mandated that liquor stores have no outside signage other than a bulls-eye target.   

The law was changed by 1979, and the sign on Brainerd Road was changed from Jolly Ox to Steak & Ale.  Your dinner-and-a-movie bill had increased by then, according to the October 26, 1979 Chattanooga Times, with king’s cut prime rib going for $10.45.

The local Steak & Ale was still listed in the city directory as late as 1997.  However, many Brainerd dinner-and-a-movie businesses had relocated to the area of the new Hamilton Place mall.  By 2000, Christopher’s was listed as a restaurant that replaced Steak & Ale.  Changes at the corporate level affected the Steak & Ale chain nationally.  In 2008, the S&A Restaurant Corporation filed for bankruptcy.

Today, Bud’s Sports Bar operates in the former Steak & Ale building.

If you have memories of the Jolly Ox / Steak & Ale, please send me an e-mail at  I will update this article with some of your memories.


Memories Shared by Readers

Funny that you write about this restaurant..I have often thought about the wonderful brown bread they served along with their entrees.. Any ideas on reproducing it?


Brooks Family Was Among Earliest Settlers Of Sale Creek

Joseph Brooks was one of the earliest settlers at Sale Creek when it was part of Rhea County. Three of his nieces along with their husbands were Hamilton County pioneers. Joseph Brooks and his brother, Moses Brooks, were sons of John Brooks, who was born in Ireland about 1730. He made his way to Philadelphia and lived a short time in Pennsylvania before going with the tide of ... (click for more)

Hundreds Of Students To Compete In Tennessee History Day Contest

Nearly 300 students from across Tennessee will compete in the annual Tennessee History Day state contest in downtown Nashville on  Saturday . The competition allows students to showcase their creativity and research skills by developing projects with historical themes. The students with the best-judged projects in the statewide competition will advance to the National ... (click for more)

Man Who Killed 4 At Waffle House Is In Custody

Travis Reinking, 29, the suspect in the shooting at a Waffle House near Nashville on Sunday, has been taken into custody, according to police. Reinking, who killed four people and injured two others at a Waffle House near Nashville on Sunday morning was on the loose Monday morning and had been added to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's ‘Top 10 Most Wanted’ list. ... (click for more)

Pet Raccoon That Was Destroyed Did Not Have Rabies

A pet raccoon that was destroyed in order to test for rabies after biting a neighbor child did not have rabies, Chattanooga attorney Chris Jones. The family has been advised it can pick up the remains of Boomer at the Chattanooga Hamilton County Health Department. Attorney Jones, who specializes in wildlife cases, earlier argued there was no valid reason for health ... (click for more)

Set Up A Council On Love, Not A Council On Hate - And Response

In Mayor Berke's April 19 version of the Berke Bulletin, he announced plans to establish a Council on Hate and indicated a focus on tolerance. I beg of him to reconsider that plan. One problem in Chattanooga and in other places in America is that there are some people who have already established an informal version of a Council on Hate. I suggest that a more productive plan ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Always Know The Facts

I adore the fact so many of America’s high school and college students are very active in our battle against violence in our schools but bemoan the fact that when you combine youth and ‘lack of experience’ they often are misguided and ill-informed. The best example came on Saturday when a reporter for Campus Reform walked around the Cal State-Santa Barbara campus asking the students ... (click for more)