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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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?