Thursday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the doors will be open and just about everything not bolted down will be for sale… the big murals that gave the place its flavor will be for sale, along with the bar clock with the Bilbo’s logo, the 3-foot-tall mechanical Mr. Bilbo that used to sit on the end of the bar, and a bunch of hand-painted advertising signs, all with that cartoonish, smiling, pipe-smoking J.R.R. Tolkien character.
Nostalgia for sale at Bilbo’s
by David Giffels
Akron Beacon Journal
Did you have a favorite blankie when you were a kid?
Did you ever wonder what you’d say if someone asked you to put a price tag on it?
If so, you might understand the spot Charlie Thomas found himself in last week as he walked through Mr. Bilbo’s, the downtown Akron bar he operated until last New Year’s Eve, when he hung up a goodbye sign and locked the big wooden door for the last time.
Bilbo’s has been closed since then, but a new bar will be opening there by summer. So Thomas, who still owns the building, is in the process of clearing it out, a process that this week will be open to anyone who wants to buy a piece of downtown Akron nostalgia.
It’s an unusual process that is forcing him to put a price on some fond memories.
Thursday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the doors will be open and just about everything not bolted down will be for sale. That “everything” includes the usual bar stuff — metal beer advertising signs, kitchenware, a neon Spuds Mackenzie and the like.
But it also includes the unusual stuff, the stuff that made Bilbo’s a funky institution for most of the last 20 years. The Hobbit stuff.
That’s right — the big murals that gave the place its flavor will be for sale, along with the bar clock with the Bilbo’s logo, the 3-foot-tall mechanical Mr. Bilbo that used to sit on the end of the bar, and a bunch of hand-painted advertising signs, all with that cartoonish, smiling, pipe-smoking J.R.R. Tolkien character.
I always thought those murals were painted directly onto the walls, but it turns out they were done on plywood panels that can be removed.
It further turns out that they were done 20 years ago by a guy whose stock has shot up in the art world, a man named Ken Muenzenmayer, who was a starving artist in Kent when he cranked out the 12 bar murals, but now owns a successful gallery in Houston and fetches up to $7,500 apiece for his landscapes.
So there was Thomas last week, in the dim tavern, wandering through with John Kunz, co-owner of R&J Enterprises, which will run the tag sale. Akron being what it is, and bars being what they are, Kunz’s interest in the sale is not just a financial one. He was a Bilbos customer for years and spent plenty of nights under the watchful eyes of those whimsical painted characters.
So how much is that kind of nostalgia worth?
“I’m parting with part of myself,” Thomas said as he and Kunz tried to come up with a price for the murals.
“We can’t price nostalgia. In our business, this is difficult,” Kunz said. “It’s part of him; it’s part of me. But I’ve got to look at it as a business.”
They decided to sell them for somewhere in the $1,000 range. Thomas said he wont let them go for much less, just because they mean too much to him.
Muenzenmayer chuckled when I called and told him about the sale. Sure, he remembered doing the paintings. He set up some plywood panels in his Kent garage, gathered together some Hobbit references and cranked them out. He wasn’t all that thrilled about doing “commercial” work. He wanted to do fine art.
But Thomas was — and still is — a friend. And the young artist needed the money. He was paid $150 for each of the murals. So he did them.
Everyone has moved on since those days. Muenzenmayer paints in Texas and sells all over the country. Thomas still owns Ray’s Place, his stalwart Kent bar, and has kicked around the idea of opening another bar in Akron. And the Bilbo’s spot will soon be taken over by Danny Basone, a longtime Akron musician and DJ, who plans to feature live music on Saturday nights and spin cool music the rest of the week.
The bar doesn’t have a name yet. The only thing for certain is it won’t be called Mr. Bilbo’s.
Because, one way or another, Mr. Bilbo is about to leave the building.