Rodge Arnold, owner of Charlee’s Good Time Drinkery, the new restaurant/bar on North University Avenue on the ground floor of the Prospect Building, understands the demand for good quality late-night grub. “I’ve been in the business for 16 years,” he said. “I actually worked here 10 or 11 years ago, when it was Salut.”
Charlee’s, like its predecessors, Salut and Local Union, will be open until 5 a.m. The state of Arkansas stopped issuing late-night private club licenses in 2001, so they’re hard to come by. Charlee’s inherited its license from Local Union.
“If you’ve spent any time in the industry, you’re not drunk at two o’clock in the morning, you’re just tired and hungry and you want something different,” Arnold said. “You want to be able to go to a place that feels like a regular restaurant sometimes. We’re not specifically catering to the service industry, but, because that’s where I come from, I understand the plight of the industry people. Servers deserve good food, too.”
Charlee’s is open 11 a.m.- 5 a.m. daily, and will run its full menu all day. When we visited on opening day (Fri., Aug. 28), the lunch rush had just died down. Arnold said it seemed like people who work in the Prospect Building were just waiting for the doors to open at 11 a.m., so it was a very busy first lunch. “We did all right,” he said. “We fought our way out of it.”
The menu is a well-balanced mix of shareable appetizers, salads and sandwiches.
On a future visit, we’re going to have to try the pot roast sandwich (“Sunday dinner on a bun,” the menu states), the BBQ sandwich and the smoked wings.
“I’m from Helena, Arkansas, so I consider myself a bit of a barbecue snob,” Arnold said.
The pork and wings at Charlee’s are smoked in house, and the barbecue sauce and all the other dressings are made in house, as well. “We’re trying to do as much in house as we possibly can,” he said.
Arnold always judges a restaurant on its Cuban sandwich. “We do it right,” he said. But he thinks the signature sandwich at Charlee’s will be the “Charlee’s Chopped Cheese.”
“It’s just a chopped cheeseburger on a bun,” Arnold said, “but it’s greasy, and cheesy and delicious.”
It’s all those things. The flavor of the beef is just right, and the gooey cheese and grilled red onions complement it perfectly. It would make for a great lunch or a 2 a.m. strategic hangover deterrent. Just be sure to request a fork because there will be plenty of cheesy chopped beef spillover to scoop up.
The patio at Charlee’s is minimal. There are just a few regular tables, and Arnold had small tables and chairs custom made to fit along the outer walls to blend in and create more moveable space.
The aesthetic inside is more playful than the bars that previously occupied the space. One will surely take note of the flamingo wallpaper or the Ford Bronco in the parking lot covered with painted flamingos.
Arnold named the restaurant after his wife-to-be, Charlee. “She’s awesome,” Arnold said. “And she’s quirky.”
The lightning flash in the company’s logo comes from Charlee’s love of David Bowie. There are three painted Bowie masks on the wall above the bar, as well as his iconic mugshot photo.
“So the flamingos are just another thing [Charlee] likes. We have a daughter, and when she was born, we bought all this flamingo stuff. We found this flamingo wallpaper, so I put it up, and everybody just kind of centered on that. It wasn’t supposed to be a focal point,” he said, laughing, but “that’s all anybody talked about, so we just kind of leaned into it.”
Charlee’s Good Time Drinkery
11 a.m-5 a.m daily.
Prospect Building, 1st floor
1501 N. University Ave.