Most of the restaurants, bars, and stores featured in my books are fictional locations. I’d claim that this is due to my irrepressible creativity, but the truth is that making places up requires less research, and runs a lower risk of pissing off a real-world owner. (As cool as it would be to set a brutal torture scene inside a Chuck E. Cheese, I’d prefer to avoid the attorneys’ fees.) There are exceptions to this practice, however, and one is Monk’s Café, a very real Philadelphia restaurant and bar which appears in Burnout. Spoiler: There is no brutal torture.
Monk’s is the setting for a pivotal scene in the novel—the location of Jessie Black’s first “date” with Jack Ackerman. Jack is a former defense attorney, and Jessie’s one-time nemesis, whose nervous breakdown has changed his personality for the better, but may also result in a serial killer going free. In the real world, Monk’s Café, is famous for its amazing selection of beers from around the world, with a special emphasis on Belgian brews. There is even a “Beer Bible” available to assist patrons hoping to find the perfect choice within the vast array of options. The beer selection is referenced in Burnout, although when Jessie and Jack order bottles of Lucifer (a Belgian strong ale), it’s mostly so I could make a bad lawyer joke.
There are two bars—a Front Bar and a Back Bar—as well as cozy eating areas with an atmosphere I described in the book as having “an old-world ambiance.” Monk’s also features an award-winning menu, the hamburgers being a personal favorite of mine. The eating area is crowded and dark, with small, candle-lit tables jammed side to side. As Jessie realizes, Monk’s manages to be simultaneously loud and casual and intimate and romantic at the same time, a paradox which helped make it such a good setting for their meeting.
Monk’s has a place in my heart as one of the restaurants that my then-girlfriend, now-wife and I used to frequent back when we lived in Philly. Ever since first seeing the neon sign in its window, and tasting those awesome burgers, I’ve wanted to pay tribute to the place in my writing. I hope I did a decent job conjuring those sights, smells, and tastes. It was great fun to revisit Monk’s Café vicariously through Jessie and Jack, and, come to think of it, I may need to make an actual trip to experience the real thing again sometime soon.
Been to Monk’s? Got a story to share (or a beer to recommend)? Please leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you.