Rusty Sutton and husband Drew Temple’s fun bar and gift-shop, the Green Monkey, welcomes all with their congenial, quirky offerings.
Written by Eleanor Spicer Rice | Photography by Eamon Queeney
The Green Monkey’s bar is just beginning to welcome the late-afternoon crowd: a professor who walked straight over from the university, a writer clicking away at her laptop and a couple of buddies deep in conversation. Someone browses the gift shop, chuckling over a pair of Ruth Bader Ginsburg socks. A young man ambles in off the street and throws a “hi” to the bar before heading to the coolers to pick out a six-pack of craft brew. Big front windows show Hillsborough Street starting to hustle the after-work bustle.
Drew Temple, co-owner of the bar and gift shop, strolls over to me, a non-regular, stopping in for a quick after-work drink. “Hey, let me introduce you . . . ”
Before I can take my first sip, I am a Monkey Fan, a devotee of this bar and gift shop tucked toward the downtown end of Hillsborough Street, a place where folks can buy boutique deodorant and kitchen supplies before settling in to have a happy conversation with a complete stranger.
“When people come in for the first time, they look at us funny and go, ‘What is this place? Is it a bar? Is it a gift shop?’” says Rusty Sutton, founder, co-owner and Temple’s husband and partner for more than three decades. “My first answer is: Don’t label us. Just enjoy it. What makes the Green Monkey the Green Monkey is that we are a bar that sells soap.” And, more than a bar that sells soap, the space is a welcoming home for anyone ready to belong.
“We welcome anybody into this community,” says Sutton. “All you have to do is be nice.”
Sutton began building his community in 2001 with an eBay business that bloomed into a booth at the Raleigh Flea Market. He wanted to open a gift shop and gathering place, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. Then one day, a friend’s mother, a retired and successful local business owner, asked to see his business plan.
“She read it, said she believed in us, and negotiated to get us this space,” says Sutton.
This space was the old Royal Mart, a convenience store known for its thick green carpet and bountiful malt liquor offerings. The catch: To have the space, Sutton had to buy the Royal Mart’s inventory. This meant that instead of selling the gifts that fueled his passion, he started off selling cigarettes and pork rinds.
“We had a store full of old groceries,” Sutton says. “We didn’t like it or want it. Our customers didn’t like it or want it either!”
At first, the Green Monkey barely made it. Loyal customers from the flea market were disappointed by the convenience store wares. Newcomers didn’t know what to make of the strange mashup of goods. Sutton thought he would have to close down.
“I decided the people weren’t happy, I wasn’t happy, and if I was going to go down, I was going
to go down my way,” Sutton says.
Sutton told his friends he wasn’t going down without a fight, and they rallied around him. Sutton and Temple had always supported others wherever they could. This time, others showed up to support them. Their community donated stools and built a bar.
“Our stools were donated by a new Monkey Fan that we were working with to produce small plays in our back room,” Sutton says. “We were helping her with her newly formed theatrical production company and she wanted to help us.”
Sutton conscripted local artists to sell their wares on consignment because he couldn’t afford to purchase inventory. It worked. Temple was able to quit his job in IT and work at Green Monkey with Sutton full time. Last September, the couple took their 31 years of partnership to a new level and were married, surrounded by family and Monkey Fans. Their love for each other is like their love for the Green Monkey: It stands on its own, unlike anything else, and it is nourished by the loving care of a community of friends.
“This place is my art,” says Sutton. “Every day I walk in here, this is my art. Most days, I come in and say, ‘Drew, look at what we’ve done.’ And I could not have done it without Drew.”
Today, in addition to a beer and wine bar and carefully curated local snacks, the shop sells goods from small makers across the country. Counter Culture coffee and WiFi wait for those looking to get some work done. A gang of regulars and newcomers stop in each day, mingling at the cozy bar or one of the few high tops surrounded by windows that wrap the place’s front and side (the whole place only holds 55 people). No televisions block conversation, and dogs and cats are welcome visitors, often wagging and sashaying tails between stools. On nice days and evenings, people sit outside, watch the traffic, and talk about life.
And always, Sutton and Temple will be there to greet you, to show you around, and to welcome you home— even if it’s for the first time.
Green Monkey Gives Back
With the help of Rusty and Drew’s “Monkey Fans,” The Green Monkey works to build and repair its greater community by giving back to more than 10 local charities and organizations, from Backpack Buddies to the SPCA of Wake County. They give money, host fundraisers, donate merchandise and hold food drives. Whether you’re coming for a wild night at Tuesday’s bingo or Thursday’s trivia, or you’re spending a quiet afternoon sipping coffee in the window while you work, your purchase helps the Green Monkey extend a friendly hand to those in need.