Former Bradenton barbecue joint reopens as biker bar

The former J&J Bar-B-Que location, 2620 9th St. W., has reopened as the Ride Hard Saloon. Owners George Smith and Jesse Mullen stand out front with their Harley’s.
The former J&J Bar-B-Que location, 2620 9th St. W., has reopened as the Ride Hard Saloon. Owners George Smith and Jesse Mullen stand out front with their Harley’s.

The Bradenton biker community can now add a stop on 9th Street West to its weekend ride route.

Jesse Mullen opened the Ride Hard Saloon at 2620 9th St. W. on Thursday after the building was vacant for nearly three years. Mullen also runs the Tip Top Tavern at 512 Manatee Ave. W., a downtown Bradenton biker bar. He was looking for another location to open after nearly 10 years at the Tip Top Tavern.

Mullen said he has owned and operated almost a dozen bars in Manatee County since he moved here with his wife, Tracey, in the mid-1990’s from Southern California.

And he hopes Ride Hard won’t be his last.

“We want to open four or five bars,” Mullen said.

Mullen enlisted the help of his biker friend George Smith, who has worked in management at Super Chem Inc. in Sarasota for 27 years. Smith has done some work in the restaurant business but said Ride Hard will be his first bar venture.

Mullen and Smith looked at several properties before entering into a lease at the 1,600-square-foot 9th Street West location. They wanted to open a bar on 12th St. W., but said the building owners they spoke with were not interested in leasing to a biker bar.

“Some people out there have a misconception about biker bars,” Smith said. “But usually, there’s bikers sitting around planning the next charity ride.”

The flags behind the Ride Hard bar are half-American flag, half-Confederate flag, with a coiled snake in the middle where they meet. Those may feed the misconceptions. To some, Confederate flags are a part of Southern history. But they’re seen by others as a symbol of outdated beliefs.

“Those are the people who drink at cocktail bars with suits on,” Mullen said. “Some places are not meant for some people, but we welcome everyone.”

Mullen said he would tolerate the homeless population that took up residence near the bar during the period when the building was vacant. He understands that they need a safe place to sleep, but the trash they leave behind is the unacceptable part, he said. Mullen and Smith hauled 15 bags of garbage out from behind the shed, they said.

Mullen said he’s picked up “all kinds of stuff,” including drug paraphernalia, out of the bar’s parking lot. On Friday, Smith said he saw progress, albeit in a small way.

“There’s no syringes today,” Smith said. “At least they cap them, though. They’re good about that.”

The two hope that the new venture will help to bring other businesses and more people into the area.

The Ride Hard business partners are in talks with people who are interested in taking over the kitchen part of Ride Hard. Mullen said it will be traditional American bar fare, including cheeseburgers, fries and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches.

From the mid-1980’s until spring 2014, Johnny McKinney ran J&J Bar-B-Que restaurant out of the location. McKinney now does catering only.

“I’m getting older anyway and it’s getting hard for me to do the restaurant business,” McKinney said.

He’s able to be home by 4 or 5 p.m. every night, compared to closing the restaurant whenever crowds waned.

Mullen and Smith said they usually try to open by 10 or 11 a.m. and they’ve kept McKinney’s attitude toward closing time: whenever the last drink is finished.

For any questions about Ride Hard, call Smith at 941-228-7314.

Janelle O’Dea: 941-745-7095, @jayohday