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Two’s Company: Hometown Entrepreneur Opens Second Downtown Arlington Hot Spot

Back in 2011, Arlington native Greg Gardner opened The Grease Monkey Burger Shop and Social Club at the corner of Division and Mesquite Streets in Arlington, TX. He chose the location for its historic significance to the City and proximity to the emerging Downtown business district, envisioning Grease Monkey as a lively place for great food and live music.

That’s exactly what happened. Grease Monkey has become a favorite of locals, tourists, Cowboy Nation and Rangers fans, and has set the bar high for the dozens of new businesses that followed in its footsteps as a part of the Downtown Arlington renaissance.

This week, the Lamar High and UTA graduate did it again with the opening of an entirely new restaurant concept in Downtown’s Urban Union. We recently caught up with Greg about his newest venture, Cartel Taco Bar, in his home sweet hometown.

DA:  What vibe do you envision for Cartel Taco Bar? 

GG:  We’re aiming to create a place that you might see in areas such as Magnolia in Fort Worth or Bishop Arts in Dallas. Think Deep Ellum vibe, then add the Arlington flair. We had a blast with the design of the place, integrating nearly 100-year-old brick, old barn wood and metals. We also have a great covered patio that I think will be a favorite place to hang out. As awareness builds, tourists and locals alike will come to love us and also the entire Urban Union area with all its unique businesses within walking distance from each other.

DA:  Describe Cartel Taco Bar's menu and bar selection.

GG:  Our chef, Paul Checkeye, has created a great menu of what I'd call craft tacos. We also have a street taco option, some unique appetizers, and side dishes.

The bar has a mix of specialty cocktails, frozen margarita options, flights of Texas Whiskeys, plus high-end tequilas, whiskeys and scotch if you want a nice drink with a custom ice ball. We also have 16 draft beer options and of course we offer some great happy hour pricing and specials as well. Our goal is to have some nicer, higher-end stuff plus value options, and we think we have put together a very good mix.

DA:  Tell us about some of Cartel Taco Bar’s other amenities.

GG:  I believe the patio will be a huge focus of the restaurant, and it's pet-friendly. Wifi is available for free. As for live music, right now I'm thinking we’ll offer some acoustic sets inside at times and on the patio for sure when the weather gets nice. In the Spring, we plan to partner with other Urban Union venues like Legal Draft to do some larger music/food/beer events in the parking lot and on the streets.

Downtown Arlington:  Where did the name "Cartel Taco Bar" come from?

Greg Gardner:  It came from a couple of different places. A few of us have played in a band called The Texas Cartel for over 20 years. Some of the partners liked the idea of giving a little love to that band history, logo, brand, etc. We also thought about all of the different types of “cartels” (oil, etc.) and how put a fun spin on it: a “taco cartel” dominating the taco bar scene, if you will.

DA:  Why did you decide to open a second restaurant in Downtown Arlington?

GG:  When I traveled for work in the past, I always asked people where the cool, local area was where I can have a drink and eat and maybe hear some music and watch a game. I think Urban Union/Downtown Arlington can and will be that place. Also, having The Grease Monkey right down the street just made sense to us. The more successful places we can get in Downtown, the better we all can do. We need to create a destination!

DA:  Which was harder and why: opening your first restaurant or opening your second one?

GG:  I think they are both difficult in different ways. This second one has been more work because we have done most of the design ourselves and worked closely with the contractors to execute our vision. It’s rewarding, but takes more time and effort. Opening any business is hard, but it’s worth it in the end when you have a successful product.

DA:  When you have free time (haha), what do you like to do/see in Downtown Arlington?

GG:  That is funny! I have two very active kids and am now a partner in two restaurants, so free time is scarce. I try to go hear bands when I can. We have some great venues in Downtown Arlington such as the Levitt Pavilion, Grease Monkey, Arlington Music Hall, and others. I go to UTA sporting events as much as possible, and just hanging at the great restaurants and bars in Downtown with my friends is probably my favorite thing to do.

DA:  Is there anyone in particular who you'd like to shout out to?

GG:  Ryan Dodson, the developer of Urban Union, Michaell Unell and Josh Rodgers of Tryon who are building the property, and my business partner Mark Kiefer. These guys have made the design, construction and building of the restaurant a very fun experience. They’re talented dudes who have made a difficult, stressful process a lifelong positive memory.

DA:  Is there anything else you'd like to add?

GG:  We look forward to everyone coming to see our creation and have a unique enjoyable experience!

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About Downtown Arlington

Designated by the State of Texas as the Arlington Cultural District, Downtown Arlington blends a unique mix of activities, sights, tastes and sounds that attract visitors and locals alike. Within its less than a two-mile radius, Downtown is home to a top tier public research university, prolific fine and performing artists and arts institutions, live entertainment, exciting NCAA and professional athletics, one-of-a-kind dining and retail, and a supportive business climate.

Photo from Cartel Taco Bar's Facebook page.