There's been a little monkeying around with some monkey art that's caused some friction between two Denver bars. Jimmy Nigg, owner of the Monkey Barrel, at 4401 Tejon Street in Sunnyside, says the Monkey Bar, 1112 Santa Fe Drive, pilfered an image he commissioned and used it for their own gains.
The art in question is an original painting called "Monkeyvana" that Nigg paid Denver artist Chris Krieg to paint in 2014. The bar owner wanted the Monkey Barrel to appeal to Gen Xers, so he asked Krieg to paint a rendition of Nirvana's Nevermind album cover, only with a chimp in place of the swimming baby and a can of "Lunch Pail Ale" in place of the dollar bill in the original photographic image. The painting hung inside the Monkey Barrel's first location at 1611 Platte Street — and a replica was placed next to the front door outside — until Nigg relocated to the Barrel's current home.
During the three years his bar was open on Platte Street, Nigg notes, there was no "Monkey Barrel" sign above the door: Customers just knew to look for the grinning aquatic chimp. "After a couple of drinks, people only remembered two things; one was the monkey in the painting, and the other was that the bar had the word 'monkey' in it," he says.
That's why he was dismayed when he learned that the Monkey Bar was using an almost identical image in a large mural above its bar, as well as on T-shirts. And for several months, the Monkey Bar's Facebook page sported the image as its profile picture. "Under normal circumstances, I might give someone the benefit of the doubt," Nigg states, but he felt that his painting was just too emblematic of his own bar to allow its use by another bar with a very similar name.
Since learning of the Monkey Bar's appropriation of the image, Nigg has had text exchanges with the company that reproduced the artwork for the Monkey Bar, which claimed that the duplication of Krieg's painting was unintentional. Still, Nigg has hired a lawyer and plans to send a cease-and-desist letter to the owner of the Monkey Bar.
That owner is Javy Maes, who opened his establishment in the spring of 2015. Maes says he found a photograph of "Monkeyvana" on Pinterest but that he didn't know that images on Pinterest might be proprietary. His version of the swimming monkey differs just slightly from the original, with a PBR can in place of the Lunch Pail Ale can and the lighting shifted toward a more twilight color palette. "We didn't realize he had ownership of the art," Maes says. "And we certainly didn't realize it belonged to someone in Denver."
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Maes adds that he's learned more about reproducing art found on the Internet and doesn't plan on doing it again. He says he's also stopped selling his T-shirts, and employees are no longer wearing them to work. The Monkey Bar's Facebook profile image has been changed to something a little more generic, and Maes is going one step further, even though it's going to cost him. "We're going to remove it from our wall," he says of the mural above the bar. "That project will start next week."
That move will cost about $2,000, he adds, but it will be worth the money and effort. "I definitely don't want to cause waves in our own community," he explains.
Whether that will be enough for Nigg to call off the lawyers remains to be seen. "I'm more concerned that our customers and their patrons might get us confused," Nigg says.
Seems like there should be enough room in Denver for plenty of monkey business.