Familiar name, self-pour beer concept planned at former Moe & Johnny’s site

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Bulldog Bar & Lounge
The new Bulldog Bar & Lounge is expected to open in May. (IBJ photo/Dave Lindquist)

The Bulldog is returning to Meridian-Kessler in the same building where crowds gathered for drinks and socializing from 1974 to 1994.

Property owner John Bales is set to revive the Bulldog name at 5380 N. College Ave., where Moe & Johnny’s operated for 26 years after replacing the Bulldog.

Bales, who has been the site’s landlord for more than a decade, owns the Bulldog Bar & Lounge business with partners Brian Knoderer and Caroline Smith. The trio said they hope to open the bar in May.

While a Bulldog comeback will generate nostalgic feelings among former patrons, a new concept is present in the form of self-serve beer taps.

In addition to traditional bar service, the Bulldog will feature two walls dedicated to 48 self-pour taps. In a concept that debuted locally at the bygone Rebar Indy, 20 N. Delaware St., the “beer wall” system allows guests to load money on a card or wristband.

At the tap, customers can fill their glasses with as many ounces as they want. Smith notes that “an integrated algorithm makes sure people can’t overserve themselves.”

During an era when hospitality workers are scarce, Bales described the self-pour concept as “the future of the industry.”

“You don’t have to wait for service,” Knoderer said. “If you need a drink, go get a drink.”

Bales and Knoderer met while attending Ball State University. In 1990, Knoderer earned a master’s degree in business from Butler University—the school with the mascot that inspired the Bulldog’s name.

“I lived at 47th and Capitol,” Knoderer said. “I came to the Bulldog in my 20s.”

Originally a Kroger store in the 1930s, the 7,400-square-foot building will have three areas where guests can eat and drink: the main bar on the south side of the building, a family-friendly restaurant named BD Social on the north side of the building and smaller lounge with an entrance facing 54th Street.

“This is the Bulldog grown up,” Smith said. “I think a lot of people who came here when they were in college have grown with the neighborhood. We want this to be a place where they can bring their families. We also want to honor the legacy of the Bulldog and have today’s Butler students make this their home bar.”

Marcus Bethea will serve as the Bulldog’s general manager. Chef Tory Walker is devising a menu that includes Sunday brunch at BD Social.

Moe & Johnny’s closed in November 2020. Chuck Mack, who owned the business from 1994 until 2019, sold Moe & Johnny’s to Levi Kinney, who presently owns Gordito’s Rust Belt Tacos and Tortas at Fishers Test Kitchen.

Mack and Kinney filed legal claims against each other based on a disagreement about the terms of their transaction. The dispute was resolved out of court in 2021.

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17 thoughts on “Familiar name, self-pour beer concept planned at former Moe & Johnny’s site

  1. Would love to know what really happened between Mack and Kinney the last 2 years.
    Cliff note version: Kinney “bought” a bar with a contract on a post it note from Mack who didn’t actually own the bar. Kinney paid hundreds of thousands, Bales actually owned the place. Hilarious stuff.

    1. Mack did own the bar (not the building/land) and that is what Kinney bought. Kinney thought he was buying the bar AND the building/land. The price tag did not warrant a bar, building and land at that location though so Kinney should have been wiser on that front. Whether or not Mack misled him about that is another matter.

    2. Josh, I was right there with you until the last point. “…Kinney should have been wiser on that front.” is a very large understatement. Who buys a business on a one-pager executed on a high-top without any legal review? Someone who’s dad is rich and who is likely naïve, at best. I don’t know if Mack misled him – presumably verbal discussions about the matter of a significant business transaction hold no weight when there is a writing – unless, perhaps, there were disinterested parties that could testify as to the discussions. Or, if there was something in the agreement that is misleading, in which case I’m sure Chuck would have had problems when litigated.

    3. Nothing to know.

      Chuck Mack has always been far more above board than 99.9% of bar proprietors I have ever known. Chuck did everything in good faith when he sold the bar (he never claimed to own the property, NOR did he sell anything with the property included)to someone not so honorable.

      Back in the day Chuck never started or wanted any problems after Moe passed. All he wanted to do was solve all the issues surrounding the Bulldog at the time and keep Moe’s dream alive.

      Hope the new Bulldog continues to have the same great vibe we’ve enjoyed throughout all the years.

  2. Glad to see the old bulldog name is back on that corner. Chuck Mack and Mary Jane (I think Moe the original bulldog owner’s widow) used to run it back in the 1990s when I worked as a dishwasher along with Peter Dinwiddie the NBA genius with two brains (he was a cook back then). I remember the old staff at the bulldog pulled a strike when Chuck gained control from Mary Jane maybe in 1996 or 1997. Chuck took over ownership, which removed the bulldog name because Mary Jane had those rights. The staffers on strike in support of Mary Jane were promptly fired and replaced by Chuck Mack. Some of those people had worked there for decades. Bye bye Chuck and hello Bulldog. – Chaz

  3. Oh my gosh, .. as usual so many opinions. I will say Chuck W – you need to do some more research because you have no idea what you’re talking about. Josh and Randy – you do basically have the correct narrative. Both parties were stupid for drawing up a contract on a cocktail napkin. Chaz you worked there so maybe you know more than me, but the rift between Mo’s family and Chuck Mac was not Chuck’s doing, and I think he was pretty much on the up and up, to the point where he honored Mo, his longtime partner, by putting his name on the building. My two cents.

    1. How do I not know what I am talking about? My paragraph is a summary that Josh and Randy added more details to, but please direct me to the source where I can do my “additional research”. I don’t know either player, but from public info, articles, and even these comments, Mack strikes me as a street smart hustler and Kinney’s only attribute is being born a rich kid. We will probably never know, but would love to know the details of the settlement. Also, who in the world is financially backing Kinney this time around?

  4. Yup, shoulda’ had an attorney involved, but . . . I’m more interested in seeing what kind of food John Bales thinks is as good or better than what we can already get in the area.

    1. Larry my understanding is that Levi did have an attorney involved in the form of a partner’s father. It would seem to me that any attorney involved in the purchase / sale would have reviewed records to determine if, in fact, the building, liquor license, etc were included in the sale. Doesn’t appear that legal due diligence was done regarding the purchase.