It was there before the new and cool Blue Barn Theatre opened across the street.

It was there before the nearby restaurant that serves wood-fired pizza delivered by guys on Italian scooters.

It also preceded construction of trendy town houses farther up 10th Street and south of Omaha’s Old Market, and the conversion of two neighboring warehouses into hip work sites.

But as a wave of development and real estate projects went up around the longtime Joe Banana’s lounge and kitchen, so now has their rent, say owners Connie and Joe Monastero.

The lifelong Omahans said this week that the cost to stay in the corner building after their current lease expires in October was too much for the family-owned business.

After almost 25 years as a fixture at 10th and Pacific Streets, Joe Banana’s is packing up.

A “final blowout bash” is set for Sept. 22. A sign tells patrons to call dibs on the assorted memorabilia and furnishings, including Elvira and other balloon figures stuck to the lounge ceiling, old-school Budweiser mirrors, menus from yesteryear and the giant Cholula bottle and blue umbrellas that dot the patio.

“This has been a part of our lives, it seems, forever,” Connie Monastero said as she reminisced about birthdays, weddings, fundraisers and even funerals celebrated there. “We’ve created lots and lots of good friends — that nobody can take away.”

What will become of the commercial corner is uncertain, said Christina Swantek of NP Dodge Real Estate, which manages the property. She noted revitalization efforts that have swept the Little Italy neighborhood and 10th Street corridor and said the property could be redeveloped or wait for a prospective buyer or renter.

Swantek said she was unfamiliar with any rent hike that the Monasteros say drove them out. She said she started managing the property this month. Owners, who county records identify as the family of Ida Bonofede, could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, a dumpster sits outside under a light awning emblazoned with the signature sax-playing banana man inspired by owner Joe’s jazzy talent.

Loyal customers drop in and are quick to tell a stranger a story about how they came to be a fan.

Holly and Kevin Conrad said they moved to the nearby Dunsany Flats condos in 2011. While scoping out a spot to dine in the Old Market, they wound up at Joe Banana’s.

The couple said they’ve been coming back ever since for pizza, burgers, pork chili and beers. They like the golf tournament gatherings, competing in the “bar Olympics.”

“Immediately, we were accepted, and it just became a thing that we showed up here pretty regularly,” said Holly, 38.

Raquel Gilbert, 43, has been a patron for two decades. She used to come after her restaurant shift at the then-Neon Goose next door, and appreciates that customers ranging from Harley bikers to young professionals all get along.

When measuring up a new friend, Gilbert often takes them to Joe Banana’s. “If they do well here, they stayed in my life,” she said.

Charlie Magnett said he’s glum because the place will close before his retirement party. He just returned from Boston and visited the iconic pub made famous by the TV show “Cheers.” He called it nothing compared with Joe Banana’s — “the real “Cheers,’ ” where everybody knows his name.

Friendships were made during sad times as well as joyous, said Debi Haley, part of a crew that made 3,000 meatballs to raise funds for a customer with cancer.

20180825_biz_joebananas01

Joe and Connie Monastero have owned Joe Banana's for almost 25 years. They blame rising rent for the closing of the business.

Connie Monastero recalled the breakfast club that included her dad and his buddies. Many have since passed away, including her father, Steve Cavlovic, a big booster of South High and South Omaha who died five years ago. A women’s Sunday breakfast club still meets weekly.

Others may remember Joe Banana’s for a legal dispute with national nightclub chain Banana Joe’s, which had opened a downtown Omaha location. The Monasteros sued in 2000, saying the name similarity led to great confusion, including delivery truck mix-ups.

The suit ultimately was dismissed as the outsider Banana left town — but not before Omaha courthouse punsters had fun calling the case a slippery legal issue, wondering what might have happened if the case had gone to a higher court on a peel — er, appeal.

Then the story of how the local Joe Banana’s got its name became more widespread. As a kid, Monastero worked in the fruit and vegetable stands of what today is Omaha’s Old Market. His boss called him Joe Bananas.

Monastero later took his saxophone on the road and played with bands across the country. He and Connie married in 1987, ran a different area bar for about eight years and then opened the current business.

Monastero said he’ll pull out his horn and perform at the final bash next month.

Though he and his wife say they weren’t ready to end the Joe Banana’s run, they relish the journey. He has another job he’ll focus on. She said she’ll find something new.

Said Connie: “So many wonderful friendships and fantastic memories — happy or sad — we’ll always have those.”

Reporter - Money

Cindy covers housing and commercial real estate for The World-Herald. Follow her on Twitter @cgonzalez_owh. Phone: 402-444-1224.

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