Three months ago, when Rialto management declared the 1920 poolhall, cafe, off-track-betting parlor had scheduled their absolute last call for December 25, the announcement arrived midst eulogies for similarly beloved downtown mainstays (Lotus, Alexis, Veritable Quandary) euthanized with far less advance warning.
WW has confirmed nightlife impresarios Frank Faillace (Dante's, Star Theater) and Manish Patel (Bar XV) have purchased Rialto with express intention of maintaining the establishment under its original name.
"A smooth transition will be happening in the next couple weeks," Faillace tells WW. "It won't be closing."
Noting the bar's daunting array of attractions: "pool, sports, off-track betting, poker, the diner, and shows at the Jack London Bar," Faillace repeatedly stressed "keeping it the same but better" with "some cosmetic upgrades and other positive modifications."
The Rialto had a greater reach than the other old soldiers, but it never maintained a definable crowd. Some pastel-suited suburbanites only knew the place for hosting extravagant Dixieland-band-scored Kentucky Derby events. Afterwork professionals adored the happy hour food specials and sheer space allowed passers-by watching the games. Bro-packs new to town met one another over pool games without ever noticing the poetry slams or greasy spoon booths.
We're not quite sure how the Rialto survived 96 yuletides hawking ever-less-salable vices in the heart of our dimming midtown. It's precisely the sort of "old Portland" anachronism actually utilized by the least fashionable and blithely abandoned by the archivist set, which makes this weekend's stay of execution all the more miraculous.
A subterranean venue opened as aspirational alternative to the nicotine-stained, fluorescent-lit OTB windows still soldiering on beneath the Rialto, the Jack London has hosted everything from literary events to musical theater to befogged dance nights over the past five years. Simply imposing coherent booking policies upon the long-ignored space should reap instant rewards, though Faillace declined to further detail anticipated focus.
As well, there appears to be no intention of replacing the labor force already at work.
"I do know that they plan to give us all an opportunity to keep our employment. I think many Rialto staff members, myself, for one, were excited to hear that we are able to keep our jobs and the new owners are quite nice," said one current bartender. "Local patrons bought the bar hoping to keep a Portland landmark alive. They're not only energetic, enthusiastic, interested in our input as veteran employees, but they also seem to have really good ideas on where and how to make improvements."
The adjoining street-level OTB lounge, long left to fester as downmarket clubhouse for day-drinking touts, looks to be the likeliest target for wholesale transformation.
Faillace acknowledged the de facto gambling annex will probably see a change of name and aesthetic but still maintain the same base atmosphere.
As stewards of our city center's vanishing vice temples, the new backers have earned a certain degree of trust. For their first joint venture, Faillace and Patel launched tastemaker adult lounge Kit-Kat Club from the grounds of Berbati's Pan. Some diehards complained about repurposing the legendary alt hub as strip bar, but, for better or worse, the Kit-Kat merely shrugged off the 90s rock stage to embrace the old 70s burlesque stage underneath.
"We are all about keeping downtown Portland vigorous and exciting," Faillace said. And, he's not wrong. Given current climate, the future of nightlife might well require clinging desperately to the past.