Portland's Best Barpocalypse Now Redux Is the Matador, Re-created in a One-Room Apartment

One man's functional shrine to a defunct Portland institution.

When yet another old Portland bar closes, most folks never do anything but complain. Nicholas Burgess did something about it. After the much-mourned West Burnside landmark the Matador closed two years ago, Burgess was one of countless heartbroken regulars. The Matador had poured Burgess' first Portland drink less than 30 minutes after he arrived from Cincinnati in 2001, and the cozily raucous glam dive became a home away from his nearby one-bedroom apartment.

At first, he hoped to honor the memory by hanging some mementos at home—paintings, glassware, barstools. Burgess enclosed rocks from the back wall within a glass cabinet and laid surplus tiles to re-create the checkerboard flooring. Noticing a familiar hunk of freshly sawed wood and vinyl loaded onto the back of a van, he helped himself to a 40-by-20-inch segment of the bartop. Later, when the old owner began cleaning out his storage area, the tavern's iconic signage was donated to the burgeoning shrine. "Once I hung up the neon," he recalls, "I started thinking, 'It's already taking up most of my living room. I might as well just finish and turn the place into a bar.'"

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The 17-by-11-foot apartment is not, of course, an actual bar. He accepts no money and opens the space to no more than a few close friends during major holidays—Christmas, Fourth of July, the anniversary of the Matador's closing. Still, there's liquor above the bar, beer on tap, and a working Megatouch machine. A vintage punk show plays on the TV console. Lamps taken from the Matador entrance illuminate the former doorman's chair. And, once interiors are bathed in the neon's crimson glow, the resemblance overwhelms. "That's the only bad thing," Burgess laughs. "After a while, just because it's so red and bright, you go somewhere, and your eyes are kinda messed up."

Best of Portland Issue 2016.


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