One of the Last Great Westside Dive Bars is Closing After 21 Years

Tony's Tavern will close December 31.

West Burnside's Tony's Tavern was the first true low-down Portland dive I ever fell in love with.

It's the kind of tiny place that might kick off with breakfast pitcher specials for the third-shift workers at 7 am, and make its last call later than anyone else nearby at 2:25 or so, after which there's to-go beer in the fridge.

It's also the sort of place the cheap beer stays at $2.50 because owner Tony Kassapakis knows many of his customers are on fixed incomes, and where former news reporters hold court for more than a decade before having their own funeral there, too. According to today's bartender, four different Tony's customers had wakes at the bar this year.

From its beginnings as a beer-and-wine-only dockworker bar with a blue-collar base and a cutout of John Wayne in the front, to its current crossover status as a home to every old-Portland nostalgic, hard drinker, retiree, party kid and blue-collar worker in the neighborhood, Tony's has long been both the diviest and friendliest dive in a neighborhood that once consisted only of dives.

When the Dandy Warhols held a listening party this year, they held it at Tony's Tavern. It has also been home to one of the city's longest running poetry open mics. The bar still has a juke with actual CDs in it—split among punk, soul, classic and country.

But after New Year's Eve and 21 years in business, Tony's Tavern will be no more.

Bar staff tells WW that their landlord, Carol Anderson of Gresham, has not renewed their lease and has ceased answering their phone calls, and that the bar had already been leasing on a month-to-month basis.

Anderson is the same landlord who failed to reach terms with landmark punk dive the Matador, when that bar ended up closing. Two years later, that space remains empty.

As the Matador was closing, the owners of East Burnside's the Wurst had attempted to buy out the Matador's lease under Anderson—and according to both Tony's Tavern staff and a liquor license application filed December 14, the Wurst owners will indeed open up a spot on that block. It'll be called Sencillo, and is planned to open in the former Bitter End space. (That space is owned by a different landlord.)

At Tony's, meanwhile, the beer taps are already dry, and the bar is preparing to close after New Year's Eve. Other than the Yamhill Pub and Joe's Cellar—which has already had to close once for developers—the deep dives of the westside are all going away.

"Whenever I come to a new town I always go to dive bars because that's the best way to find out what's going on," our Tony's bartender told us. "It's where people are friendly. Some of our customers are assholes, but they're friendly."

While the west-side spot will close, Tony's opened a second location out in Parkrose in 2014, on Northeast Sandy Boulevard. This time, Tony Kassapakis bought the building, and has no landlord.

Barstaff says plans for the final day on December 31 aren't yet set. But in the meantime, stop in to pay your respects.

Willamette Week's journalism is funded, in part, by our readers. Your help supports local, independent journalism that informs, educates, and engages our community. Become a WW supporter.