In Portland, Dive Bars Never Really Die

Even if you do shut down a Portland bar, you can never kill it.

Tony’s Tavern (Henry Cromett)

Tony's Tavern is the kind of bar that holds a lot of funerals—a decades-old West Burnside dive whose owner, Tony Kassapakis, keeps the draft beer at $2.50 because he knows a lot of the old-timers live on fixed incomes.

But Dec. 16, the funeral was for the bar itself. It'd been month-to-month for the better part of a year, and the landlord wasn't talking to Kassapakis anymore. The taps had run dry. The bartenders were sending out résumés. Tony's Tavern was closing.

Except it never did.

After a Willamette Week story about the impending closure of the bar, the landlord marched in and restarted negotiations. After the dust settled, Tony's had a lease again.

"The bar is saved!" said a patron Dec. 29, as she walked in to hear the happy news.

But it wasn't just Tony's. The nearly century-old Rialto—a down-and-out downtown pool hall and betting parlor ridiculously popular on Derby Day—had sadly also announced its closure in December. It was set to close Christmas Day.

But the Rialto didn't close, either. It was saved by Dante's owner Frank Faillace and Bar XV's Manish Patel. They'll open a jazz club in the basement to fill the void left behind by Jimmy Mak's and hope to book a lot of the same acts.

Tony’s Tavern (Henry Cromett)

Related: In Wake of Jimmy Mak's Closure, New Jazz Club Will Open in Basement of Rialto

"We are all about keeping downtown Portland vigorous and exciting," Faillace said at the time.

This is a story that repeated itself over and over this year—a far cry from the gentrification flash-point days of 2014, when it seemed no bar could keep its doors open. The Know, evicted by its landlord, will open its doors in a bigger and better space on Northeast Sandy Boulevard. Its neighbor will be Chopsticks, a much-missed Burnside karaoke haunt that celebrated its first anniversary on Sandy in September.

Club 21, the Sandy Boulevard mini-castle dive bar that had its doors closed this January? Its decor will move to Coasters, we're told, on Southeast Powell Boulevard. Meanwhile, in 2015, those same owners put a new shine on century-old dive bar the Sandy Hut just down the street.

And did you want to go to the Matador? Well, almost the entire decor of that illustrious West Burnside dive is preserved inside the apartment of Portlander Nicholas Burgess, almost directly upstairs, including a 40-by-20-inch segment of the bartop and the tavern's iconic neon signage. "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.'"

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

Even if you do shut down a Portland bar, you can never kill it. Somebody in Portland will just rebuild the whole thing in their one-bedroom apartment. In a city whose history is measured in Miller High Lifes, you can't keep a good bar down.

Welcome to Reasons to Love Portland 2017

1. Portland Is Telling Donald Trump That He Won't Get Away With This
2. We're Rich! Portland Has The Nation's Fastest Growing GDP
3. Here's How Far Portlanders Have Ridden in the First Six Months of BikeTown
4. We're Very Happy That Portland Bartenders Can Finally Drink on The Job.
5. When the Snow Hit, Portlanders Saved Lives By Volunteering at Homeless Shelters
6. At Long Last, Portland Has The Kinky Coffee Shop It's Needed
7. A Selected List of All Portland's Recent Number 1 Rankings
8. Move Over PCT: You'll Soon Be Able to Mountain Bike From Washington to California
9. Oregon Has The Nation's Cheapest Weed. Thank God.
10. This is the Best Ski Season Mount Hood Has Had Since Obama Was a Senator
11. Nobody Snowdays Harder Than Portland
12. Portland Finally Has Architecture Worth Arguing About
13. Check Out This Crazy New Recording Studio in a Former Library in Deep Southeast
14. Weed Delivery Will Begin in Portland Any Day Now
15. In Portland, You Never, Ever Need To Call Domino's
16. Portland Is Home to the Most Liberal College in America. No, Not That One.
17. There's A Forgotten Wonder In Oregon City. It'll Soon Be Revealed
18. Portland's Blazers Bootleg T-Shirts Are Lit
19. Portland is Metal AF
20. ILOVEMAKONNEN Moved To Portland. No, For Real
21. Sorry, Donald, We Won't Help You Deport Our Neighbors.
22. Portland Now Has a Patriarchy-Free Social Club and Workspace
23. Oregon is the New Truffle King of the World
24. Check Out These Photos of the Winter Light Festival
25. In Portland, You Can See Every Movie Nominated For an Oscar in the Theater
26. Portland Art Museum is Tapping into the Legacy of Arguably Oregon's Greatest Artist
27. Yes, Portland Has More Pinball Machines Than New York and Los Angeles
28. Portland Has Vegan Everything. A Selected List.
29. In Portland, Dive Bars Never Really Die

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.