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.
"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.
"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.'"
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.
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